Merry shores

Greek mythology, smart architecture, pristine beaches and good food define the lively island of Mykonos, writes Tanushree Podder .

Surrounded by the sparkling white structures, I stood dazed at the port of the tiny Cycladic Island. Although the cruise from Athens on the Aegean Sea had drawn awed gasps from the visitors, the journey had not prepared us for the splendour that spread before us. We had just disembarked at the lovely Old Port of one of the most popular Grecian towns. Mykonos lures millions of travellers to its quaint port each year; I was just one of them. 

The tiny island of 30 barely square miles with its cobalt blue sea, dazzling white structures, umpteen beaches and a reputation for being a party hub is a veritable paradise. Little wonder then that celebrities like Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Onassis raved over its beauty. Gradually, the reputation spread and the hoi polloi arrived. The once-exclusive domain of uber rich became a tourist hotspot. With the arrival of the hedonists and the bon viveur, Mykonos was crowned the party island of Greece. Those who had flocked to Ibiza earlier now discovered the pleasures of Mykonos.

Paved to admire

An hour later, looking for a spot of lunch, I lost myself in the labyrinthine whitewashed street lined with boutiques, atmospheric cafés and souvenir shop in Chora. Lunch forgotten, I wandered delightedly through the alleyways flanked by scenic houses with blue windows, doors and staircases, their balconies spilling the streets with bright bougainvillea flowers. Crimson, red, orange, white, blue and purple, a splash of colours dazzled the eyes.

It was only when the calf muscles began protesting that I settled on a rickety chair outside a hole-in-the-wall café to enjoy a Greek salad that came topped with the delicious Greek feta cheese and olives.

Asking for directions that came with much gesticulating, I wandered towards the most photographed site in the island. A collection of five tiny chapels, the Panagia Paraportiani, gets due attention from visitors because of its beautiful location and unusual architecture. I overheard a guide narrating a story to a gaggle of tourists. “There are four chapels on the ground floor and one on the upper floor, but there are no stairs to lead you there. During the olden times, whenever the pirates arrived, all the gold and precious material was kept in the upper chapel and the ladder was removed. In case the pirates managed to find a ladder and clamber up, the winding lanes were there to confuse them.” So I was not the only one to lose my way!

Ambling behind a group of voluble Germans who had ventured into the wrong lane, I came upon a fascinating sight. For a moment, the Germans seemed stunned into speechlessness as they gazed at the picturesque windmills poised along the shore. Assured that it was the right lane, after all, they launched a photo session. As they lined up for a group photo with the quaint windmills in the background, I thumbed through my guide book and discovered that the windmills date back a long time. With only 16 of them now remaining on the island, the iconic windmills were once employed for grinding grains. People from all over the Cyclades used these mills for grinding their wheat and barley. Curving tantalisingly along the coast lay Little Venice. It is doubtful if anyone remembers the original name of the popular place. Alefkántra, as it was once known, is a bunch of tiny fishing houses that line the waterfront, their balconies bending over the Aegean Sea. It is debatable whether they belonged to rich merchants or the humble fishing folk. What remains undoubted is the attractiveness of the place, which is touted as the most romantic part of the town.

Unable to tear myself away, I settled down at one of the many cafés, nursing my dose of ouzo while soaking in the beautiful sunset. The platter of delicious mezze was incidental. A sudden excitement burst through the café and everyone made a beeline towards the corner. Curious, I followed the herd.

There, preening in full glory, stood a pelican, scolding the onlookers for their vulgar curiosity. Flashes exploded and people jostled each other. With scant regard for the eager photographers, the mascot of Mykonos waddled off majestically, turning its nose up at us. But not before I managed to catch a fleeting shot.

Mascot’s story

Story goes that the fishermen of this area found a wounded pelican after a storm in the 50s. They nurtured and named it Petros. Soon, it could be seen wandering pompously around the town. Years later, when Petros died, the entire town sank into mourning. Several agencies came forward to send a pelican to replace Petros. Since then, the pelican tribe has grown and the island now boasts of three of them.

Taking a bus, I journeyed towards Ano Mera, a tiny village in the centre of the island. It was picture perfect. The large central square lined on three sides by tavernas was buzzing with eager diners. Right ahead stood the monastery of Panagia Tourliani. Dating back to 1542, the monastery is Ano Mera’s pride.

It wasn’t possible to leave Mykonos without visiting its beaches, since it has some of the best beaches in the Cycladic circuit. The East, West, North and South coasts are hugged by beautiful sandy stretches. After much deliberation, I settled for the Kalafati beach, which is a favourite with the windsurfers. The sun was blazing overhead and the beach was dotted with sun worshippers who lay sprawled to acquire the much coveted tan.

I couldn’t resist one last halt at the seaside to watch the sun going down. Seated there, I sighed at the sight, fully aware that no camera in the world could efficiently capture the magnificence of the moment.

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