“There is nothing quite like this extraordinary cubist village, with its flittering, dancing shadows and its flaring whiteness. It’s colonnades and curling streets, houses with extravagant balconies of painted wood, lead on and on, turning slowly inward upon themselves to form labyrinths, hazing-in all sense of direction until one surrenders to the knowledge that one is irremediably lost…. It is not cozy, it does not try to charm. It brands you like a hot iron.” – Lawrence Durrell
One of my favourite films is Shirley Valentine, the story of a woman who has a life changing experience when she goes on an unexpected holiday to the island of Mykonos so I suppose that it was inevitable that I would have to travel there one day.
I wasn’t expecting it to change my life in any similar dramatic way when we visited the island in August 2005 and went for a two week holiday to the tourist resort of Ornos Bay on the south coast of the island. From the moment we arrived the sun shone continuously and we had a long lazy fortnight baking under the Aegean sun and walking back and forth from beach to apartments located about two hundred metres behind the busy coastal strip of bars, shops and tavernas.
We stayed at the Anemos Apartments, run by a woman called Poppy and they were excellent rooms, pristine white with tiny balconies and blue shutters, in a quiet location of the main road that led in one direction to the wide sandy beach and in the other towards a busy road that went to the lively party town of Mykonos, or Chora.
As it turned out two weeks was quite a long time in the same place and by the end of the holiday we had inevitably established exactly the sort of routine that we go away to get away from but I suppose that is just human nature and we are all comfortable with the security of routine. Precisely to avoid this, Mykonos was the last time that I went on a holiday like this and in 2006 encouraged by my daughter Sally I had my first island hopping, back packing holiday and have done so every year since.
Mykonos, Greek Islands…
We didn’t stay in Ormis Bay all of the time of course because Mykonos is an interesting and lively island with plenty of things to do and see. First of all we had to visit the nearby beach of Agios Ionnis, which was the principle location for Shirley Valentine with the hotel she stayed at, the beach where she enjoyed wine and sunsets and of course Kostas’ taverna where she worked after staying on beyond the end of her holiday.
It was all fairly recognisable but this was ten years after the film had been made so there had been one or two changes here and there and it has to be said that the taverna with the proud sign outside looked completely different following an obvious refurbishment and make-over.
Mykonos town is a lively place and one of the top tourist attractions in the Cyclades, not as spectacular as Santorini, as historical as Naxos or as dramatic as Ios, but with an enviable location facing west with the town rising up from a gentle shelving crescent shaped bay full of traditional fishing boats competing for moorings with the pleasure boats and yachts.
In the typical Cycladic town of narrow streets and whitewashed houses there was a generous mixture of expensive cosmopolitan shops and cheaper tourist stores, pricey restaurants and affordable tavernas, chic modern bars for young people and tourists and traditional cafés for the local men.
The most famous residents of Mykonos are the pelicans which waddle around the streets, their wings clipped to prevent then flying away, going from one restaurant back door to another in anticipation of fishy scraps from the kitchens and stopping every now and then in a good natured and obliging way to have their photographs taken with the holidaymakers.
Mykonos is one of the most popular of the Greek islands and the down side of this is that it is more expensive than most and that is especially true of the most picturesque part of the town, a collection of old fishermen’s houses built right up to the edge of the sea and known as ‘Little Venice’.
Fishermen don’t live there any more because these gaily coloured buildings are all bars and restaurants and to use them and enjoy the stunning views one has to be prepared to pay elevated prices. We weren’t of course but we did eat at an adjacent taverna with a good view of the houses on one side and Mykonos’ famous windmills on the other as we sat at the same table as Shirley did in the film and enjoyed an evening meal with moonlight on the water and gentle waves harmoniously rearranging the pebbles on the beach.
Very close to Mykonos is the island of Delos an interesting archaeological site that we visited one day during the first week. Allegedly the birth place of Apollo it is the epicentre of the Cycladic ring and an uninhabited island ten kilometres from Mykonos, and is a vast archaeological site that together with Athens on the mainland and Knossos on Crete makes up the three most important archaeological sites in Greece.
Delos was well worth a visit but here are two bits of advice, firstly don’t miss the last boat home or else you will be stuck on the rather remote island all night long and secondly take plenty of water and a snack because there is only one small shop on the island attached to the museum and it is meteorically expensive!
On another day during the first week we took a ferry ride to Paros and I think that it was sitting on the top deck of the ferry enjoying a mythos in the sun that was the beginning of my fascination for Greek ferries and island hopping holidays. We didn’t stay on Paros for any length of time, just long enough to wander through the back streets of this very busy town, a sort of hub of the Cycladic ferry system, have a drink and a meal and then a return journey to Mykonos.