Mykonos: Where you'll find Super Paradise on this hedonistic Greek island

Am I rich enough, Mick Jagger sang in the Rolling Stones' desperate, yearning song, Beasts of Burden. The answer on glittering Mykonos is: Probably not. For this jet-setting Cycladic island that has supplanted Ibiza and San Tropez exists on an illusion of fame, luxury, beauty and perfection.

And even if you are rich enough on Mykonos, are you cool enough, beautiful enough, connected enough, appropriately dressed enough? Or are you, like most of the great wash of bewildered tourists circling the elegant whitewashed streets, simply in search of the dream?

That dream could be our youth, a wild party that has to be happening somewhere, the people we once knew, a different body shape, that little cafe with the excellent coffee, homemade cake and good Wi-Fi that once was found but now is lost (Popolo tucked away in the main town of Chora that we happened upon last time but can't find on this visit).

We've come to Mykonos as part of our Ponant Le Lyrial small-ship cruise from Venice to Athens. Like many Mykonos acolytes, our first elongated visit was in the late 1970s when it was an escapist's fantasy and we've returned several times.

Remarkably, the island has retained its "aura of Mykonos" thanks to the strictly enforced minimalist Cycladic style of simple lines and whitewash. You have to look past the in-season crowds however and the place is undeniably trendier, more expensive and substantially more developed outside Chora.

And beautiful places in Chora like Little Venice with their gorgeous sunset views and vistas to the famous windmills have disappointing moments. Some offer little in the way of Greek specialties – I crave a simple grilled octopus tentacle, not a hamburger – and the Wi-Fi is poor. Perhaps the cafe owners are sick of tourists pouring off Wi-Fi-challenged cruise ships to indulge in download frenzies. 

The quieter areas of the main town and island are where the true beauty is still evident – beaches like Ftelia, tiny Loulos, Fokos, Kalafatis and Kapari, though you'll need transport. 

For elegant solitude, it helps to be rich when visiting this go-to boho stop on the glitterati circuit. Says Mykonos-lover and trendy Milanese fashion photographer, Giampaolo Sgura: "Super Paradise was my favourite place to party from 2012 to 2015. Now I like private villa parties." 

Those kinds of parties are the domain of the super chic for whom Mykonos is reassuringly expensive. They arrive by mega-yacht and private plane – there's never enough parking space in season. 

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At least window-shopping in the narrow streets of Mykonos town is free.

At least window-shopping in the narrow streets of Mykonos town is free. Photo: Shutterstock

Mind you, if you want to be seen, head for decadent Psarou, a high season hotbed of glistening international superstars and rich locals. You'll probably have to mortgage your house, if you have one, for sushi at exclusive Nammos, but as Shirley Valentine once said: "Why do we get all this life if we don't ever use it?"

Though Mykonos was once a humble island without electricity, for many it has long been nirvana. After the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon in 490BC, the Persians passed through Mykonos, which they apparently called "paradise".

This white and lovely Aegean isle, with its iridescent rose-gold light, is all about desire, possibility, freedom, love and, appropriately, beauty, for it's named after Mykons, said to be the son or grandson of Apollo, god of beauty, music, truth and poetry. 

In 1911, a young Swiss architect, who later became Le Corbusier, backpacked through Greece, Italy and Turkey. Mykonos' buildings – pure white interlacing cubes with bright-coloured doors and balconies, flat roofs and minimal ornamentation – profoundly influenced him. 

"Unless you have seen the houses of Mykonos, you cannot pretend to be an architect," he later wrote, cementing the island's modernist elegance.

Blinded by the whitewash in Mykonos.

Blinded by the whitewash in Mykonos. Photo: Shutterstock

In the 1950s, people started coming to this post-war paradise, creating a bohemian utopia at the forefront of the hippie trail. Intellectuals like French philosopher Albert Camus and the Nobel Prize-winning Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis appeared, drawn by the wild beaches, while American writer Henry Miller said: "The light of Greece opened my eyes."

Wealthy business people and royalty trickled in – Aristotle Onassis, Stavros Niarchos, Queen Frederica and King Paul of Greece, and later on, young people on the cusp of a revolution of free love, drugs and peace, with a fair bit of scandalous nudity thrown in at beaches like Paraga.

Jackie Kennedy, with her sister Lee Radziwill, wafted by in 1961, trailing expensive perfume and Jackie's nascent notions of Camelot, closely followed by the Brigitte Bardots, Sophia Lorens, Richard Burtons, Elizabeth Taylors, Grace Kellys, Mia Farrows, Rudolf Nureyevs by the dozen, all wanting to share what Mykonos offered – the kind of enigmatic enchantment that Shakespeare conjured on his magical island in The Tempest. 

In the '70s it was a floating gay party island, putting Super Paradise and Elia beaches on the map, morphing into the ultimate hip retreat for 1980s, '90s and noughties jet setters – an endless and ever-expanding A-list of celebs including Liz Hurley, Naomi Campbell, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, P Diddy, Madonna, Paris Hilton, Hugh Jackman, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, Shakira, Lady Gaga, Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Russell Crowe.

And Shirley Valentine turned up on Agios Ioannis beach in 1989, a plump Englishwoman in search of love, proving that Mykonos offers up its dream to all comers. Clearly, as we nudge past wandering tourist groups in Mykonos' Bond Street – Matoyianni – or the Venetian-built windmills or Little Venice or Panagia Paraportiani, the most photographed of the island's 400 churches, it's still mightily desired.

Fabulous Greek food by the seaside.

Fabulous Greek food by the seaside. Photo: Shutterstock

It's clear that many people are content simply to be absorbed into this luminous artwork, to rub shoulders with celebrities, minor celebrities, wannabe celebrities and the rest.

And naturally, the celebrities have lured the designers and their beautiful acolytes to come en masse to this aesthetically delightful place, despite the meltemi – the strong, dry Aegean north wind that plays havoc with the hair. 

Designers with soft spots for the island include Jean Paul Gaultier, Roberto Cavalli, Giorgio Armani, Valentino and shoe designer Brian Atwood who's been throwing his birthday parties there for years. 

So do Canadian designer twins Dan and Dean Caten of Dsquared2. Their themed bacchanalian bashes are legendary with guests raging far into the wee hours to music provided by Grammy-winning American house DJ David Morales. 

Mykonos has become so design hip that the glossy international fashion magazine L'Officiel launched L'Officiel Mykonos last year.

Says publishing director Molly Andrianou in her editorial: "It is all about art and aesthetics and great creators. Traditionally, Mykonos has been the refuge for all independent, spirited people, all great travellers and vagabonds, rebels and hedonists, the fashion world's greatest, designers and stylists, photographers and creative directors, intensely beautiful models and crazy geniuses. 

"The strong bond that has been nurtured … between the island and its visitors has finally found its voice in this issue. We hope you see the beauty of the Aegean Sea laid out before you reflected in these pages, while sipping on a chilled coupe de Cristal."

Says it all, really. And there's apparently a code if you're looking for that private villa invite. It's this: No one wears heels, but jewellery is a must.

Mind you, you can count on the UK Spectator's crabby columnist Taki to offer a different view.

"Our one and only mistake," he writes after sailing in on his chartered 38-metre schooner with its six crew, "was to come to this hideous island, now overrun by nouveau-riche 'cool' people. Vulgarity rules the roost as never before."

Taki clearly sees the dark side of this Peter Pan Neverland isle, not the dream place where beauty, optimism and longing are forever frozen in time.


FIVE HIP PLACES ON MYKONOS


1. If you think you're suitably cool, head to the uber-chic, "modern-day agora" Scorpios Beach Club (named after Onassis's island) on Mykonos' warm southern tip overlooking Paraga and Kavos lagoons. Book a daybed or a restaurant table and people watch until your eyes pop.

2. Super-quiet Lyo Boutique Hotel high above super-noisy Super Paradise Beach (with its razzle-dazzle Jackie O bar) has 18 contemporary, elegant rooms and suites sprawled across low-rise buildings. Chef Nam Truong's food is well reviewed.

3. Rarity Gallery in Kalogera Street in the centre of Mykonos epitomises Mykonian chic. It's the first Greek gallery to exhibit the works of internationally acknowledged contemporary artists in a beautiful space. Currently focusing on a new generation of artists like Julian Lennon and Francesca Pasquali, there are five annual exhibitions.

4. No matter how famous, you can't book at tiny taverna Kiki's above Agios Sostis beach. Arrive well before midday to queue for the most amazing char-grilled squid and pork chops, marinated gavros (anchovies) and, yes, carrot salad. Kanye may well be at the next table – they had to queue too, or pay someone to do it.

5. High-end boutiques include Linea Piu offering brands like Chanel, Blumarine, Christopher Kane, Tom Ford; Ergon Mykonos has handmade Greek luxury; Maurizio Mykonos boutique showcases another Greek label; Caravana – Scorpios boutique at the beach club reinterprets Mexican craftsmanship.


TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/greece

au.ponant.com

FLY

Emirates flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Venice via Dubai and returns from Athens via Dubai. See emirates.com.au 

CRUISE

Le Lyrial's Discovery of Dalmatian Shores eight-day Athens to Venice departs July 21 or August 7, 2018. From $3660 per person double occupancy – book now to save up to 30 per cent. Includes private balcony, all meals, open bar. See au.ponant.com  or phone 1300 737 178.

Alison Stewart was a guest of Ponant and Emirates.
 

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