A short break on: Mykonos

In July and August, half the world heads for this most cosmopolitan of Greek islands. But in June, the pace is slower, writes Nick Taylor

If you're after glamour and hedonism, Mykonos is the place. As the locals will tell you, on Mykonos all fantasies come true. It is by far the most cosmopolitan island in Greece and is one of the Mediterranean's leading gay resorts. Half the world spends its summer holidays here. But beyond the cliches lies a deeper magic that catches you unawares under the perfect skies and hangs like a dream through the cool evening squares.

When to go

Travelling anytime during July and August will mean your break will coincide with up to 800,000 other people in temperatures well into the nineties. The beaches become sardine cans and the streets take on a similar crushing compactness, plus the locals become fractious and, unsurprisingly, a lot more hostile. Go in June, before the locals lose their cool, or wait until September.

Getting there

Many airlines fly direct to the island from Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester. The most regular operator is Olympic Airways (tel: 0870 6060460), which operates scheduled flights from Heathrow via Athens, and has five (eight in high season) flights per day. The cost is pounds 270 at the weekend, pounds 260 on weekdays, until the end of June. Charter flights include Air 2000 - reservations through First Choice (tel: 0161-745 7000), which flies every Wednesday from Gatwick for around pounds 260 up until the end of June. For last-minute flights and bargains, check the web at www.bargainholidays.com, where prices range from pounds 79 to pounds 219.

What to see and do

The great thing about a place like Mykonos is that you don't especially need to do anything. So much of its appeal is lying back on a beach or sipping ice-cold drinks in a cafe.

A fine white town, it rises like an amphitheatre behind the quay. The winding streets and lanes, narrow and free of cars, lead the visitor through passages full of jewellers, boutiques and art galleries, not to mention a maze of Orthodox churches and hidden gardens.

The waterfront is an enduring spectacle, whether as a backdrop to the white thatched windmills at the south, or around Alefkandra, where balconied streets totter over the water. Cafes, restaurants and bars crowd the harbour.

Of the 400 churches on Mykonos, the most impressive is Panagia Paraportiani, a Byzantine jewel consisting of four churches rolled into one.

Near the town is the monastery of Aghios Panteleimon, built in 1665, while at Ano Mera, a quiet village five miles inland, stands the 16th- century Tourliani Monastery, with ecclesiastical woodcarvings and a plethora of gold-leaf icons. Visits can only be made by prior arrangement (tel: 0030289 71249). The island's patron saint's day falls on 15 August and Mykonos welcomes visitors to share in celebrating its protectress.

Buses depart from Fabrica square to all the beaches on the south coast for around pounds 1 return, and from the Archeological Museum to stops on the north coast. A herd of scooters awaits the brave, and at around pounds 10 a day they provide complete freedom and many injuries on the spaghetti cliff- roads. For groups, car-hire is the safer, more comfortable and competitively priced alternative.

The beaches themselves look soft and white, though with the island being so wholly rocky, the sand in reality is hard and gritty. Platis Yialos is a long, family-oriented site with many hotels and tavernas just behind the beach. Tour-boats will take the watery route to further bays from the water's edge for pounds 2 return.

A soundtrack of dance beats and nude bathing takes place at the beaches called Paradise, and further round the headland, Super Paradise, while Elia, Kalo Livadi and Lia, the furthest away from the town, provide escapist stretches of basking territory, warm crystalline waters and shaded tavernas. Agios Stefanos to the north of the town is Shirley Valentine land, where "rock" still sits with an open ear for sunset soliloquies.

Where to stay

Anastasios-Sevasti Hotel (tel: 0030289 22876/23550/23545). A well-located hotel a 10-minute walk from the harbour, all its rooms are a good size with private facilities and air-conditioning. It is clean and well-run, with a large pool and bar, and beautiful views of the town and bay. A twin room starts at pounds 23 in April and rises to pounds 43 in August.

Andromeda Residence, Lakka Square (tel: 0030289 24712). A superb apartment and town-house complex run as a hotel. Studios, one, two and three-bed apartments are available, most with TV, air-conditioning, and kitchenette. Situated a few moments from the harbour and in the very centre of town. A twin room starts at pounds 21 in April and rises to pounds 43 in August.

Belvedere Hotel, Rohari (tel: 0030289 25122/5). A category "a" hotel, located to the east of Mykonos town, eight minutes from the harbour. All rooms have air-conditioning, bathroom and telephone, and complete room and laundry services are available. There is also a snack bar, restaurant and swimming-pool. A twin room starts at pounds 33 in April and rises to pounds 75 in August.

President Studios, Litous (contact Man Around, tel: 0181-902 7177). Located in the centre of Mykonos Town, these apartments are a great self-catering base from which to explore the island. With bathroom, kitchenette, sitting area, TV and a sofa-bed, the cost for a twin room is pounds 18 in April rising to pounds 35 in August.

Food and drink

Mykonos town is not ideal for those on a tight budget, and in high season, prices rise with the temperatures. Having said that, it is more than possible to enjoy good, fresh food at around pounds 10 per person. The restaurants at the quayside are large and reasonable value, serving up a selection of traditional Greek fare as well as the more tourist-friendly options of chips and coke. Tavernas Nikos, at Agios Ioannou Street, and Spiros, near the five windmills, are the ones to head for.

Following the maze of streets, other smaller restaurants can be discovered: The Sesame Kitchen, 3 Wells, serves a delicious selection of vegetarian and seafood dishes. Yves Klein Blue, Kalogera 6, is a startling and seductive eatery serving aromatic and exciting Italian dishes. There are innumerable patisseries, ice-cream parlours, creperies and cafes, all of which have a wide selection of cheaper food, soft drinks and varieties of coffee.

In the smaller bars at Kon Kambani you can enjoy strong coffee and healthy servings of spirits over a game of backgammon, while sunsets are best viewed over a Long Island iced tea from Kastros, at the headland of Alefkandra. Aifn, at Enoplon Dinameon, has a large terrace, sunloungers with cushions and excellent cocktails.

Nightlife

After sunset, Mykonos softens with candlelight and cool air. The streets are as full of bars as they are of jewellers and boutiques, all open well into the early morning. Celebrities Astra and the Argo all let wail the tunes from the greatest summer dance-hits album in the world ever, and revellers spill out on to the streets to mix with the throngs of strollers wafting from bar to bar, drink to drink.

The group of bars near Manto Square comprises Pierros, Mantos and Iguana, and here large outdoor seating is matched with a vibrant dancefloor and dazzling drag shows. After dark, the area around Panagia Paraportianis becomes a breeding ground for the wildest animals, and towards sunrise, the Yacht Club at the other edge of the dock comes into its own as the biggest all-night drinking den. Mad, Akti Kambani holds special club nights, as does Cavo Paradiso at Paradise beach, and most of the fliers for beach parties and one-off nights are stapled to telegraph poles around the town on a daily basis.

Out of town

At one level, Mykonos is a giant pleasure-rock. From the airport, that dominates the middle of the island, to the taverna-served beaches at the shore, everything is conceived to best serve the escapist fantasies of its visitors. In line with this principle, Mykonos offers a bounty of water sports. Introductory scuba-diving lessons take place for pounds 20 at Paradise Beach, while windsurfing, jet and water-skiing, boat hire and riding can be found wherever the cliffs turn to sand.

Near Elia beach is Watermania, an outdoor leisure complex of slides, pools, games, poolside bars and sunloungers which provides a complete day's entertainment for pounds 8.

For a different type of excursion, check out the island of Delos, an hour's boat-trip away at pounds 4 return. Mykonos' growth as a bustling island and later tourist-trap rests on this small outcrop of rock to the west. Rivalling Delphi and Olympia in its collection of old stone walls and ruined columns, Delos lies as a wasted tribute to Apollo, who was born on the island. It later became the religious centre of the Aegean, upon which no one was allowed to be born, fall sick or die.

After its day, the site was looted by successive waves of pirates, right up to the present when this century's marauders - tracksuited tourists - crunch millennia-old mosaics underfoot and trample on the wild flowers and the lizards.

Deals and packages

A week self-catering in the President Studios, Mykonos Town, up until 15 July, will cost pounds 475 per person based on two people sharing and including flights. Contact Man Around (tel: 0181-902 7177). A week self-catering in Mykonos Town, with accommodation on arrival, will cost pounds 279 per person up until the end of July, including flights. A week self-catering at the Animos apartments up to the end of June will cost pounds 354, including flights. For details, contact First Choice (tel: 0161-745 7000).

Further information

On the island, contact the Tourist Information Office either at the port or the airport (tel: 0030289 23990). in the UK, contact the Greek Tourist Board, 4 Conduit Street, London, W1R 0DJ (tel: 0171-734 5997).

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