NOT so long ago Mykonos, one of the Aegean’s most popular islands, onto which jumbo cruise ships deposit as many as 15,000 day-trippers a day, was awash in just about everything but glamour. The Greek island was easily dismissed as too crowded, too expensive, too much of a cliché.
But over the past few summers, it has bounced back hard as one of Europe’s jet-set playgrounds, rivaling the days when its cachet was almost universally evoked with just two words: Jackie Onassis.
These days, its hoteliers and restaurateurs are creating the magic by mixing a healthy dose of the island’s hedonistic past with a new reality of luxury accommodations, fusion gastronomy and notions of proper service. Mykonos has quickly welcomed a lost generation of globe-trotters, many of whom once scoffed at the idea of joining the mobs massing on its shores.
1) GO WEST
Head for sunset drinks at Ai Yianni (30-22890-23547), on the beach at Agios Ioannis, the island’s westernmost beach. At just 26 years old, the restaurant’s second-generation owner, Nikolas Xydakis, exemplifies the new face of improved Mykonian hospitality, having been sent by his parents to study at the elite Les Roches hostelry academy in Lausanne. It may be too early for dinner, but not for some delectably crispy saganaki (6 euros, or $9.18 at $1.53 to the euro) and a glass of Peloponnesian chardonnay (3 euros) beneath the grapevine-shaded pergola.
2) RUSTIC CHIC
Fighting the current trend toward white-on-white minimalism, the family-owned taverna Te Maerio (Kalogera Street, Mykonos Town; 30-22890-28825) serves straightforward fare amid charmingly simple décor. Model ships and braided loaves of bread adorn the walls, and the standout nibbles include crispy zucchini fritters (7 euros), rich tzatziki crunchy with cucumber (4 euros) and the savory keftedes (9.50 euros).
3) TAKE TO THE STREETS
For gay visitors, the scene gets going at Porta (Paraportiani, Mykonos Town; 30-22890-27087), which reaches its peak crowd around 1 a.m., and in the streets around Pierro’s Bar (Matoyanni Street, Mykonos Town; 30-22890-22177; www.pierrosbar.gr) where the proximity of several like-minded establishments creates a nightly Pride party. The crowd is mixed and devoted to the club scene at the open-air Cavo Paradiso (Paradise Beach; 30-22890-27205; www.cavoparadiso.gr), among the world’s mythic dance clubs, with a singular perch 100 feet above the sea.
Restore yourself with a Greek coffee (2.50 euros) and a spinach-and-feta omelet (10 euros) at Raya (Old Port, Mykonos Town; 30-22890-28223; www.raya-mykonos.com), overlooking the harbor. Steps away you’ll find the International Press News Stand with a huge selection of glossy fashion, travel and gossip magazines for beach reading.
5) BEACH BOUND
Mykonos has enough gorgeous white-sand beaches lapped by crystalline turquoise water to have allowed for a bit of market specialization in terms of atmosphere and amenities. These range from simple family-style tavernas to ultra-chic lounges pumping out dance music and potent cocktails at all hours. The latter is the case in many of the coves in the south, where the beach at Elia seems to be eclipsing Super Paradise as the island’s prime gay beach. A more tranquil version of paradise can be found in the north, at Agios Sostis, a semi-remote stretch of sand free of crowds, lounge chairs and disco beats at the mouth of Panormos Bay.
6) FOLLOW YOUR NOSE
Just above Agios Sostis is one of the island’s best-known secrets. A restaurant with no sign, no phone and open only for lunch, Kiki’s is well worth seeking out just follow the smell of barbecue and waiting as long as it takes for a seat at what could be one of the world’s most idyllic seaside restaurants. The sweeping sea view is matched by the simple, rustic fare: salads of lentils and artichokes or pasta with tuna and cherry tomatoes (4 euros each), to be followed by grilled octopus or a succulent chicken breast stuffed with feta and sun-dried tomatoes (16 euros).
7) GOLD RUSH
The Greeks have been known for the refinement of their gold jewelry since the days of Alexander the Great, and Mykonos provides a delightful density of boutiques for perusing the exquisite wares. Specializing in fashion jewelry like chains of loopy 18-karat-gold links or brushed-gold dome rings set with semi-precious stones Karkalis (Matoyanni 17, Mykonos Town; 30-22890-24022; www.gold.gr) is less about family heirlooms and all about finding something fun to spark your outfit for a few hundred (or thousand) euros. With the exception of the evil-eye charms done up in various sizes in mother-of-pearl, turquoise and onyx (from 320 euros), most pieces are unique creations.
8) ABOVE THE FRAY
Nestled on a hill overlooking Mykonos Town is the Belvedere Hotel (School of Fine Arts District; 30-22890-25122; www.belvederehotel.com), the gold standard of Mykonian chic and now a nexus of international gastronomy. While the sushi is slung at Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant on one side of the Belvedere’s romantically lantern-lit pool deck, this summer sees the celebrity Greek-Australian chef George Calombaris turning up the heat at the new Club Belvedere. Designed by David Rockwell and Colin Cowie, the breezy white-and-teak dining room spills out of the main building and provides a festive environment for Mr. Calombaris’s updated family-style meals. Sign on for the five-course kerasma menu (80 euros without wine) that starts with a palate-cleansing saganaki martini a skewer of grilled haloumi cheese atop a gin martini infused with tomato, cucumber and chives. The starters and mains like mussels spanakopita and chicken souvlaki are equally inspired in their tweak on tradition.
9) HIT THE MEAT MARKET
Check the scene at Uno con Carne (Panachra, Mykonos Town; 30-22890-24020), a newly opened Argentine steakhouse set in the spectacular Art Deco space of Mykonos’s former open-air cinema. It has cleverly devoted equal amounts of space to the dining area and the lively lounge, which unlike many a Mykonian watering hole has plenty of furniture on which to lounge while savoring a glass of vintage malbec (8 euros).
10) STAR SEARCH
Don’t worry if you’re already too inebriated to drive out to the clubs or not willing to fight for one of only 31 taxis on the island. Stroll instead to Astra Bar (3 Enoplon Dynameon Street, Mykonos Town; 30-22890-24767; www.astrabar.com), a boîte designed in the late 1980s by the local jeweler Minas, who incorporated a fiber-optic “starlight” ceiling that pulses to the music. Two decades on, this gem has lost none of its luster and still packs in models, magnates, rock stars, Formula One drivers and even a recent Miss Greece or two. The party can go until dawn, and the 15-euro cover includes one drink.
Recuperate on the beach, this time at Psarou, followed by a decidedly over-the-top lunch at Nammos (Psarou Beach; 30-22890-22440), purveyor of 1,450-euro bottles of Cristal and 110-euro-per-kilo grilled lobster. It also serves an amazing homemade tagliatelle with scorpion fish but, at just 26 euros, this is kind of missing the point of Nammos. Ostentation is right at home amid summer’s wildly see-and-be-seen crowd, many of whom arrive by yacht and are shuttled ashore in vintage mahogany skiffs. The restaurant’s whitewashed beach shack décor provides a crisp backdrop for the display of deeply suntanned skin, vividly colored pareos and important jewelry. Psarou also features such vital amenities as a day spa, a hair salon and an outpost of the chic boutique Luisa called Luisa Beach (30-22890-22015), just in case someone left her Missoni gown in the plane’s overhead compartment.