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Mykonos – the jet set and celebrity island

Over a million visitors come to Mykonos each year. While many are here to go to trendy bars, restaurants and night clubs, it would be a pity to miss the unknown side of the island – the rocky landscape, traditional small churches and untouched beaches lapped by turquoise sea.

The Greek island of Mykonos has always been a bolt-hole for A-list celebrities. The locals here are so used to encountering the rich and beautiful – from ­Virgin founder Richard Branson and the ­Kennedy family to Hollywood stars such as Quentin Tarantino, Natalie Portman and Russell Crowe – that nobody bats an eyelid.

When the jet set host a party, they often fly artists to the island for private shows. One rich Englishman flew in Diana Ross, The Bee Gees and Demis Roussos for his 40th birthday party, for example. Such events often extend into a second day, partly in a private villa but also at one of the nightclubs, preferably Cavo Paradiso on Paradise Beach, one of the world’s most popular venues.

“Many celebrities come here to be able to walk around undisturbed on the beaches and in Mykonos Town,” says Edward Prendergast from Ireland, who runs a jewelry store, Lalaounis, whose regular customers include Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson.   

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After working in London as a retail manager, Prendergast wanted to do something else with his life. He traveled around Europe for nine months until he found his dream location on earth, Mykonos. That was 26 years ago. Now he spends every tourist season here and the winters in Rio de Janeiro. He has been working at Lalaounis almost as long and pretty much knows everyone who lives on the island.

“What I love most is that the people are so warm hearted. It’s not surprising that around 35 % of all visitors come back season after season. June and September are especially popular for returning visitors.”

When Prendergast is asked to list his favorite restaurants, he not only names places such as Nammos, Nobu and Hakkassan, but also simpler tavernas such as Nikos Taverna, Kikis Taverna and Joannas Nikos. You can eat well everywhere on Mykonos and most hotels, bars and restaurants are styled by successful and expensive interior designers.

Youth recreation leader Zeta Boti Åberg has her permanent home in Stockholm, but she and her family also have a small house with a pool on Mykonos. She first set foot on the island in 2007, when her Greek father bought the land himself.

“Mykonos is an island that is entirely insensitive to economic cycles, no matter what happens in the rest of Greece,” says Åberg. “I enjoy the extremely beautiful beaches, shopping in Mykonos Town and the best night life in Greece.”

When asked what she would recommend to a first-time visitor, Åberg says to come here in June or September when it’s not that hot and there are fewer tourists, and to travel round and discover the whole island. She adds that each beach has its own special charm and that it’s best to choose your beach depending on the wind direction, especially in August when it is pretty windy on the island.

“When there isn’t a north wind, Panormos is my ­favorite beach, with trendy restaurants and the Principote bar. When it comes to the south of the island, I like going to Paraga best, with the Scorpio Club, but if you’d rather swim in the largest saltwater lagoon in Europe and party even harder, there’s also the Sant Anna club on the same beach. However, if you want to watch the sunset with an evening drink in your hand and a fantastic view over Mykonos Town, I would suggest the 180° Sunset Bar instead.” 

Åberg also reminds us of the island’s fantastic culture and history and that there’s a daily boat from Mykonos to the neighboring island of Delos, one of the largest archaeological excavation sites in the world. It is a good idea to take a guided tour there to be able to gain an idea of what it was like in the time of the Ancient Greeks when Delos was inhabited and they worshiped the god Apollo, who is said to have been born on the island.

“Delos is a pearl you absolutely mustn’t miss, as is a visit to either of the two archeology museums on ­Delos or Mykonos,” says Dimitra Asimomyti, who takes tourists on all-terrain cycle tours via her cycle company Yummy Pedals.

Asimomyti grew up in Athens, but moved to Mykonos five years ago, where her dad Nikos owns and runs Vioma Organic Wine Farm outside of Ano Mera. She is accompanied by Mario, a small street dog she found under a bus in Crete and who has since become her constant companion.

When she talks about her love for Mykonos, she emphasizes in particular the amazing hospitality of the islanders, the local traditions, the sea and the untouched beaches that not many people find their way to and the wild landscape in the north of the island.

“Despite its popularity, Mykonos has managed to keep its traditions, which is incredibly important to my mind. My father’s organic vineyard is just one example. He even plays classical music to his vines and there are plenty of other families that also produce and sell local delicacies.”

During a visit to the organic vineyard, we’re able to stock up with organic wines under three labels: Wind’s Island White, Paraportiano and Aegean Vine. If you’d rather take something to eat home with you, look out for the Greek almond Amygdolata cookies or Kaltsounia cheese pie and Kremmydopita, an onion pie, at any of the small bakeries.

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As a general rule, you can shop in Mykonos Town until at least midnight and some places stay open even later. The stores are tightly packed along the picturesque alleys. In particular, you’ll find jewelry, clothes, leather sandals, art and home decorations, olive soaps and creams.

“The perfect start to an evening out is a visit to an art gallery,” say Asimomyti. “Then ask a local if there’s a concert that evening or maybe go to an outdoor movie theater. If you want to conclude the evening by watching the sun go down without having to elbow your way into a bar in the Little Venice quarter, I recommend going to the Armenistis lighthouse, a few kilometers outside town.”

Asimomyti also suggests beach hopping via the beach boats from Platis Yialos, something she often did as a child during summer holidays on the island. You can celebrity spot at Psarou Beach, Super Paradise and Kalo Livadi. Russell Crowe used to go swimming at Psarou when he holidayed on the island and Branson likes to spend time at Kalo Livadi.

Despite all the massive financial problems in Greece, there’s not much sign of this on Mykonos. This island has a life of its own – as a faded old queen rising out of the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean. 

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