Travel Time, Pukka places on ‘party isle’

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From the water or the air, setting sight for the first time on the Greek island of Mykonos can be a rude shock: its barren windswept hills, erosion and rocky granite outcrops are not what the brochures lead tourists to expect.

Disappointment instantly turns to charm, though, once the visitor alights, immersed in the daily buzz: the island comes to life with quaint fishing dinghies bobbing on moorings; bustling seaside tavernas; unbroken chains of ancient blue-and-whitewashed buildings draped with scarlet and purple bougainvillea, standing each side of a canyon of winding, intriguing cobblestone alleys so narrow pedestrians find themselves obliged at points to step sideways in order to edge past each other. When the thatched roofs and stick-like blades of the island’s trademark 16th century windmills come into view on the near horizon, their chalky silhouettes marching in a row up a hill overlooking the ocean, the atmosphere generated by the built environment is energising, exciting. Add in the beaches and clear blue waters of the Aegean and the experience is complete.

Mykonos earned the title “party island” back when wealthy last-century jetsetters like Jackie Kennedy, Ari Onassis, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando arrived by yacht. That label’s been perpetuated more recently by cool good-time rich kids who also favour the island’s Spanish cousin across the Mediterranean, Ibiza. And so the vibe du jour has come to extend from a culture of traditional dancing to music made on authentic handcrafted instruments while enjoying mezze of grilled calamari, dolmades and olives and downing shots of chilled ouzo … to beautiful public beaches often disfigured by crushing crowds of the younger pleasure-seeking set determinedly uninhibited, loud, boozing and dancing all night long to noisy beats amplified beyond comfortable tolerance. Visitors not part of this in-crowd are often repelled from hoping for a quiet spot on the sand or any possibility of enjoying the simple delights of snorkelling or beachcombing.

Yet there’s another side to Mykonos not immediately apparent to the casual observer, of private luxury enclaves, without chaos or crassness. See the sublime serenity conveyed by the picture above, of a guest lapping at leisure towards The Royal Myconian Resort’s swim-up bar. The hotel’s one of ten on the island marketed as a cache of intimate-scale premium properties in prime locations, The Myconian Group, at www.myconiancollection.gr. The group had its beginnings 40 years ago when local couple George and Elefteria Daktylides built their first hotel literally from the ground up, with a Caterpillar loader. Today the hotels are run by their four sons, graduates of the famed Swiss hotel school system. Each property offers a distinctive ambience, and various rates; all boast “unparalleled comfort and lavish amenities for discerning guests” such as in spacious suites with individual pools or spas, gourmet restauration, personal chefs, helicopter tours and so on. Three of the group are members of the esteemed Relais & Chateau collection, a further two meet the standards of their Leading Hotels of the World designation and another belongs to Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The new tenth hotel opens with the 2019 season, in May.

All this excellence may seem pricey, but it’s surprisingly affordable early in the northern summering season. (The peak is June-September; shoulder around April-May and October.) For some dates still available next month and up to mid-May I noted nightly rates the euro-equivalent of $246 for the most affordable rooms, with bonuses: that’s around half the price of a good hotel in downtown Sydney or Melbourne. Naturally rates rise in the peak months and for the more luxuriously-appointed suites but even so are comparable with other “spoil yourself” anniversary, wedding or honeymoon destinations such as Bora Bora and the Maldives. Getting there is possible via Qatar Airways, transiting Doha, direct then to Mykonos. (So, in season, avoiding Athens.) I’ve seen one-way economy fares in the $500-600s but this is one itinerary definitely best left to your local travel agent. Given the flying time from Australia, arrange to stop over in Doha. Opa!

Susie Boswell, Travel Editor

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