CONDE NAST TRAVELLER
MYKONOS, THE PARTY ISLAND
DJs play live in the supermarkets and a pelican given to the island by Jackie O still roams about in the harbour. The good times on Mykonos can be as fully charged or as deliciously mellow as you like.
BAR ALEMAGOU, Ftelia Beach, Mykonos. Around six in the evening. A sprawling, reed-thatched shack dotted with swaying pumpkin-gourd lamps, pulsing slightly with sounds from the still-chilled DJ set. The crowd? Distinctly Athenian beach bum. Shoulders the colour of conkers, pareos fashioned from Louis Vuitton leopard-print scarves, diamonds, a conspicuous lack of make-up and perfect masculine top knots. The Cycladean answer to Padstow, if you will, with the dusty car park full of windsurfer boards being hoisted into the backs of Jeeps as lunch segues into happy hour. Meanwhile, weaving its knowledgeable way through the low-slung tables, where pewter buckets of icy rosé and plates of fried calamari have been set down, is a golden retriever with a faded red bandana around its neck.
It was 10 years ago that we started summering in Mykonos. It has been four since I spotted our dream house, on top of a cliff with the most ludicrously spectacular view of Fokos, a horseshoe-shaped beach off a beaten track in the north of the Greek island. It is still not ours, not quite, only two-thirds built and carpeted throughout with dried goat droppings. But, Zeus willing, by next summer it will be ours - it must be ours, for, come summer, there is no better place to be than Mykonos.
As the cognoscenti know, June and September are sublime, but August is mayhem. How could it not be? Hailed as The New Ibiza each year (probably before Ibiza was The New Ibiza), this 85.5-square-kilometre slab of rock, named in honour of Apollo's son Mykons, has become everybody's top summer getaway, from A-listers to Italian quadbikers.
And yet. As British writer Lawrence Durrell, who first visited the island in 1940, observed: 'However many tourists come with their chatter and their litter, little Mykonos will not let the stranger down.' Even in the August chaos, when the whorly cobblestoned streets of Chora, the main town, are six-deep with daytrippers, little Mykonos will do its best by you.
The blue-crystal water and the peerless beaches - a different one every day, if you so choose - are part of its charm, along with the meltemi, the strong, dry north wind of the Aegean. But above all there is the peculiar rose-gold Mykonian light, which makes even the most hungover and sunburnt among us look beautiful. Ask any local and they'll nod their head and assure you this is directly related to the neighbouring island of Delos - in Greek legend, the sacred isle upon which Apollo and Artemis, along with light itself, were born.
Think of it as luminary Prozac. The shoe designer Brian Atwood has been holding his birthday party on Mykonos for the past six years (last year's theme was Purple Haze and many guests, including Lindsay Lohan, Valentino and Peter Dundas, wore purple wigs). As he puts it: 'Sitting on a beautiful sofa with a cocktail in hand or meditating while watching the sky change from orange to red to blue is part of the reason I've been coming here for so long.' Or as my friend Stefanos, husband of the jeweller Diane Kordas and owner of a spectacular Moomin-trollish villa above Lia beach, says: 'Name me a place where, within two days of arrival, your stress level disappears, you look like you had a multi-thousand-pound facelift, you all of a sudden appear fitter, thinner and more attractive, and your energy levels explode.'
LE CORBUSIER, bespectacled modernist pioneer and urban planner arrived in the Cyclades in 1939 and concluded that one could not call oneself an architect without having studied the houses of Mykonos. 'Whatever architecture had to say, it said it here,' he declared, among the one-room whitewashed cubes. But if anybody put Mykonos on the map, it was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, who came with her younger sister Lee Radziwill in 1961 and vowed, upon leaving, that she would one day own a house here. Her future husband, Aristotle Onassis, had been visiting Mykonos with Maria Callas and assorted shipping tycoons since the 1950s.
Arriving by schooner from his private island, Scorpios, he'd drop anchor at Platis Gialos, where locals would have prepared banquets of freshly caught fish and tomatoes served on upturned orange crates. It was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s, though, after Jackie Kennedy became Jackie Onassis, that it gained its reputation as a celebrity bolthole: Grace Kelly, Mick Jagger, Burton and Taylor, Mia Farrow, Rudolf Nureyev.
And then it seemed to lose the plot for a while in the late 1980s. Well, it did for me anyway. According to our super-laid-back architect Nikiforas Fokas, those were the days when jazz musicians used to rehearse in abandoned shepherds' barns, artists such as Gilles Ballini first set up residence here and shoes - pah, who wore shoes? Skip forward to the present day and the vibe really is more hippy than hardcore. Like the Marais and Ibiza, only more so, Mykonos is the ultimate stomping ground for Bobos, a group identified by American sociologist David Brooks as comprising 'those with one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another in the bourgeois realm of ambition and worldly success'.
Though the club Ramrod still exists and there is a thriving male gay scene, it is not at all alienating to the visitor who is neither male nor gay. If you want to party hearty, Mykonos is still very much the place to come. Try Cavo Paradiso, the 3,000-capacity clifftop danceteria where DJs David Guetta, David Morales and Satoshi Tomiie (among many others) played last year. But if the idea of starting your evening at 3am fills you with an almost existential sense of gloom, as it does me, don't worry. Be a hedonist over lunch, a long, rosé-fuelled feast that might start at, say, four in the afternoon and end at around 10 at night.
For such an experience, go to Nammos or Coo (for sushi) on Psarou beach - the Grecian answer to St Tropez's Le Club 55 - where a meal can cost more than the villa you rented. Much more. Last summer a photo of a Lebanese party's lunch bill at Nammos found its way onto social media: e59,000 (about £42,000), e57,000 (about £40,500) of which was for booze. Whichever restaurant you choose, the vibe is largely the same. Imperceptibly, the music gets louder and louder, and before you know it, someone in a crocheted tank top and bikini bottoms is up on a table throwing shapes, nimbly navigating the magnums of Cristal while you jiggle away with whoever you have just befriended. This year, though, Nammos has a rival in the form of Scorpios, a brand-new restaurant/beach club in Paraga named after Onassis's island with Bedouin-style decor, an organic menu and swaying palm fronds. (Better book a table now.)
Hire a speedboat at Kalafatis to go to the lagoon on Rhenia, Delos's sister island, which won't be deserted - count on at least a couple of superyachts getting there before you - but has to have one of the most beautiful, unspoilt beaches in the Aegean, with its turquoise shallows and white-powder sand. Sadly or fortunately - depending on how you look at it - there is no such thing as a private beach on Mykonos. You should have seen the various tableaux we set up on the wooden dock beside our villa last year to put off inquisitive swimmers, with towels held down by stones and open books, and children posted at the top of the guest pigeon house to keep watch. In true island fashion, it hardly ever worked.
For more of the rustic Mykonos - and there's plenty to be had - try Kiki's, a teeny-tiny taverna atop Agios Sostis beach: no electricity, no reservations, no exceptions, not even if you are Kimye (who have been known to drop in). The trick is to take a villa within walking distance and pay an idle youth to stand in line for you the moment Kiki's opens at midday.
Nevertheless, there will always be someone ahead of you, such is the popularity of this ramshackle but delicious operation dealing in chargrilled squid and the tastiest carrot salad in the Cyclades. To while away the hours waiting under the relentless sun, visit the miracle-bead man selling his wares outside, a gentle British expat who makes bracelets and necklaces out of leather and glass that glows in a certain light.
Afterwards, those who can bear to be seen in a bathing suit - Kiki's portions are huge - should go down to Agios Sostis, arguably Mykonos's best beach. Forget about deck chairs, forget about clothes if you wish (though, gentlemen, remember the sea can be shrinkingly cold) and be careful on the flat, slippery stones, which are difficult to negotiate if you don't know precisely where to get in. Forget about jellyfish too. The only hurty things here are sea urchins, which are delicious in the pasta served at Spilia on Agia Anna, a restaurant on the other side of the island, approachable only over rocks.
If you get a second wind after an extended Mykonian-style lunch, you might just want to push on. In which case, head for cocktails at Caprice, right on the water's edge in Chora, with the surf crashing against your legs as the attention-seeking sunset finally founders. Then, slightly squiffy and in spending mode, see if you can navigate the 'colonnades and curling streets', as Durrell described them, 'with their kennel-like houses, sprouting extravagant balconies of tottering painted wood', to Matoyianni, the main drag. Here, among the evil-eye pendants and tacky nylon high-rise bikinis, you'll find the perfect pair of hammered-gold earrings.
"After two days here you seem to look fitter and thinner, and energy levels explode"
Still in a party mood? Try the newly refurbed Interni bar and restaurant in a sunken bougainvillaea courtyard. Or loop back to Sea Satin Market under the windmills for a more Zorba the Greek vibe, plate-breaking and singing included. Tip: the meatballs here are made by the owner of To Maereio, a family-run taverna in town, which is full of cool, often shoeless locals. On the way home stop at Venetis bakery, open into the wee hours, for melt-in-the-mouth amigdolata (macaroons).
But back to our dream house in Fokos, with its dear, sloping wall, its massive turd-shaped rock obtrusions and its savagely beautiful view of the sea. Two beaches over, in a place impossible for the hoi polloi to get to, my friend Flora, aka The Queen of Mykonos, gave a sunset christening for her grandson at the end of last summer. Below the multi-tiered house, possibly the most spectacular property in Mykonos, a taxi rank of guests' yachts was moored in the bay. After the christening, held outside the family church - the baby fascinated by the priest's nose and thankfully unaware that he was going to be dunked three times, as per Greek Orthodox tradition - there was Champagne on the terrace, followed by dancing till 5am on the sand.
If you're going to mark a rite of passage, Mykonos might well be the place to do it. My other half and me, we want to get married here, grow old here, perhaps be sprinkled out at sea here. If our villa deal goes through, the invite will be in the post. For the best selection of Mykonos villas, visit www.fivestargreece.com
This feature was first published in Condé Nast Traveller August 2015.