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The Greek Isle of Mykonos

Mykonos, Greece

The Greek isle of Mykonos — with its whitewashed town, evocative ruined windmills, touristy shops, and trendy cafes — is all about hedonism. A hit as a cruise stop, its beaches offer a variety of escapes, from sleepy and remote getaways to noisy party scenes.

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Mykonos is another small island with a small port inundated by cruise-ship crowds. It’s so iconic and beautiful that it’s included in most major cruise-ship itineraries. There’s a pier for only one ship, so most ships drop the hook and shuttle their people in by tender. If visiting by cruise ship, it’s smart to get an early start.

We caught the first tender — beat the crowds and beat the heat.

It’s easy to enjoy Mykonos town with no planning, no tour, and no guide. This is a stop that lends itself to unstructured free time — just lazing on the beach, wandering, and browsing the shops.

It’s the epitome of a Greek island town: a busy breakwater, fine little beach, and inviting lanes. While tourism dominates the economy, Mykonos still has a traditional charm thickly layered with white stucco, blue trim, and colorful bougainvillea. Back lanes offer tranquility away from the cruise crowds.

As in many Greek island towns, on Mykonos the windmills have harnessed the steady wind for centuries — grinding grain to feed its sailors. Five mills still stand, perfectly positioned to catch the prevailing breeze.

A tidy embankment is so pretty they call it “Little Venice.” Wealthy shipping merchants built this row of fine mansions with brightly painted wooden balconies that seem to rise out of the sea.

Today these mansions have been refitted as restaurants and bars for tourists enjoying fresh fish and romantic views.

Mykonos’ status in the last generation was as a fashionable destination for jet-setters. And it retains a certain hip cachet. These days, tacky trinket stalls share the lanes with top-end fashion boutiques. Prices are high, and, in season, the island is crammed full of vacationers. But, even with four ships in the harbor today, there seems to be plenty of room.

I love how, in the middle of all this modern tourism, the traditional culture carries on. At the tiny church built to bless those who go to sea, a fisherman and his wife pop in for a few meditative moments among age-old icons and flickering candles.

Mykonos is small — any point on the island is within a 20-minute drive. The windy roads feel like a fairground racetrack for tourists, busy with an array of easy-to-rent vehicles. And, like most of them, we’re heading for the beach.

There’s a range of beaches on Mykonos. The most trendy is Paradise, one of the ultimate party beaches in the Aegean. Presided over by hotels that run bars for young beachgoers, the Paradise action is nonstop. While the beach becomes a raging dance floor after dark, the DJ is busy all day as the cruise set joins backpackers from around the world to enjoy the scene. As is standard around here, beaches rent comfortable lounge furniture with umbrellas. Just plop onto whatever appeals — don’t worry; the drinks will come to you.

If you prefer a quieter scene, more remote beaches are a short drive farther out. While extremely arid, the stony countryside of Mykonos — complete with whitewashed churches and staggering views — is a delight for a quick road trip.

Agios Sostis, an old hippie beach at the north end of the island, has none of the thumping party energy of Paradise Beach. It offers little beyond lovely sand, turquoise water, and tranquility. And, for many, it’s their Greek isle dream come true.