Chilling out in the queer paradise of the southern Mediterranean.
Mykonos can be best described as a less pretentious gay version of St Tropez: glamorous and a bit exclusive, but without attitude or snobbery. Queers are everywhere, and straights are on their best behaviour. You can feel totally relaxed about being gay. No one gives a second glance at two men holding hands in the street (unless they are especially gorgeous!).
The island is pretty much unspoilt, having avoided the disaster of mass tourism. No building is higher than three storeys. Motorways and traffic lights don't exist. There are no big supermarkets or department stores. With its intimate, village-like atmosphere, the town retains the feel of the small, sleepy fishing village that it was only 40 years ago.
The postcards don't lie. Mykonos is almost too beautiful to be true. All the houses, shops, churches, restaurants and windmills are immaculately whitewashed, with door frames and window shutters highlighted with splashes of sky blue and jade green.
The streets are a maze of narrow, winding alleyways - many only two or four feet wide, overhung with dazzling pink and purple blossoms. On every second doorstep sits a cat, gazing down serenely at passers by.
GAY BARS & CRUISING
This is not Ibiza. There are no big gay venues and no all-night rave parties. Mykonos is a place for unwinding and relaxing. The queer scene is petite and stylish.
The island has six gay bars and clubs, which are concentrated in three locations near the old harbour front, where the small fishing boats are moored.
Pierro's, Manto and Icaros are situated next to each other in a little lane off Taxi Square. During peak summer nights, hundreds of guys spill out into the street.
All three bars are decorated in variations of post-modernism classicism, with reproductions of ancient Greek artefacts gracing the otherwise minimalist interiors.
The upstairs dance bar at Pierro's features huge jig-saw shaped mirrors and polished driftwood, and a vast open balcony that overlooks the street below. Icaros - also upstairs - has a gorgeous roof terrace that is sheer perfection for a romantic tryst beneath the stars.
Porta Bar is located all by itself in a tiny alley at the other end of the harbour front, near the blue-domed church. More like a traditional English gay pub, its is down-to-earth and cruisier than the other venues.
Further along the harbour front, next to Paraportiani Church, is Kastro's. This is the place to sip cocktails and enjoy the sensational Mykonian sunsets.
Down the same street, closer to Little Venice, is the Montparnasse Piano Bar, where the American diva Phyllis belts out show tunes.
For those inclined to racier pursuits, there is late night cruising along the old sea wall near the waterfront public toilets, and by the 600-year old Paraportiani Church. It is, indeed, sweet justice that gay men have colonised the most sacred symbol of the homophobic Greek Orthodox Church as a place of queer desire and carnality.
You never know who you might meet on Mykonos. It's a queer melting pot. The gay jet set rub shoulders with scene queens and older, quieter professionals - an engaging mix of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities - with a predominance of Germans, English, Italians, French and, of course, Greeks. If you are lucky, an American gay cruise ship might be in town (they dock frequently during the summer months).
I was luckier. The US Navy arrived for a two-day stopover, discharging hundreds of horny guys eager for a good time. Their favourite hangout was the gay-friendly Scandinavian Bar. Mmm! Squeezing through the crush of American beefcake was a thrill in itself and left me reeling with a testosterone high.
There are three main beaches, each with gay and nude sections: Paradise, Super Paradise and Elia. Tucked into small coves and protected by rocky headlands, these crescent-shaped strips of sand are lined with trees and dotted with thatched sunshades. Small bars and restaurants overlook the turquoise-coloured sea. From early evening onwards, the bars turn up the volume and become open-air dance clubs, packed with partygoers nearly all night long.
Buses go direct from the town to Elia and Paradise, via narrow, winding roads over rocky hills. Super Paradise is accessible only by fishing boat (from either Paradise or Platys Yialos). Alternatively, you can hire a jeep from around £26 a day or a motor scooter from about £8.
For hyperactive party animals, an exhilarating alternative to the beach is Water Mania, a fabulous water theme park near Elia, with giant water slides, shutes and spirals - some up to 244 metres long.
Big hotels are totally absent. The favoured style is clusters of 10 to 20 mini-apartments built on the hillsides above the harbour.
The view from my accommodation was absolutely awesome. The Alkyon Hotel is perched just below the crest of one of the larger hills, with a stupendous 180-degree panorama over Mykonos town, the harbour, and the distant islands in the sapphire-blue Aegean Sea. With such superb views - and a 10-metre pool that juts out of the hillside and feels like it is hanging in space - some guests rarely left the hotel.
Breakfasts on the open-air terrace were bliss. Peaches with thick-strained Greek yoghurt, followed by fresh bread, cheese and coffee - plus the pleasure of gazing down at the ferries sailing in and out of the port below.
In 1960, Mykonos was a dirt-poor fishing village. Things have changed a bit since then, but it still does great fish. Check out the fish taverns by the old harbour. There are lots of tempting places to eat, with many restaurants set in lush, verdant gardens, overhung with bougainvillaea flowers and grapevines.
Together with Respect Holiday's rep, Steve Winter, and Anna Manolakou of Matt Holidays, I savoured a sumptuous meal on the patio of Avra restaurant: stuffed vine leaves, silver snapper and exotic green salad.
Make sure you sample Mykonian specialities, such as kopanisti (salted white cheese), soumada (fermented almond cordial), amygdalota (almond confectionery) and ouzo (aniseed spirits).
No visit is complete without paying homage to Hermes, the Greek god of commerce. Mykonos is paradise for shopaholics. And so chic! What other teeny-weeny island with drain-pipe-width streets and shoe-box-sized shops can boast such a huge array of designer stores, ranging from DKNY to Gant and Christian Lacroix?
Mykonos is also famous for exquisite jewellery and high quality reproductions of Greek religious icons and archaeological relics such as plates, vases, statues and mosaics.
For original artwork, my recommendations are hand-made, customised glassware from Hermes in Goumenio Square, and limited-edition screen prints of Mykonian beach scenes from the Bougainvillia Gallery in Venice Street.
HISTORY & CULTURE
While the early Greeks may not have invented homosexuality, they certainly venerated it in ways unrivalled before or since. Exploring the history of the world's first and only homo-celebrating society is a must-do.
A short boat ride from Mykonos is the archaeological wonderland of the sacred island of Delos, the political and spiritual centre of ancient Greece. According to legend, it was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.
All over the island lie the ruins of shrines, temples and sanctuaries built to honour the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. At the site of the Temple of Dionysos (built to celebrate the festival of Bacchus), all that remains are two large sculptured phalluses, decapitated but still standing erect and defiant on their plinths. Elsewhere, avenues of weather-beaten statues faded mosaic tile floors, and crumbling colonnaded courtyards testify to the nobility of the ancient civilisation.
What is truly remarkable is that here, in 400 BC, was a highly sophisticated town of 25,000 people (towns of such size did not exist in Britain until nearly 2,000 years later!). What is more, the street planning, sewage system and public buildings of Delos were superior to anything that existed in London prior to the 1800s. As I wandered through the solid marble amphitheatre seating 5,500 people, it was sobering to think that even today in the UK there is no theatre of comparable size and extravagance.
There are over 300 churches in and around Mykonos town - one for almost every street. Don't let their small dimensions deceive you. Many are hidden treasure-troves, stuffed with exquisite mosaics, wall frescoes, carved wood panelling and gold-plated candelabras.
QX, 12 July 2000.
Copyright Peter Tatchell 2000. All rights reserved.
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