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In the fourth installation of our “By the Sea” summer destination series, TPG Contributor Drew Limsky heads to Greece’s Aegean Sea and introduces us to one of the most famous of the Cyclades Islands— delightful Mykonos.
My experience with magical Mykonos is limited to the shoulder seasons — May and October — and the weather was glorious both times, with mild temperatures all day long and soft pink sunsets over the turquoise sea. If you like to swim in the Mediterranean, May might be too cold for you, but it’s far warmer in July and August. The latter two are also the heavy party months, when the year-round LGBT scene hits its peak and the narrow, pedestrian-only lanes of Mykonos town are flooding with humanity.
With or without crowds, though, Mykonos is a dreamy, easy place to be. Its success is owed largely to tourism, so locals are friendly, the food is fresh, healthy and lovingly prepared, taxis are plentiful, hotels cater to Americans and everyone speaks English. The only thing you really have to worry about here is sunburn.
The most popular, regular flights to Mykonos Airport (JMK) depart from Athens (ATH), but a slew of airlines fly seasonally in summer from other cities (Italian hubs and London are especially well covered), including Aegean, British Airways, Meridiana and Alitalia. It’s good policy to always check EasyJet, too, because the low-cost airline offers direct flights from several cities in Italy and the UK, as well as Paris-Orly (ORY). However, since early May was too early for EasyJet’s late May-through-October season, on my latest trip to Mykonos (I’m here at the time of publishing), I flew Vueling directly from Rome (FCO).
American AAdvantage: One-way from 20,000 miles (economy), 50,000 miles (business) and 62,500 miles (first) on British Airways.
Delta SkyMiles: Round-trip from 60,000 miles (economy) and 125,000 miles (business) on Alitalia.
United MileagePlus: One-way from 30,000 miles (economy), 57,500 miles (business) and 70,000 miles (first) on United with intra-Europe flights on Aegean, Austrian, Germanwings or SAS. One-way from 70,000 (business) and 110,000 (first) when flying Austrian or SAS across the Atlantic.
For more on transportation to Mykonos and the other Greek Islands, check out Flying Direct to Greek Islands. If you’d prefer to take to the water rather than fly, know that the fast ferry from the port at Piraeus (Athens) takes less than three hours, and there’s efficient, regular ferry service between Mykonos and the other Cyclades Islands (e.g., Santorini, Paros, Naxos, etc.), as well.
Where to Stay
When I was here seven or eight years ago, I stayed at the Royal Myconian Hotel above Elia Beach. By now, this area has been completely transformed as part of the family-owned Myconian Collection. For the first time, all five of their Elia Beach hotels — all of them either new builds or wholesale renovations— are open. Despite the fact they offer a total of more than 600 rooms, the Collection’s low-rise Cycladic village-style architecture fits serenely into the environment, climbing up a steep hillside (shuttle service to the beach and to town are readily available). The interior design is fanciful and earthy, culled from the top trade shows in Milan and Paris; each hotel boasts a Thalasso Spa and beautiful pools.
I spent the first part of my trip at one of the newer properties, Myconian Villas, loving the white-on-white room, the super-comfy lounge chairs on the ample terrace overlooking the sea, and the thick beanbag chair-like sunbeds at the pool. (I like being horizontal.)
At the Myconian Villas, I enjoyed a phenomenal dinner that included grilled manouri cheese, scallops and Santorini white wine. Lunches at the Myconian Imperial consisted of some of the best shrimp I’ve ever eaten, olive spread you’ll never forget and a brilliant honeyed pork pita. Give yourself extra room to stretch out by snagging some cozy banquette seats.
This is the second season for Utopia, the boutique member of the Myconian Collection that draws a young crowd. It features Spartan-chic design (smooth concrete floors and lots of wood and other natural materials) and a commanding position high above the other hotels. It gained entrance into the gastronomic-centered Relais & Chateaux. Because this is sort of an introductory-rate season, check various dates for all five properties to find the best deals. A nightly rate for the Royal Myconian can be had for $193 and the Myconian Imperial (closest to the beach) is a steal at $239, while $376 is a sample rate for Myconian Villas, and Utopia might set you back $502.
American Express cardholders (Premier Rewards Gold, Platinum, Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express, etc.) can redeem their Membership Rewards for rooms at all five properties by booking through the American Express Travel portal. Also be aware that both the Myconian Imperial and the Royal Myconian are members of Leading Hotels of the World, granting special benefits to members of LHW’s Leaders Club.
Meanwhile, Santa Marina, a Starwood Luxury Collection resort on Ornos Beach, has undergone a beautiful renovation, offering pool villas as well as hotel rooms. It’s a member of American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, granting American Express Platinum cardholders exclusive benefits such as room upgrades and early/late-check-in. An SPG Category 7 hotel, the Santa Marina costs around $582 or 30,000 Starpoints.
Also keep in mind a favorite of the smart set, the Hotel Belvedere Mykonos — here’s TPG’s review.
What to Do
The big draws are Mykonos town and the beaches. Mykonos town (Chora) is iconic: it’s a magical maze in the middle of traditional whitewashed buildings with doors and railings that pop in blue and red. Bougainvillea drips down ledges and no cars are allowed. There are several small squares, and a winning row of tavernas that hang over the water in the Little Venice section. I had a swell meal at corner table out on the narrow terrace at Katerina’s, overlooking the windmills across the bay. I started with top-notch pita and tzatziki and then had a hearty main course of unbelievably tender and toothsome lamb shank with rice in tomato sauce. This cozy, two-story place was full of locals, the service was extremely friendly, and lovely Katerina was on site. I really couldn’t have chosen a better dining experience in terms of location, atmosphere and cuisine.
Matsuhisa at the Belvedere lives up to its master’s reputation. Look for menu classics like the Tiradito, Black Cod with Miso and New Style Sashimi — plus, there are daily specials depending on what came in on the fishing net from the Aegean, and a 250-bin wine list with a healthy selection of local varietals. The David Rockwell décor manages a seamless blend of Asian and Cycladic elements. I had a nightcap at the Montparnesse piano bar, a welcoming place with water views, cute staffers and live entertainment. Many shops stay open late, and I picked up some nice local pottery at Chora, which has a fine selection of housewares and gifts.
If you want to beach-hop, I suggest renting a car rather than relying on buses and boats, which can be packed in high season. Note that many beaches have clothing-optional sections, which are pretty much synonymous with the gay sections; the right-hand section of Elia has supplanted Super Paradise as the top gay beach on the island. Some of my favorite beaches include Elia, Super Paradise and Psarou. The tiny, beautiful Kapari Beach is especially good for seclusion.
Credit cards such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card don’t charge foreign transaction fees, making them ideal to use on overseas vacations. To see more cards without these fees, check out Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees.
Have you been to Mykonos? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments below!
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