February 13, 2018 / Property Spotlight

Magical Mykonos: History, Food, and Culture Combine

Pretty as a picture, this historic Greek island lives up to the hype, and there’s never been a better time to visit


Along roads winding through rolling hills, one- and two-story cubes jut out from the rugged landscape. These bright-white squares, with rounded edges as if they’ve been softened by rolling tides, are only interrupted by bursts of blue: periwinkle shutters, cobalt doors, aqua gates. And those windmills.

This is the instantly recognizable landscape of Mykonos, one of the sun-drenched islands that comprise the Greek Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, bound together by their history and architecture.

The beautifully minimalist architecture of the Cycladic Islands—flat roofs, cubic shapes, and whitewashed walls—developed naturally over centuries. Photograph and banner image: Getty Images “Mykonos is the most famous and glamorous of all the Cycladic Islands,” says Yannis Ploumis, managing director at Ploumis Sotiropoulos, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region. “There are numerous beautiful beaches with turquoise-blue waters, and the architecture is pure and untouched.”

Mykonos is the most famous and glamorous of all the Cycladic Islands

On Mykonos, decades of tradition sit alongside modern glamour, and hints of the island’s bohemian feel are evident in its unmistakable energy. From its exceptional history to its idyllic beaches, five-star hotels, and design-led shops, there is plenty to discover, whether you’re just visiting for a luxury holiday, or there to stay.

Built and expanded from the 14th century through to the 17th century, Panagia Paraportiani is a pleasant surprise for anyone wandering through Chora towards the sea. Photograph: Getty ImagesWhere to explore
Mykonos Town—known as Chora by the locals—is arguably the heart of the island, and is certainly its most photographed area. This is where you’ll find the pedestrianized, cobbled streets lined with white-washed houses, blue- and red-domed churches, boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Residents and business owners work together to keep the streets pristine, also tending to the bright pink-purple bougainvillea that provide a welcome complement to the shades of blue so loved in Mykonos.

The windmills of Mykonos tower over Chora, looking down to the sea and out to the yacht-filled marina. Photograph: Alamy“Those who live on Mykonos understand the value of keeping their island authentic,” Ploumis says. “Thanks to their tireless efforts and to their bond with this land, they are a direct part of what makes this island so special.”

Part of the charm of Chora is getting lost in its narrow lanes. Follow your nose to a bakery or café, perhaps the Gioras Wood Bakery, one of the few in the Cycladic Islands that still uses a wood-fired oven to make its bread and pastries. Or head down one of the many winding streets to admire some of the numerous picturesque family chapels dotted around the town.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Mykonos was an important shipping hub, and the buildings in Little Venice were built right on the shoreline to give captains and merchants direct access to the sea. Photograph: Getty ImagesBut if you do need a plan, head to the row of 16th-century windmills overlooking Alefkandra harbor for a glimpse into the island’s agricultural past. Continue down towards the sea and into Little Venice, where the former fishing houses, now home to bars and restaurants, are built right on the water’s edge. Return in the evening for the opportunity to view a stunning sunset at one of the most beautiful places in Mykonos.

Heading towards Mykonos Marina, which offers the moored yachts protection from the island’s notorious winds, stop to take in Panagia Paraportiani. This church is a unique conglomeration: five churches built on top of or next to each other throughout the centuries. The mix of Byzantine, vernacular, traditional, and Western styles makes for an appealingly asymmetrical landmark.

The island of Delos boasts among the highest concentrations of surviving mosaic artworks, with many dating back to the second century BC. Photograph: Getty ImagesFinally, for history lovers, a boat ride to the golden island of Delos is a must. Located just off the southwest coast of Mykonos, it is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Mediterranean and (according to Greek mythology) the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The ruins of the ancient city are worth exploring; large sections are extremely well preserved, with mosaics and murals offering hints of the once-thriving commercial port. The museum on the island displays treasures and artifacts unearthed during excavations.

Where to stay
“The development that has taken place on Mykonos is high quality,” Ploumis says, “and hotels meet the highest standards.”

Rooms at the Myconian Utopia, part of the Myconian Collection, are carefully designed, incorporating natural materials. Private terraces looking out to the Aegean come complete with a Jacuzzi or infinity-edge plunge pool.With nine properties across three areas of the island, the family-owned Myconian Collection hotels have perfected the art of hospitality. Each has its own personality and style, yet all still maintain the classic Cycladic feel—an impressive feat.

For a five-star Mykonos hotel that epitomizes the traditional style, the gleaming-white Myconian Kyma (Design Hotels) sits just outside Chora. Or relax amid the romantic, beachy glamour of Myconian Utopia (Relais & Châteaux), where natural materials serve as accents to the sleek, white surrounds.

Watch the sun go down at Utopia’s Pavilion Restaurant, which draws heavily on seasonal ingredients for its menu of mainly traditional Mediterranean dishes.Perched above Elia beach (along with the nearby Myconian Villa Collection, Myconian Imperial, Royal Myconian, and Myconian Avaton), Utopia has a whimsical atmosphere that extends even to the hand-blown wine glasses from Sempre—with their elongated stems, oversized bowls, and wavy rims—set on the tables of the hotel’s restaurant. Each hotel has its own spa, restaurants, and bars, in addition to the inviting infinity pools that seem to extend out into the sea.

Where to relax
Along the south coast of the island, the idyllic beaches of Mykonos are protected from the wind. Many are easily accessible, with restaurants and tavernas steps away—that’s if you need a break from soaking up the sun on a comfortable lounge or snorkeling in the calm waters. Those further north tend to be quieter and more secluded: no lively beach bars here.

Elia beach—with its golden sands and clear waters—stretches below several of the Myconian Collection hotels, with a section of lounges and umbrellas reserved for guests.For those who do want to embrace the party scene (Mykonos has been called the Ibiza of Greece for good reason), Paradise beach and Super Paradise beach are the places to be. Here the music starts early, and many gather to dance long into the night. Also lively, and popular with the jet set, the famous Psarou beach is home to the opulent Nammos beach bar. With views of the sparkling sea and the superyachts anchored just offshore, Nammos is ideal for relaxing by day and dancing by night. Dine at the restaurant, sip champagne at the bar, or reserve one of Nammos’s four private cabanas. 

In contrast, the postcard-worthy panorama of Elia beach comes alive during the peak season but is otherwise a peaceful haven. The longest beach on the island, Elia is a place to enjoy water skiing, parasailing, and windsurfing, read under a reed-threaded umbrella, or seek out a secluded spot for some privacy. Platis Gialos is similar, with fine sand and crystal waters, plus quaint boutiques and restaurants serving local fare.

The Rejuvenation Spa at the Myconian Villa Collection offers a welcome respite from the summer sun, whether you’re there for a body wrap, massage, or just to relax in a serene space.For a less-sandy escape, the Myconian Collection’s Spa & Thalasso Centres provide a haven of relaxation—sweet-smelling or invigorating massages, body treatments, and facials are on offer. At the sleek and serene Rejuvenation Spa at the Myconian Villa Collection, the unique thalassotherapy program takes you through several pools. The water temperature and salinity varies in each, and the combination of essential oils, therapeutic salts, and hydro-massage provide the ultimate indulgence.

Where to shop
Don’t be surprised if you leave Mykonos with a new wardrobe. With boutiques open well into the night, you can spend all day at the beach, have dinner, and still find time to search out the perfect embroidered tunic, handmade leather sandals, or Byzantine-style jewelry.

In peak season, the shops in Chora are open late into the evening—past midnight in some cases. Photograph: Getty ImagesMatoyianni Street and its surrounding lanes are full of shopping opportunities in the heart of Chora. Here you’ll find Dew, a concept store focused on beachwear, sunglasses, sandals, swimwear, and jewelry from brands such as Zeus & Dione, Amuse Society, and Pullin, with some lines created especially for the shop. And at Jardin, housed in a building dating back to 1680, the atmosphere is decidedly bohemian, and the clothing exclusively by Greek designers. Woven handbags and soft scarves sit alongside hats with feathered accents.

That’s not to mention the boutiques from well-known international brands such as Balenciaga, Chanel, and Dsquared2. (To find items from many of the big designers in one place, visit Soho-Soho or Free Shop.)

Numerous family chapels are nestled within the streets of Chora, and dotted across the island. Photograph: Getty ImagesArt aficionados will not feel left out. Within Chora, The Big White Gallery features art and sculpture from Greek and international artists. And Rarity Gallery hosts rotating solo installations that complement the works of regular contributing artists.

Where to eat
Unsurprisingly, seafood is likely to be on the menu in Mykonos, alongside the freshest Mediterranean salads and Greek classics.

For a truly authentic experience, Ploumis recommends Kiki’s Tavern near the northern Agios Sostis beach for daytime dining. This secluded, open-air, no-reservations tavern with stunning views serves seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes prepared simply over a charcoal grill, alongside salads dressed with fresh herbs.

Traditional Greek dishes with a vegetarian focus are on offer at Scorpios, a chic beach bar on Paraga beach that is part of the Design Hotels group. Also making the most of the local produce from the sea, Matsuhisa Mykonos at the elegant five-star Belvedere hotel in Chora incorporates Asian inspiration. Serving the signature dishes of Nobu Matsuhisa (no introduction needed), Matsuhisa Mykonos has sweeping views down to the sea, and diners are sure to enjoy the fairy-tale atmosphere and the decadent sashimi.

For a more laid-back atmosphere, Lotus’s modern approach to Greek cuisine is best enjoyed on the terrace, under the twisting vines and bright cover of bougainvillea. The décor is sleek and stylish, yet still in step with the surroundings of Chora—notice the touches of blue.

Scorpios reimagines the Greek agora, comprising a sunset terrace, several beach areas, an outdoor bar, a restaurant, and its own bazaar.A similarly casual-chic dining experience, Scorpios at Paraga beach in the south of the island encourages leisurely lunches that stretch well into the afternoon. A beach club and restaurant—and part of the Design Hotels group—Scorpios has a sophisticated air, serving dishes such as seafood ceviche with chili, coriander, and green olive oil under shady canopies.

Finally, put on your finest for Interni, whose Paola Navone-designed courtyard is worth a visit on its own. This open-air, fine-dining restaurant in Chora is an elegant escape, serving refined dishes such as spicy king crab tagliolini, sous vide yellowfin tuna, and black cod filet.

Ready to start planning your Mykonos holiday? Be aware that the island is a seasonal one. That means many shops, restaurants, and even hotels are open only during the summer season: roughly May to October.

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Kathryn Anderson
is a Luxury Defined editor