What can one say about Mykonos that has not already been written? This is an island that can be polarising; you either love it or hate.
From famous writers, directors and artists, CEOs, stars to a range of Greek Aussies who make their way to Mykonos, the island is the place to be. A place to be seen at and a place to post your jaw dropping selfies from.
I last made my way here in 2019, my sixth visit. The first time I had been on the island in 2004, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Nearby Folegandros was more dramatic and picturesque, and the architecture was nothing compared to my beautiful Lesvos. I thought at the time, for I am a patriotic Lesvian.
It was not until we shot a documentary on Mykonos and Delos in 2016 that it truly dawned upon me what the island offers. I had never paid attention to the chic boutiques and fashion houses that operate all night, seven days a week for seven months. This brings in a significant chunk of money for the Greek economy. The designs are fresh and unique, upmarket and of the highest quality.
My friend, Nicholas Theodoridis, who works at Vegera Café Restaurant told me that Mykonos likely brings in ten percent of the Greek economy. Its not just from the two million visitors, it’s the type of expenditure that occurs. Harry Mestros, from Sydney and a fellow Lesvian, made the point when I visited his beautifully designed jewellery boutique JWLS jewellery store, that a Sheik’s representative may call in the middle of the night and then visit a designer shop. Big bucks are spent at 4 am, then off he goes again.
Nicholas once pointed out that staff are looked after on the island. Wages are much higher than elsewhere in Greece. There is a real family feeling at most of the businesses. I saw how Nicholas warmly engages with the owners at Vegera and vice versa. I have been to eat and drink here many times and I see the sense of friendship and family among staff. People want to work at these places.
My friend, the late, great Tekno Manos would take me to hang out at various bars and cafes. He did not need to pay; no one would take his money. “We are like a family here.” He was spot on. I went to visit two of the places he worked out, before Covid prevented us Aussies from leaving the Hermit Kingdom of Australia. I went to Super Paradise and Queen Champagne Bar. They remembered me as a friend of Tekno and made sure I had a good time. “Because your friend Tekno always wanted people to smile.”
In fact, I once said to Tekno, that I was struggling to find a hotel to say in. “Mate, if you and your friend cant find anything, stay at my room. I will sleep on the floor, take the bed!”
Sure, this is an expensive island. Yet, the memories you create and the people you meet are priceless.
On my last visit, my friend Anna Moskalova, a hairdresser had me meet her at Hair Lab. “You gained some kilos, but you are still sexy! Now, take a seat here and let me my cut your hair, on the house.” Aside from making me laugh, I spent the next few hours meeting a range of people as we visited a range of establishments.
When I shot my documentary here, we wanted to explore Mykonos’ other cultural intricacies in the world of art, architecture, local music, economy, religion and sexuality. We sought to educate viewers on the lesser-known aspects of the island, meshing that with famous people, parties, economic successes and stunning locations along with the myths and magic of nearby Delos.
When I ask Basil Genimahaliotis who made eight film projects with me, his thoughts, he tells me, “people should look for the non-commercial elements; quieter beaches, the ghost town at the old mines, churches in the hundreds, villages such as Ano Mera.” As well as a taverna that operates without electricity and Delos, which is just a 20-minute boat ride away.”
One of the other highlights you will find on the island is the number of famous people and writers. After a catch-up with best-selling author Alexandra Symeonidou, and whose son and brother manage the Imar Gallery, we met up with a favourite author of mine, Jeffrey Siger. He wrote Murder in Mykonos and another Nine titles including a novel set on Lesvos.
It’s not every day you can meet the guy who has written the book which I literally read on the plane over to Europe, Mykonos After Midnight. We met with Jeff and his partner Barbara; they spend half the year on the island, at the stunning Rhenia Hotel in Tourlous which is owned hospitable Mykonian, Andreas Fiorentinos.
Jeff, who was once a partner in a Wall Street law firm, fell in love with Mykonos. When I caught up with him before Covid, we tried to have a quiet meal at Vegera. For a non-Greek, apparently he is not Greek, he seems to know everyone from casual fans to the Mayor. Jeff epitomises what is beautiful about Mykonos. He feels home, and he is, and he appreciates what the island is about.
In his first novel he talks about the old abandoned marite mines. The mines drove the economy until they ceased operating in the 70s. Mykonos’ economy struggled. There was no glitz and glamour. There were mouths to feed, however. I visited the abandoned mines and ironically its where I took my first call from Jeff.
Tourism on the island of 11,000 people has been steady over the decades before the mines closed, with visitors such as Grace Kelly and Jackie Onassis. The advent of gay men finding their way to a conservative island, one with hundreds of churches was always going to be unique. I recall meeting a Drag Queen, Gege Silva. Where else in the world could I sit down have a laugh with a Drag Queen, who told me that the locals make her feel welcome and safe. In fact, this hospitality and openness from the locals helped changed the fortunes of the island; the locals accepted the visitors over the years. The visitors kept returning to a safe and beautiful space. By 1989, Shirley Valentine helped propel the island even further. The hit film seduced holiday makers from all over the world. Pictures and videos of an island with windmills, and the flat roof structures of the Cycladic architecture was unique for most visitors. The Cycladic style is a modern architectural triumph, from last century.
Not to despair, there is plenty of old-style buildings including a bakery which dates back several hundred years. Cine Manto is another visual delight. Yet you need to search hard for it, to find a secret garden with a cinema. Certainly, I became lost searching, but with the help of our phone a friend option in Nicholas, we found one of the most stunning places in the world. This is not just a cinema; it is somewhat of a cultural destination. The outdoor cinema is wonderful, set amongst a number of trees and the stars of the sky shining on the stars of the screen. You will bump into a range of some of the best artists in Greece here, and one of the finest Hellenic film directors in the country. When he isn’t winning awards, Antonis Theocharis Kioukas, who owns the cinema, is dressed as Hellenic God and all too willing to tell us about his home and why Mykonos is such a draw card for people including artists.
Mykonos for most of the middle ages was backward, good for pirates and fugitives, with little to offer the average Hellene. Mykonos is surrounded by churches, yet a short boat ride away, one will find the home and sanctuary for many ancient pagan rituals. Delos is bundled somewhat with Mykonos. With evidence of civilisation dating back 5000 years, Delos is the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Add to this mix the lengthy stays of Dionysius, the God of wine which is consumed well on Mykonos, and Titaness Leto and you have a who’s who of a paganistic world.
Delos declined by the end of the First Century BC, and with limited natural resources had been all but abandoned by living souls. Fast forward to 1872 and the French School of Athens began excavating the island. They remain on Delos, and who wouldn’t want to leave paradise. In fact, with an awesome little coffee shop on the island and cool beaches, I too would dig slowly for a hundred years!
Delos was the Mykonos of the ancient world. Today, it’s a cultural triumph. The only residents are the ancient statues which are in abundance and the archaeologists.
I have friends who refuse to visit Mykonos and others who went because Delos was the attractor. For people like John Petropoulos, they smile when they visit. “Every time I have been there I have had a fantastic time and hopefully visit again.”
These two islands will provide you, the visitor with a range of experiences. Whatever you are looking for, it's likely you will find it on Mykonos or Delos. If not, your selfie stick will at least enjoy the imagery.
Billy Cotsis is the author of 1453: Constantinople & the Immortal Rulers
Presenter at MerakiTV, Foxtel, Feature writer, Neos Kosmos
Watch Billy's Mykonos film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfGpxZ0ylT0&t=1820s
Calabria trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyredNcX3P0&feature=youtu.be