June 11 2002 12:00 AM ET
Day and night on Mykonos
Dusk settles on Mykonos
The hottest Greek Island offers a host of beautiful beaches as well as the promise of an exciting night out after the sun goes down. An exclusive excerpt from Frommer's Gay & Lesbian Europe, 2nd Edition.
The Cyclades, after the acropolis, is what Greece is famous for. Picturesque and unique, each of these islands in the Aegean south of Athens has a different flavor and landscape.
Mykonos is known for its wide sandy beaches; its large, cruisy gay population; and the quaint town of Hora, with windmills and designer shops. Santorini is spectacular, with its volcanic terrain, whitewashed villages stacked on a mountainside, and infamous mules lugging supplies up the hundreds of stairs from the old port to town. Folegandros is one of the last sleepy and nontouristy islands left in the Cyclades. You can hike for miles on its rugged hills and not see another soul, and you can lounge on beaches where only a handful of visitors venture each summer. So close to one another yet so different, these islands offer a very unique experience. Combining the three would give you an incredible Greek island vacation.
Super Paradise Beach, the gayest on Mykonos, is the second stop on the caïque from Platis Yialos
Mykonos: Decadence & Debauchery Unlimited
So you’ve heard of Mykonos, the quintessential Greek island, the jewel of the Cyclades with its windmills, whitewashed villages, and outstanding beaches. You’ve probably also heard of the nude beaches, the dancing in the streets, the all-night parties at Super Paradise Beach, and the infamous 12 Gods circuit party that goes on day and night for almost a week in early September. Mykonos is all that and much more.
Gays from all over the world (very few lesbians) converge on Mykonos, men of every shape and size, of every age, race, and profession. Germans are statistically the most frequent visitors, followed by the British. This is a very seasonal island—nothing is open before Easter or beyond the end of October. The best months are May, June, September, and October, when the island is at its gayest, the weather perfect, and everything less expensive. July and August are very crowded with a mixed tourist crowd. Hip young Athenians escape the city and come here too, and it gets so crowded that walking in the small village of Hora is immensely frustrating.
Some travelers complain of the noise and traffic; others say the gay scene is too much like an endless circuit party. But the great thing about Mykonos is that with so many beaches, all large and sandy, with sparkling blue water, you can still find some peace and quiet if you want. But in the end, Mykonos isn’t about reading a book under a beach umbrella—it’s about decadence and debauchery (you’d be better off reading somewhere cheaper, anyway). The rhythm is party until dawn, sleep until noon, then hit the beach, dine at 10 p.m., and repeat.
You don’t come to Mykonos to soak up Greek culture. There really isn’t much here in terms of archaeological sites except the sacred island of Delos nearby. Mykonos is for the hedonist looking for sun, sea, and nightlife. The main attraction is the men. Men from all over the world—old and young, blond and dark, single and married, and certainly the curious. Men hold hands and even kiss in the tiny streets while old Greek women out shopping for vegetables pretend they don’t notice. Or if they do, they roll their eyes ever so slightly, knowing there’s not much they can do.
On several occasions throughout the year, the U.S. Navy brings its ships, and its randy seamen, for a weekend getaway on Mykonos. (Don’t ask and I won’t tell why they picked Mykonos.) But you can imagine the mayhem of locked-up “straight” boys and the confusion they and their hosts endure. Yes, Mykonos does get zooey. And everything seems to be about sex, gay and straight and whatever. There’s a feeling, especially on midsummer weekends, that the town is overrun and everything is out of control. You wait for a table at restaurants, you wait for a drink at the bar, you wait to take a few steps trying to walk in the streets, and then wait for a taxi.
However, barely a few miles away are empty stretches of beach waiting to be discovered. You can have the best of both worlds on Mykonos: You can enjoy the cruising and the dancing. You can watch the queens posing in the square and the navy boys chasing local girls (not many of those). But right outside of town you can spend an evening on a quiet beach just listening to the waves and counting the stars with the man of your dreams.
Windmills line the hilltop to catch the breezes.
BOYS ON THE BEACH
SUPER PARADISE—You’ll probably hear of Super Paradise Beach, the gayest on Mykonos, long before you arrive. The second stop on the caïque from Platis Yialos, it’s a secluded stretch reachable only by boat or four-wheel-drive vehicle (and scooter, if you’re into potential suicide and permanent back damage). If you arrive on the small boat, you’ll notice that on the right side of the beach the scene is a hetero and partly nude meat market and the left side almost exclusively gay and mostly nude. You can just imagine what goes on at all hours among the rocks and cliffs and trails behind the beach (of course, you’re not interested in that, are you?). The music blares, it gets real crowded by early afternoon, and the boys like to stare. Don’t expect any seclusion, just lots of cruising action. The Super Paradise Restaurant and Bar (no phone; open daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m.) is right above the beach on the rocky cliff and has a small freshwater pool. In addition to all kinds of cocktails, the bar serves fresh fruit juices. The restaurant is a bit overpriced for its mediocre food; expect to pay 9E (drachmas; $8) for drinks and 19E ($20) for a meal.
The boys in the sand.
PARANGA—A 10-minute hike from Platis Yialos or the first stop on the caïque if you request it when you buy your ticket, Paranga Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand big enough for you to choose the spot you want according to your mood. The south side is calm and sedate, with many people reading and lounging in the nude. Here you’ll find many returning visitors and local gays who don’t want to deal with the crowds at Super Paradise. You can rent a chaise lounge for 3E ($2.75) and an umbrella for the same price. It’s a very mixed beach, with equal numbers of gays and straights. On the north side, the tavernas play music and serve drinks. The Barbra & Yannis Restaurant and Bar ([tel] 0289/23-552; open daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m.) serves excellent homemade Greek food at amazingly reasonable prices. Have lunch at one of its tables in the shade of the grapevine before venturing back to your chaise for an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing.
PARADISE—Between Paranga and Super Paradise, Paradise Beach is the second stop (sometimes the first) on the caïque (or buses run several times a day from the south bus stop). This is the hetero version of Super Paradise. Here music blares, and the young and the seemingly straight party day and night. You’ll find mostly northern European tourists and American college students, beer in hand. It’s a fun, boisterous crowd if you’re into the Mazatlan-meets-Mykonos spring-break scene. A large complex with a beach bar, pool, and restaurant, Cavo Paradiso ([tel] 0289/26-124; open daily 10–2 a.m.) is on the hill above the beach. There’s also a gym where you can pump it up with the college boys. On midsummer nights, parties are held here, and the whole beach resembles one huge disco, with people dancing on the rocks, on the sand, around the pool, and on the cliffs around the beach. The dancing and drinking continues until way past sunrise.
AGARARI & ELIA—Side-by-side Agrari and Elia beaches, the third and fourth stops on the caïque (or take the bus to Elia during high season from the north bus station), are large and sandy and perfect for a quiet afternoon of swimming. Agrari is mellow, and Elia has a variety of tavernas and bars and offers windsurfing, water-skiing, and parasailing. For lunch or drinks, the Desire Restaurant & Bar, at the northern end ([tel] 0289/71-207; open daily 10 a.m.–9 p.m.), has fresh salads and cute waiters. Expect to pay 8E ($7) for drinks and 12E ($11) for a light meal (the octopus salad is delicious). Watermania, on a hillside behind Elia ([tel] 0289/71-685), is a huge aqua park where a party atmosphere reigns daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are two huge pools, a variety of slides, and boat rides. Admission is 12E ($11) for the day.
KALAFATI & KALO LIVADI—You’ll need a scooter or car to get to the less-crowded Kalafati and Kalo Livadi beaches, but there’s limited bus service from the north bus stop. On days when the Meltemi winds blow hard, Kalo Livadi is your best bet, since it’s one of the few pebbly beaches on Mykonos. In Kalafati you’ll find the new Paradise Aphrodite Beach Hotel ([tel] 0289/71-367), with 148 rooms and a large pool; doubles begin at 150E ($138). Despite its hugeness, it’s a good place to have lunch and a swim. The beach is sandy and over a mile long and has the cleanest water in Mykonos.
ORNOS—The closest good beach to Mykonos Town is Ornos Beach, where buses from the south bus stop run every half an hour. Lined with tavernas, restaurants, bars, and hotels, it can get packed in high season. This beach is usually overrun with families and tourists on package vacations, and there’s absolutely no nudity. But it’s still possible to have a nice swim and people-watch while you relax on your chaise, costing 3E ($2.75) for the day.
PLATIS YIALOS—Platis Yialos, to which buses run every 20 minutes from the south bus station, is the hub of beach life in Mykonos. This is where the buses bring hordes of people every half an hour to catch the caïques to the outlying beaches. The sandy beach is jammed with taverna after taverna and hotel after hotel. Only visitors staying in hotels seem to swim at this beach, for it’s just too busy most of the time. If you’re staying here and have asked for a seafront or sea-view room from any of the hotels, be prepared for noise. Many visitors hoping to hear the waves from their beach hotels end up with screeching scooter noise and clanging dishes instead.
OTHER BEACHES—The beach closest to Mykonos Town on the north side is Aghios Stephanos, with many hotels and tavernas. It’s too crowded to be enjoyable. Farther north, accessible only by car or scooter, are several pretty beaches. Take the road north heading to the town of Ano Mera (the only other town on Mykonos apart from Hora) to get to Panormos, the largest and most popular of the northern beaches. The Panormos Restaurant, on the hillside ([tel] 0289/25-182; open daily noon–11 p.m.), serves fresh fish. Close to Panormos are many small coves and secluded beaches. Aghios Sotis is the farthest beach north reachable by car and is gaining popularity with the local gay population; nudity is permitted.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
On Mykonos, there’s a thin line between straight and gay. You’ll always find gays at the straight bars and vice versa. Even the patrons at the gay bars are usually only about 70% gay. As Jody, co-owner of the Montparnasse Piano Bar, put it, "There’s always enough variety that my mother feels comfortable here."
Until midnight, that is. Midnight is the magic hour, when anyone with any gay interest heads to the "square," in front of an old church, one street in from Taxi Square on Matoyanni Street. There are three bars: Pierrot’s, Manto’s, and Ikarus, the three most famous gay bars in all Greece. Most of the posing, cruising, and drinking actually happens right outside the bars, on the square. By 1 a.m., the crowd is so thick it takes quite a bit of shoving and pushing to squeeze through the Lycra T-shirted boys to get inside to the bar for a drink (talk about a contact sport).
Where are the gay men before midnight? There’s only one happening place, and that’s the Montparnasse Piano Bar in Little Venice. It’s most fun between 10 p.m. and midnight, before the boys start thinking of going dancing and looking for other pursuits.