June 2, 2009
Monied crowd in Mykonos
Rising above its bad rep as a B-grade destination, Mykonos is drawing the rich and famous again
By jansen lim
It was well after midnight. Caprice Bar with its oceanfront terrace overlooking Mykonos Harbour was crammed with tourists clutching pricey cocktails adorned with tiny umbrellas.
Perhaps inspired by the warm moonlit night, one middle-aged woman started to dance to some modern Greek music, her face absolutely serene as she held her arms out for an imaginary partner.
It was a minor miracle for her to get even a sliver of the crowd's attention. After all, they were in gorgeous Mykonos, surrounded by abundant cerulean waters and unblemished blue skies.
But barely a decade ago, not even such natural beauty could draw the glitterati to the shores of this tiny island one-seventh the size of Singapore.
Beaches were overcrowded with nudists and college students, and its meandering, cobbled streets were cluttered with backpackers, tour groups and touts trying to sell trinkets to sunburnt tourists.
Hotel facades were dilapidated, merchandise overpriced, and shops offering tattoos and condoms part of the vulgar commercial landscape.
It was a far cry from the glamour years when former US First Lady Jacqueline Onassis went there and it turned into one of the world's favourite playgrounds for celebrities.
According to Mykonians, the masses are still very much part of the scene. However, what has bounced back in recent years is the luxury cachet.
The once rough-and-tumble lanes of Mykonos' main districts have reclaimed their original splendour as pedestrian-only circuits of upscale boutiques and gourmet restaurants.
New luxury hotels have sprung up all over while older ones have spiffed up to showcase a winning combination of aesthetic and simplicity.
What has not changed over the decades is its longstanding reputation as a 24-hour party zone. Famous DJs fly here to spin their tunes at various jam-packed discos.
Before you set off to dance the night away, it may be worth checking out some of the bars such as Sunset Bar and Caprice Bar in the Little Venice district, the island's most charming spot with two- and three-storey houses fronting the ocean.
Here, the crowd includes rail-thin women and their middle-aged male counterparts smoking away while sipping martinis and ouzo (an anise-scented Greek liqueur), and buff, well-heeled men engrossed in conversations about Buddhism and art. These bars are the perfect setting to watch the sunset and indulge in a glass of Peloponnesian chardonnay. A drink costs between $8 and $15.
Then it is off to Chora, the island's main town, reputed for being an area that breathes youth and music, and for lives lived with abandonment.
Popular clubs here include Skandinavian Bar and Porta (no cover charge, unlike in Singapore), which keep the city's insomniacs up till sunrise with throbbing dance music. By 3am, there will hardly be room on the dance floor for one more young body, no matter how slender and blond it might be.
Apart from the hotels, bars and restaurants, the beaches have also been swanked up. Although a few such as Super Paradise and Elia can still be overcrowded especially at the height of the tourist season.
The rich and beautiful would normally be seen at Psarou Beach, where teak wood furniture from boutique restaurants spill onto the sand and expensive motor yachts bob at the bay.
A few miles from Super Paradise Beach, Agios Sostis is an underused beach where you can easily find a prime spot of sand which feels like a continent away from the tanner-than-thou, sun-worshipping crowd. Occasionally, you may spot a few nudists tucked away somewhere but there is hardly a trace of impropriety.
Sun and sand aside, Mykonos also enchants with its quaint loveliness. Whitewashed cubic stone buildings with bougainvillea and brightly painted doors dot almost the entire island.
And around every bend lurk monuments and landmarks from the pages of Greek history and mythology. The island itself was named after a mythical hero called Mykonos, apparently the grandson of Apollo.
For a survey of the island's rich past, visit the Archaeological Museum, the Aegean Maritime Museum and the Folklore Museum. They showcase a collection of classical pottery, figurines, maritime memorabilia and handicraft from various eras. Admission to each museum is about $8 a person.
Similarly, the neighbouring islet of Delos, an open-air archaeological museum, also features many spectacular ruins, sculptures and temples. Regarded as the birthplace of Apollo, it is easily accessible by boats operating at regular intervals ($10 a person). Short tours ($25 a person) are available to guide tourists through a gamut of archaeological heritage from the Temple of Isis and the Marble Lions to the Shrine of Dionysus and Sanctuary of the Twelve Gods.
The boat ride to and from Delos is hardly anything to shout about, given the vessels' creaky seats and rusty hand rails. But halfway into the 40-minute journey, a certain alchemy begins to take place.
The Mediterranean wind gets drowned out by the muttering of superlatives as passengers give themselves over completely to the sight of whitewashed architecture, golden sands, and blossoming bougainvillea. All that is missing is perhaps a poet to distil these natural wonders into verse.
5 things to do
1 Use sunscreen with a high SPF liberally if you are visiting during the summer months from June to September.
2 Find a bar that is within walking distance of your hotel if you decide to party the night away. Taxis are hard to find especially after midnight as there are only about 30 cabs operating on the island.
3 Stroll down Matogianni Street, home to a wide range of products, including handicraft and jewellery by Greek designers.
4 Always ask for the prices of cocktails and finger food at the beach bars before placing your order. You do not want to end up paying €10 (S$20) for a soda.
5 Mingle with the Mykonians as they may share with you some of the island's best-kept secrets regarding where to eat, shop and hang out.
1 Don't expect service providers to be customer-friendly. For instance, if you were to ask for a cup of ice, they may tell you that your bottled water or soda is cold enough. Such brusque encounters can be rampant.
2 Don't attempt to climb the many narrow goat trails on the island as they can be slippery and dangerous.
To get to Mykonos, you have to first fly to Athens. Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways have daily flights there. Fares start at $1,800.
A ferry ride is more affordable (about $100) and offers a scenic route, although the journey can take up to five hours.
For hotels, check out www.venere.com.
A double room may cost anything from $50 (budget) to $400 (luxury). Most hotels provide airport or port transfer.