Mykonos: The Aegean's dazzling hotspot
What’s not to love about the sleek and cosmo Mykonos (Μύκονος)? Considered by many as the most popular Greek island in the Aegean Sea, this Cycladic gem attracts the glamorous who seek sun, surf and sand by day, and a stylishly booming party by night. Starry-eyed tourists may catch glimpses of their favorite celebrities lounging poolside, while fashionistas flaunt it at the upscale boutiques along Matoyánni Street. The sporty set can partake in a number of water sports, while those longing for true R&R retreat to the gentle charms of off-the-path beaches and quaint old town. Direct flights from Athens or the U.K. can deliver you straight to paradise, while cruise liners and small ferries allow for Cycladic island hopping.
A Labyrinth of White and Blue
Mykonos’ capital city Hóra (also called Chora, or Mykonos Town) provides some of the best examples of Cycladic architecture; whitewashed houses of simplistic, cubist design trimmed in doors and shutters the color of the dazzling turquoise sea just underfoot. Guests can leave their maps behind and stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of marble, winding their way through small alcoves, nooks and crannies filled with feasts for the eyes. Soon enough a familiar landmark will direct them to their original starting point.
Not to be missed is one of the most romantic areas of the island, called Alefkántra or “Little Venice.” This row of brightly hued houses and their detailed balconies do indeed reflect the influence of the City of Bridges. They also represent some significance of Mykonos’ Maritime history. First built in the 18th century, the homes were originally mansions to merchants, grand captains and perhaps, pirates; hidden passages to the beach and secret alcoves below ground have historians wondering. Today, many are converted to shops and cafés and are popular among tourists and artists. From here, visitors can relax on the waterfront to watch the slow turn of the famous Mykonos windmills above brightly colored fishing boats bobbing in the harbor.
First stop is the Panayia Paraportiani, the iconic stark-white domed church at the sea’s edge. One of the most photographed churches in the world, it acts as a blank canvas reflecting the moods of the sea and sky. Better yet, save this as your last stop of the day for stunning sunsets.
Make time for the Archaeological Museum; one of the oldest museums in Greece, artifacts include a 7th century B.C. vase of Tinos, depicting scenes from the fall of Troy. At the Aegean Maritime and Folklore Museums, you’ll find historical ships, nautical treasures from the sea to jewelry, embroidery and other artifacts showcasing life in the Cyclades through the 19th century.
Just 7 kilometers from Hóra, near the center of the island, is the Panayia Tourliani, a 16th century monastery that houses an exceptionally carved iconostasis and dome. From there, head south for the Neolithic Settlement of Fteliá; this archeological excavation site includes an important Mycenaean tomb of the 14th-13th century B.C.
Set off from Hóra to discover the island’s sparkling beaches. Those seeking cosmopolitan culture and pulsing action will find that the beaches of the south shores should provide sufficient service any time of day. For families seeking relaxation and fun, try the beaches of Órnos and Psaroú. Sun lovers and loungers still wanting that beachside service should look to Platis Yalós, while those seeking less crowds and more sounds of the surf make way for the northern coast’s locales. The beaches of Agrári, Ayia Ánna, Ayios Stéfanos, Houlákia and Kápari will be the best bets. One exception: Lia Beach, along the southeastern edge, is considered a quiet oasis to the party scene.
Tackle the wind and waves of the island with many water sport options. Wind surfing is best at some of the more secluded beaches; instructors offer lessons on the beaches of Kórfos, Fteliá, Meyáli Ámmos and Kalafátis. Parachuting and jet skiing are popular on Eliá or Kalafátis, while snorkeling and diving excursions can be exceptional along the entire coastline. Find a licensed diving center to help discover the best islets. September is considered the best month for diving, as the waters are warm but the silt has settled for crystal views to the seabed.
Just a short boat ride from Mykonos is the very small island of Delos, one of Greece's most important archaeological, historical and mythological sites. Named in Greek mythology as the birthplace of gods Apollo and Artemis, twin offspring of Zeus and Leto, the island was considered a sacred site during ancient Greek civilization, second only to Delphi. At one point, no mortals were allowed to be born, or die, on the island. Today, Delos is one of the world's largest archaeological sites with antiquities and monuments from the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods.
For tasty Aegean specialties, dine like the locals do after the tourists go home. Sample kopanistí, a deliciously creamy, fermented soft goat cheese flavored with peppers, sea salt, garlic and spices. Found most often slathered on a twice-baked barley rusk and topped with tomatoes, this earthy treat is one of the island’s most popular mezés, or appetizers.
Meat lovers should try the pork loúza, an air-dried, salted and pressed loin. Of course, there is also plenty of fish, such as the barbouni, or red mullet, pan-fried and served with tomatoes and capers. Another delectable mezé on many menus is grilled or fried octopus.
For the sweet tooth, try amygdalotá, little cakes of almond, confectioner’s sugar and rosewater with a crunchy exterior and soft middle. They’re found in many shapes, including bells, as they’re a favorite served at weddings.
Aegean Airlines (001-871 200 00440) offers direct, 40-minute flights to Mykonos Island National Airport (JMK) via Athens, Eleftherios Venizelos (ATH). Be advised that there is no public transport from airport to town, a 2-mile trip. During peak months of July and August, taxis can be scarce. Check with local hotels for provided transfer services when booking. During off-season, when flights are less frequent, car ferries are available through Blue Star Ferries, Hellenic Seaways and Sea Jets at Piraeus or Rafina ports. Check for rates and times online.
Car rental services are available on the island; try to book online with international companies prior to the trip. While cars are not allowed within Hóra, car parks on the outskirts are available. Buses, taxis and small passenger boats provide transport around the island.
Depending on what you want to do and see, Mykonos is beautiful from spring to fall. During summer months of July and August, the island is one of the most crowded places in Greece, so book as early as possible. And don’t forget your sunscreen, shades and a good book, especially for the beaches along the northern coast. Καλό ταξίδι, or have a great trip!