From Mykonos to Delos and the quirky stuff in between
What to say about Mykonos that has not already been written? It is an island that can be polarizing; you love it or you hate it.
From famous writers, directors and artists, CEOs, stars to a range of Greek Australians traveling to Mykonos, the island is the place to be. A place to be seen and a place to post your jaw-dropping selfies.
I made my way here for the last time in 2019, my sixth visit. The first time I went to the island in 2004, I didn’t understand what it was. Nearby Folegandros was more dramatic and picturesque, and the architecture was nothing compared to my beautiful Lesbos. I thought at the time, for I am a patriotic Lesvian.
It wasn’t until we shot a documentary about Mykonos and Delos in 2016 that I really understood what the island has to offer. I had never paid attention to fancy boutiques and fashion houses that run all night, seven days a week for seven months. This brings in a lot of money for the Greek economy. The designs are fresh and unique, upscale and of the highest quality.
My friend, Nicholas Theodoridis, who works at Vegera Café Restaurant told me that Mykonos probably accounts for ten percent of the Greek economy. It’s not just because of the two million visitors, it’s the type of spending that occurs. Harry Mestros, from Sydney and another Lesvian, pointed out when I visited his beautifully designed JWLS jewelry store, which a Sheik representative can call in the middle of the night and then visit a designer boutique. Large sums are spent at 4 am, then he leaves.
Nicholas pointed out once the staff are taken care of on the island. Salaries are much higher than elsewhere in Greece. There is a real sense of family in most businesses. I have seen how Nicholas warmly engages with the owners of Vegera and vice versa. I have been to eat and drink here several times and see the sense of friendship and family among the staff. People want to work in these places.
My friend, the great Tekno Manos, would take me hanging out in various bars and cafes. He didn’t need to pay; no one would take their money. “Here we are like a family. He was there. I went to visit two of the places he worked, before Covid prevented us Australians from leaving the Hermit Kingdom of Australia. I have been to Super Paradise and the Queen Champagne Bar. They remembered me as a friend from Tekno and made sure I had a good time. “Because your friend Tekno always wanted people to smile.”
In fact, I once told Tekno that I was having a hard time finding a place to say. “Buddy, if you and your friend can’t find anything, stay in my room.” I’m going to sleep on the floor, take the bed!
Of course, it is an expensive island. Yet the memories you create and the people you meet are priceless.
During my last visit, my friend Anna Moskalova, a hairdresser introduced me to the Hair Lab. “You put on a few pounds, but you’re still sexy!” Now, sit here and let me cut your hair, over the house. In addition to making myself laugh, I spent the next few hours meeting various people as we visited various establishments.
When I shot my documentary here, we wanted to explore the other cultural intricacies of Mykonos in the world of art, architecture, local music, economics, religion and sexuality. We have sought to educate viewers on lesser-known aspects of the island, mixing this with famous people, parties, economic successes, and stunning locations, as well as the myths and magic of nearby Delos.
When I ask Basil Genimahaliotis who made eight film projects with me, his thoughts, he says to me: “People should look for the non-commercial elements; quieter beaches, the ghost town of old mines, churches by the hundreds, villages like Ano Mera. ” As well as a tavern that works without electricity and Delos, which is only 20 minutes by boat.
One of the other highlights that you will find on the island is the number of famous people and writers. After catching up with bestselling author Alexandra Symeonidou, and whose son and brother run the Imar gallery, we met one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Siger. He wrote Murder on Mykonos and nine other titles, including a novel set on Lesbos.
It’s not every day that you get to meet the guy who wrote the book I literally read on the plane to Europe, Mykonos After Midnight. We met Jeff and his partner Barbara; they spend half the year on the island, in the magnificent Hotel Rhenia de Tourlous, owned by the 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 in Vegera. To a non-Greek, apparently he’s not Greek, he seems to know everyone from the occasional fan to the mayor. Jeff embodies what is beautiful in Mykonos. He feels at home, and he is, and he appreciates the purpose of the island.
In his first novel, he talks about the old abandoned maritime mines. Mines were the engine of the economy until they ceased to function in the 1970s. Mykonos’ economy struggled. There was no glitter and glamor. There were, however, mouths to feed. I visited the abandoned mines and ironically this is where I took my first call from Jeff.
Tourism on the island of 11,000 was stable over the decades before the mines closed, with visitors including Grace Kelly and Jackie Onassis. The advent of gay men heading to a conservative island, an island with hundreds of churches, was always going to be unique. I remember meeting a Drag Queen, Gege Silva. Where else in the world could I sit for a laugh with a Drag Queen, who told me the locals make her feel welcome and safe. In fact, this hospitality and openness of the inhabitants have helped to change the destiny of the island; locals have accepted visitors over the years. Visitors kept coming back to a safe and beautiful space. In 1989, Shirley Valentine helped propel the island even further. The hit film won over vacationers around the world. Photos and videos of an island with windmills and the flat roof structures of Cycladic architecture were unique to most visitors. The Cycladic style is a modern architectural triumph of the last century.
Don’t despair, there are many old style buildings including a bakery that dates back hundreds of years. Cine Manto is another visual delight. However, you have to look, find a secret garden with a cinema. Granted, I got lost looking, but with the help of our phone, a friend option in Nicholas, we found one of the most amazing places in the world. It’s not just a cinema; it’s sort of a cultural destination. The open-air cinema is beautiful surrounded by many trees and the stars in the sky shine on the stars on the screen. Here you will meet some of the best artists in Greece and one of the best Hellenic filmmakers in the country. When not winning an award, cinema owner Antonis Theocharis Kioukas is disguised as a Hellenic god and is more than willing to tell us about his home and why Mykonos is an asset to people including the 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, but a short boat ride away you will find the home and sanctuary of many ancient pagan rituals. Delos is a bit clustered with Mykonos. With evidence of civilization dating back 5,000 years, Delos is the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Add to this mix the long stays of Dionysius, the god of wine who is drunk well in Mykonos, and the Titaness Leto and you have a who’s who of a pagan world.
Delos declined by the end of the first century BC, and with limited natural resources it had been practically abandoned by living souls. Fast forward to 1872 and the French school of Athens began to dig the island. They remain on Delos, and who would not want to leave paradise. In fact, with an awesome little cafe on the island and cool beaches, I too would dig slowly for a hundred years!
Delos was the Mykonos of the ancient world. Today is a cultural triumph. The only inhabitants are the ancient statues which are in abundance and the archaeologists.
I have friends who refuse to visit Mykonos and others who have been there 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 hope to come back.”
These two islands will offer you, as a visitor, a range of experiences. Whatever you are looking for, you will probably find it on Mykonos or Delos. Otherwise, your selfie stick will at least appreciate the pictures.
Billy Cotsis is the author of 1453: Constantinople & the Immortal Rulers
Presenter at MerakiTV, Foxtel, Writer, Neos Kosmos
Watch Billy’s Mykonos movie:
Calabria trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyredNcX3P0&feature=youtu.be
The mathematical brains of medieval Pyrgi