By Dimitri Demetriades
My first memories of Mykonos date from the late 1970s when my parents would regularly stop on the island during our cruises of the Aegean Sea. It always had a unique feeling, certainly accentuated by the stories my father would tell me of his partying there as a young Athenian in the 1950s and 1960s. The island had just been “discovered”, most beaches were only accessible by boat and electricity would only run for six hours a day!
In the early 1990s, as a teenager, I came back to explore the island by myself and fell irrevocably in love with its spirit. Back then the all-day beach partying scene was already vibrant, the town had many nice restaurants and the first world-class hotels had sprung up. After swimming, straight from the beach, we would all rush into to town to catch the sunset from the Caprice bar which exists to this day. It recently relocated by 5 meters from its historic location but the view and the cocktails remain as good as ever. Do not miss it.
The 2000s and Greek economic boom brought more Athenians with higher spending power and the locals responded by raising their game. The metal tube-and-plastic strap sunbeds were replaced by wood-and-mattress ones, the cheap plastic umbrellas replaced by folding cloth ones. The beach restaurants which used to be little more than prefab cantinas turned into gastronomical havens. Pioneer in this shift upmarket was Nammos restaurant which opened in 2003. Luxury Collection, Leading Hotels of the World, Relais et Chateaux and other chains also landed on the island during that period.
The financial crisis struck towards the end of the decade just as the first bottles of champagne were starting to appear on the beaches. By 2010 Greece had been hit harder than most other countries and the entire middle class of the country had been wiped out economically. As a result the local hoteliers and restauranteurs, resourceful as always, shifted their attention once more to the up-market international crowd with an added focus on the newly rich emerging markets. By 2015 the Greeks had broadly been replaced by Arabs, Turks, Brazilians, and Russians. Today Mykonos seems to be fully accepted as one of the Mediterranean elite destinations along with Ibiza, Sardinia and the South of France.
For the past twenty five years no summer has passed without me visiting the island for a week or two (and often more!) and as a result many friends now ask for my ‘list’ of suggestions on the island, a summary of which you can find below.
The first decision you will have to make is where to stay. If you are afloat the best anchorage in my opinion is the bay of Psarou. Completely protected from the northerly Meltemi wind (during the summer it can blow fiercely for weeks at a time) while giving you easy access by tender to Nammos, Skorpios and Santa Marina.
If you are sleeping ashore the main question is in town or outside. If you prefer the convenience of walking back to your hotel after a long night out then I recommend the Belvedere Hotel. It has a great location, a nice view from its pleasant pool and the Mykonos Nobu/Matsuhisa restaurant. The owners Nicolas and Tassos are always welcoming and you will also find them managing the Matsuhisas of St Moritz and Athens.
If walking to your hotel’s private beach is more important, then the clear answer is the Santa Marina Hotel in Ornos. It was the island’s first luxury hotel, built in the 1980s by the visionary Ilias Papageoriou (a friend of my father’s) and run today by his daughter Christiana who constantly renovates and upgrades the facilities. Apart from the private beach it has several pools, great views of the nearby islands and a Buddha Bar beach restaurant for late lunch. The complex also has small villas with private pools if you value privacy. The drive into town is only ten minutes (although traffic and parking can make it longer) and you’ll probably need a car anyway in Mykonos to go to the other beaches, unless you take the hotel boat of course.
Talking of other beaches my favourite ‘quiet’ one is Lia (not to be confused with Elia) which is also the most remote one. The waters are crystal clear blue – green, the sunbeds nice and the restaurant very decent. Another quiet suggestion is Agios Sostis with equally nice waters and sand but no infrastructure whatsoever. For the bohemian-chic crowd this virgin state might be an attraction point, for others the sunburns might be a turn off. Your decision.
If you chose a ‘party’ beach the unmissable classic of the island is Nammos on Psarou bay. The sunbeds are probably the most luxurious of the island but unfortunately also the most closely packed which is probably why I prefer to skip the swim there and arrive around 4-5pm for a late lunch. If you feel truly festive get a table in the semi-indoors side which goes into proper party-mode after 6pm with champagne spraying etc. Nowadays I prefer the garden side with a more relaxed Club 55 feel. Music is not as loud, there is no dancing while the food is excellent on both sides.
Another favourite, ‘Principaute Mykonos’, was opened last year in Panormos beach by the legendary maître d’ of Nammos, George Papageorgiou. Very carefully designed with unrelenting attention to detail, amazing food, crystal clear waters and spacious sunbeds. It is possibly the best beach choice if you do not want to risk being champagne-sprayed on!
Alemagou at Ftelia beach is upping its game every year with very good food while keeping its fantastic combination of sunset views, uncluttered beach and great music. Be warned though of the ‘event’ evenings when the beach turns into a proper festival with thousands of guests!
Skorpios near Paraga beach opened in 2015. The beach area is spacious although the sea is not great. Sunset views are among the best on the island and the food is good. Thursdays and Sundays sunset parties are very popular but it gets a bit too crowded for my taste. Given its enormous size it can unfortunately maintain neither the exclusivity nor the ‘niche’ feeling of the other beaches.
By 10 pm you might want to hit the town for dinner. Your first stop, at the feet of the iconic floodlit windmills, should be the classic Sea Satin Market restaurant. Excellent fish served by the sea. The (mainly Greek) music picks up around midnight and the dancing on the tables goes on for several hours.
A recent addition to the dining scene is Hakkasan/LingLing run by the Nammos team: great vibe, great crowd, great food. Possibly my favourite option for an eclectic evening.
For a more relaxed dining experience try Catari close to the old port, owner Egidio will always make you feel very welcome and will delight you with his amazing Calamari pasta. The colourful ceramics on the wall and the Sofia Lauren movies playing above the bar complete the Neapolitan atmosphere.
The nightlife of Mykonos town is so diverse and vibrant that I cannot enumerate all the possibilities. Probably the best strategy is to walk through the small meandering streets and hop from bar to club to bar. My only special mention is Astra, one of the pillars of the scene since the 1980’s. Usually packed from 2 till 5am and even later on weekends. You will listen to the best dance, electro and rock on the island. Just don’t expect to hear any Lady Gaga or Greek music there.
Closing this little list of Mykonos and usually also closing the night on the island is Cavo Paradiso on Paradise beach. An “institution” that has been bringing the best international djs to the island for more than twenty years, its amphitheatrical arrangement around a pool on a cliff by the sea offers one of the best sunrises of the Med.
Personal ‘hidden gem’: the most romantic place to watch the sunset or the stars is the Armenistis lighthouse at the very north extremity of the island (usually the windiest too) where you can see the nearby islands of Tinos, Syros as well as the smaller, uninhabited Rinia and Delos. Delos is possibly the most important Greek archaeological site outside the Athens Acropolis so if you have time do the day-trip visit.
Special thanks to Der Mits (@dermitsphoto) for allowing us to reproduce his photographs of the Armenistis Lighthouse and Mykonos Port for this article.