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The Quiet Side of Mykonos

This week a client booked flights for her, her husband, and their two now-adult children to Greece for a wonderful adventure from Athens to Santorini with island hopping in between. They weren't initially interested much in Mykonos because of its reputation as a party island, but this article shows how it's a more nuanced destination. This writer's vibe really resonates with me, and I hope you enjoy it too! 

Excerpt below from 2/23/2024 Virtuoso article by Kate Wickers can found here. 


It’s midnight, and a waxing moon floods golden light over Little Venice, a section of Mykonos’ Old Town named for its water’s-edge houses with brightly painted wooden balconies that jut out over the Aegean. I’m sitting on the terrace of one of my favorite bars, Caprice, sipping ouzo on the rocks, close enough to the sea to feel the occasional splash on my legs and taste salt on my lips.


The Cycladic island has pulled me back again and again since the summer of 1993, when Snap!’s “Rhythm Is a Dancer” was topping the charts and I was backpacking around Greece. Skipping off the Blue Star ferry back then, I immediately fell in love with the soft-focus days on the beach and never-ending nights at the clubs. No wonder Brigitte Bardot and Jackie Onassis holidayed here in the 1960s, I thought. The island’s reputation as a nonstop party – where strolling home barefoot at sunrise after a night of dancing is de rigueur – has only grown over the years.


This return to Mykonos, though, is less hedonistic, more healing. After a difficult year, I’m in search of some kind of life-affirming moment, hoping that the qualities that first enthralled me will provide the tonic needed to lift my spirits. I know there’s a quieter side to this party island, one that many of the cruise-ship day-trippers never get a chance to see. It’s there, maybe, that I’ll get what I’m looking for. 

I’ve always found pleasure in seeking out new gems in the trove that is Chora, another name for Mykonos Town’s higgledy-piggledy network of snow-white alleys and sugar-cube houses trimmed in blue, so I head straight there the next morning. The ceramic tableware, silk blouses, and aquamarine evil-eye earrings at Themis Z are the work of designer Themis Zouganeli, who grew up between Athens and Mykonos. Zouganeli incorporates Greek-inspired motifs, such as swirling peacock feathers, into everything from dinner plates to caftans. Along with her own collections, she used to create tableware sets for Dior each year, and they always sold out within days.


Mykonos’ rich textile history dates to the seventeenth century, when weaving was a common occupation for island women. It still is for many today, including Mykonos native Eleftheria Nikolakopoulou, the owner of Sadh Mykonos, a luxury crochet-wear brand. I find Nikolakopoulou in her Chora studio deliberating over patterns – she’s had a commission from a British celebrity but is tight-lipped as to who. “I used to watch my grandmother and her friends crocheting,” she says. “They created beautiful things while they gossiped, practicing what the Greek call meraki – to leave a little piece of yourself in what you are creating.”


Chora’s jewel-box storefront windows display as much envelope-pushing fashion as they do centuries-old island crafting traditions. Apocalypse Studio, for instance, which opened in 1987, features handpainted icons made by local artist Merkourios Dimopoulos. He solely employs the methods of Byzantine artists, painting on wooden panels using colored pigments mixed with wax. I covet these for aesthetic, rather than religious, purposes and buy an image of Saint Katherine painted in coral pink and sky blue in a gilded frame.


At Art Mosaic, a gallery on Chora’s waterfront, Irene Syrianou’s work is an homage to the past. She pairs whimsical contemporary mosaics of fishing boats, tavernas, and windmills with painstakingly created replicas of the ancient ruins found on the nearby UNESCO-protected island of Delos, one of Greece’s most important archaeological sites, where she worked for ten years. She’s intent on keeping Mykonos’ traditional mosaic-making alive.


To find peace and tranquility on Mykonos, you must venture to the island’s less-populated corners. My first stop is Agia Anna beach in Kalafati, on the island’s east side, a 20-minute drive from Mykonos Town. Like a wayward sailor, I walk the plank along the rocks to reach Spilia, a low-key restaurant and bar perched right above the water. In contrast to its humble beginning some 30 years ago, Spilia is now one of the island’s hottest seats, although it’s retained its rustic vibe, with sun-bleached wood furnishings and thatched canopies that filter the sunshine.


I’m happy to see that its famous sun-dried orange octopuses are still hung out to dry daily like festive bunting. A steady stream of barefoot diners arrive on private tenders to feast on locally caught lobster, sea urchins, and Venus clams. The rhythmic lap of turquoise water and laughter surrounds me. There’s comfort in places where some things remain the same.


I first visited Scorpios, a beach club in Paraga on Mykonos’ southern coast, when it opened in 2015 as a cool, modern-day agora for party-loving independent travelers. It’s now owned by the ultra-exclusive Soho House members’ club, so I’m curious to see if the place has retained its alternative vibe. The service is slick, the staff good-looking, and the food delicious (including the ceviche, reputed to be the island’s best), but a nostalgia for the old days, when things were a little rougher around the edges, creeps in. Even so, I embrace the club’s day-to-night ethos and stay for a sunset yoga class before lounging on a driftwood daybed, sipping a Scorpios Spritz and listening to a DJ spin vinyl lounge music.


A day later, I head for a more untamed destination, where the purpose is to disappear for a while rather than see and be seen. Visitors reach Fokos, a beach on the northern side of the island, via scooter along an unpaved track that’s frequented by goat herders and their unruly charges. The scene proves that Mykonos isn’t all glitz and Champagne and sashaying off to your superyacht. Travelers can still find strips of sand that remain unchanged since the first visitors skinny-dipped here in the 1980s. I eat grilled prawns and calamari at Fokos Taverna, a vine-festooned spot that serves as the beach’s only dining outpost. Owner Marissa Taboulchanas, who exudes a hippie-chic aura, is eager to chat about the functional yet exquisite ceramics she sells here, including a brown speckled clay pot with an octopus furled around it that I take home as a souvenir.


“I was raised by the sea and with the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, that beauty is found in imperfection and transience,” she says. She passes me a plate. I hold it to the light and see 100 colors, swirls of cerulean, jade, and sparkling white among them, as if the Aegean’s water rippled right through it.


The coexistence of tradition and modernity on Mykonos hasn’t always been easy – many older islanders fear the loss of their age-old way of life as tourism continues to boom – so it’s exciting to hear about a new opening that celebrates the island’s heritage. On my last day, I arrive at Rizes Folklore Farmstead, amid a barren landscape brightened by bursts of purple bougainvillea and drought-resistant plants, about four miles north of Mykonos Town. Rizes (which means “roots”) appears as an oasis with its farm buildings set amid glorious gardens. It’s the project of the Zouganelis family, who welcome visitors to learn traditional stone-oven bread baking or eat organic meals conjured from their extensive kitchen garden.


“If we don’t have tomatoes, we don’t serve Greek salads,” Nikos Zouganelis says. “Our focus is always on seasonal and homegrown. Here we live as close as possible to the memories of older generations.” I go horseback riding with his son, Yiannis, along dusty rural roads, past hills dotted with bleating goats tiptoeing along dry-stone walls. Our sunset destination is the tiny horseshoe-shaped beach of Merchia, fringed by wild violets and lilies of the sea. It’s happy hour in Mykonos Town, where the cocktails are flowing, the bass is already thumping, and the revelers are gathering. As for me, here under a cotton-candy-colored sky, I’m happy to let time stand still for a while.


Luxury Hotels in Mykonos


Santa Marina, a Luxury Collection Resort

Perched on a bougainvillea-covered hilltop with views of Ornos Bay and the Aegean Sea, the 117-room Santa Marina, a Luxury Collection Resort is one of just a few properties on Mykonos with its own private beach. Its gorgeous beach club, with yellow-and-white parasols and chaise lounges, feels like a soothing antidote to Mykonos Town’s flashy scene. Virtuoso travelers receive round-trip airport or port transfers, breakfast daily, and a $100 resort credit. Open from May 1 through October 14. 


Myconian Korali

Owned by the Daktylides family, who have been hoteliers on Mykonos since 1979, the Myconian Korali is minimalist, with bright pops of color and local artwork throughout. Most of the 100 guest rooms come with plunge pools or Jacuzzis. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit. Open from May 1 through October 30. 


Kivotos Mykonos

The 40 whitewashed suites and villas at Kivotos Mykonos tumble down a rocky hillside, honoring classic Cycladic design. Don’t miss a yoga class by the seawater pool or dinner under the stars at Namah, the hotel’s sleek restaurant. Virtuoso travelers receive round-trip private airport transfers, breakfast daily, and a $100 hotel credit. Open from May 16 through October 15.


Katikies Mykonos

A classic blue-and-white facade draws travelers to Katikies Mykonos, a 35-room retreat overlooking Agios Ioannis beach, just under three miles from Mykonos Town. There’s a stunner of a spa, and the restaurant, Mikrasia, makes for a romantic dinner spot. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 hotel credit. Open from April 26 through October 20.   



Ultramodern Kalesma is nestled in the exclusive Aleomandra neighborhood, about two miles from Mykonos Town. Its 27 suites and villas are all neutral palettes and clean lines, while a new spa with a hammam and a cryotherapy area debuts this year. Virtuoso travelers receive a welcome bottle of wine, breakfast daily, and a $100 dining credit. Open from May 1 through October 26.



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