Of course, I can’t claim to belong to that lucky generation who, in the absence of a suitable port for ferries to dock, had to travel ashore by launch. Nor was I there to see Psarou Beach when it was a hippy nudist hangout – before it became a claustrophobic tangle of deckchairs. Nevertheless, during my first 15 years on Mykonos, beginning in the 1990s, the island had an indescribable charm (enhanced by youth, which beautifies everything) which wore off bit by bit as it was built over, gilded, priced out of reach and gradually abandoned by the Greek regulars who had endowed it with its sun-kissed local color.
I remember the “insider” guidebooks of the time, all of which wrote about the same landmarks, the same celebrities, the same handful of experiences which made Mykonos unique: the courtyard at the restaurant Philippi, where the owner’s wife Chrysa danced around with a tambourine; the full-moon parties with beach fires at Panormos; the avant-garde interior design of the bar Astra, the work of Minas; and the medieval architectural marvel of the Church of Panaghia Paraportiani. There was Kiki’s taverna, which sent the smell of roasting meat wafting across the beach at Aghios Sostis; Pierro’s gay bar, one of the first in the world to bring together all sexual identities without discrimination; the man called “Goofy,” who hawked roasted nuts and gossip like a precursor of social media; the establishments Solymar and Nammos, which first introduced the luxury concept of beach service; and the restaurant Rena at Ftelia, where the first surfers would go for a plate of homecooked food after swallowing a few gallons of saltwater.
In 2008, with the onset of the financial crisis, local businesses started to look further afield for their clientele, while many of the Greek regulars were forced to abandon their summer villas, and the summer scene in Mykonos underwent radical change.
Year after year, things changed and businesses expanded, their character altering at a hectic pace. All that was left of the Mykonos we once knew was a whitewashed Saint-Tropez, a New York on the beach, a low-rise, quaint Dubai, the ultimate meeting point for the world’s most successful and beautiful people, an unparalleled experience for all of the senses, except perhaps the sixth, the transcendent.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not among those who sat and wept at the sight of a built-up Elia Beach. My ten days in Mykonos may have been whittled down to five, then three, but however wounded by nostalgia I get, I must also admit to feeling a touch of pride for this “Monaco of the Cyclades,” which was becoming more and more out of reach… until this summer.
Due to the pandemic, the summer tourism Olympics, in which Mykonos traditionally competes for gold, have been postponed. Our season’s goals will not be “faster, higher, stronger” but instead a decent place in the regional league. All the talk is about the once-in-a-lifetime chance for visitors this year to experience a more easygoing Mykonos than the one we’re used to, a spiritual journey in time, a pause-and-restart – after all, isn’t that the true meaning of a vacation? Be warned, though, stocks won’t last…
With far fewer foreign visitors and – one would hope – more grounded prices, this may be the year when we refresh ourselves in the afternoon at Lia Beach with fruit juice rather than champagne with mixed fruit; when we’re finally able to book a table at Katrin’s for an epic chateaubriand and the best fries in the world; when the beach towels at Aghios Sostis will be at a civilized distance from each another; or when the boiled vegetable salad at Fokos Taverna won’t cost what lobster does on the mainland. We might be able to rent a scooter without endangering our lives, or enjoy a quick drink at Aroma in Hora in beat-up flip-flops and wet swimming costumes, before heading to the beach to flirt over mastiha shots at Sea Satin, and maybe even squeeze in a second or third cocktail in the sunset at this year’s hottest beach club – all pleasures that were off limits thanks to crowds, fashion police and the high price of Mykonian rituals. We may finally get to relive them all this year.
We must not forget to support all the cultural treasures that have been added to the island’s rich arts scene. Among those worth mentioning is the Dio Horia Gallery, supporting a cosmopolitan mix of renowned and up-and-coming international artists alongside Greek artists to whom owner Marina Vranopoulou wants to provide a showcase on the “island of opportunities.” Rarity is another international-caliber gallery featuring pieces by the hottest global names which, together with Dio Horia, has transformed Mykonos into a mini-Chelsea, moving away from the “oil-on-canvas variations-on-a-Cycladic-landscape” clichés of old.
I should also mention the beach club Jackie O’ Mykonos, which reclaimed part of Super Paradise Beach from third-class happy-hour resort tourism and brought in award-winning Christoforos Peskias as executive chef.
There’s Scorpios at Paraga, too, whose fame has reached the four corners of the world, thanks to its uniquely executed concept combining raw charm, avant-garde music, cutting-edge international DJs and contemporary boho chic, unmatched anywhere on the island.
There’s also the boutique hotel Wild, a perfectly designed haven overlooking its own deserted bay, built to cater to a desire for social distancing even before it became a necessary precaution.
In the strangest moments of the two-month lockdown, enclosed between four walls, a mental image as cool as a gentle meltemi wind soothed my fears: in it, I was sitting and gazing at a quiet sunset while nursing an aperitif on a deserted – by its standards – Mykonos, sometime in early July. But we’d all better hurry. By August, at the rate that economies and skies are reopening, I can’t guarantee that we won’t be back to where we were last year.