We spent a glorious week in May on the Greek island of Mykonos, enjoying the quiet of low season before the holidaymakers arrived in droves. But there was still no avoiding the depressingly huge cruise ships and their passengers.
Most days they appeared in the harbour of Mykonos Town, dumping wave after wave of visitors onto the streets and alleys of the pretty, white-washed capital of the island. Wherever we went, we could hear American accents by the score and spied creaking older folk struggling to make it up the hills. Of an evening, the restaurants overflowed with them – only emptying at the magic hour when the visitors scurried back to their ships and departed for the next island on their itinerary.
Only then did the town, also known as Chora, return to something like normal.
We loved Mykonos. In town, the historic windmills that once milled wheat dominated the view but stood beside a horrid car park. Elsewhere we admired Mykonos’ other trademarks: the peculiar Paraportiani church and the picturesque promontory of Little Venice.
We stayed at the swanky, 60s-style Mykonos Theoxenia on the cliffs just behind the windmills. We had a beautifully designed room, a free bottle of plonk waiting for us and relaxing times by the peaceful pool, with just a few other guests for company. Our camp young waiter buzzed around, gossiping like an old queen and keeping us in beers.
Mykonos is one of the Cyclades and has a reputation for being a glamour island. Expensive yachts, trendy bars, fancy restaurants and high prices are a way of life. It’s also the gay capital of the Greek islands, which is one reason we went, and some of its beaches throb with parties and clubbers. It seemed apt, therefore, that we spent one night in a gay bar watching the Eurovision Song Contest surrounded by its adoring homo fans.
Mykonos Town is a pretty place, built up around a small harbour. We guessed over-fishing was responsible for the fact that catches being landed by the small trawlers were pretty desperate. Some days we lost ourselves in the narrow alleys and little squares, surrounded by white-washed buildings.
Residents take pride in their homes, many of which have outdoor stairs to the floors above – stairs that are painted in bright colours and festooned with flowers and climbing plants.
We discovered little cafes and bars, galleries and Petros the pelican – the island’s famous mascot.
We didn’t discover many decent beaches around town. So we ventured elsewhere using one of the bus services, or the small boats that chugged along the coast from the capital. On the bus we discovered a remarkably barren island that looked as if it had been swept clear of trees and vegetation by harsh winter winds. Giant granite boulders dotted the landscape along with farm buildings, the occasional village and holiday developments.
The main (and sometimes nudist) beaches are Paraga, Paradise, Elia and Super Paradise, and at one we discovered one of the finest grapefruity Sauvignon Blancs ever while enjoying lunch – a locally produced wine that sadly wasn’t for sale other than in the restaurant. Some of the beaches were busy, others quite quiet so early in the season.
Come evening, we headed for Little Venice (or Alefkandra) to see the famous Mykonos sunsets with a beer for company. We walked down through the crowds, past the windmills and joined the strollers along Enopolon Dynameon Street, home to the modest Aegean Maritime and Folk Museums.
Back at Little Venice we spent too much on more beers and tucked in to Greek specialities and fine seafood in the restaurants.
One day we got on a boat to the uninhabited island of Delos, a place where Apollo and Artemis were born according to Greek myth.
There were endless fascinating archaeological remains and walks up into the hills, the sun beating down on us. From up there, we had remarkable views across the island and back to Mykonos.
The wild flowers were in full bloom on the island and the place looked desolate and romantic, quiet and remote. A very different island to Mykonos…