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Greece’s famous gay destination has sophistication, charm and beauty

In summertime, the evenings pulse with nightlife. Restaurants tend to get busiest after 8pm, bars after 10pm.

A celebrated and world-famous gay destination, Mykonos is one of the most popular and stylish islands of Greece. Offering sophistication, charm and beauty — both scenic and corporeal — it’s no wonder that so much of Mykonos flies the rainbow flag.

Mykonos, part of a small cluster of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, has 85 square kilometres of charm, beauty and sandy beaches. Life here was hard until recently, especially during the war years and the political unrest that followed, and people barely scraped by. Young, international, alternative and celebrity visitors of the 1960s and ’70s who “discovered” the island set the stage for the tourist industry that transformed the economy. The epicentre is Chora (or Mykonos Town), beside the island’s two ports, which has retained much of  its old-world scenic beauty. Small, cobbled streets and winding alleys are lined with churches and tiny shops, mostly painted bright white, contrasting with deep-blue skies and the Aegean. Matoyianni is the longest street in town, where you can buy clothes, jewellery and other products made by local designers. The streets are full of international-style restaurants and coffeeshops, as well as the more traditional Greek gyro joints and salad bars. Lose yourself in the colourful maze to explore these alleys and hidden side streets.

Just north of the port, in the area of Little Venice, stand the island’s famous windmills. These kato myli once powered the local economy, grinding wheat to produce flour. Some have since been converted into houses. The easy-to-get-to monastery of Panagia Tourliani, about eight kilometres north of  town, is worth a side trip. Built in the mid-1500s and restored in 1767, it boasts amazing ecclesiastical woodcarvings and an impressive marble bell tower.

The XLSIOR International Gay Festival takes place at various venues over a five-day weekend each year in August, attracting 30,000 circuit boys and vacationers from around the world. Top-ranked DJs and well-known gay-scene artists provide the onstage entertainment for open-air party dancers. Elia Beach, Cavo Paradiso and the Elysium Hotel have been among the festival sites. (See beaches below.)

Cars or motorbikes are easy to rent, with 40 companies, from the international big names to small local independents, offering a range of vehicles. Buses are the least expensive way to get around the island. Fishing boats, or caiques, are another inexpensive way to hop to or between beaches, from the most popular to the most remote. Taxis can be few and far between in high season, but they’re the best way to find your way around in a town with few street names or building numbers. Maps are vague at best and are sometimes downright confusing — even Google maps seems lost. Locations on websites are often indicated as “just behind,’’ “next to” or “opposite’’ a well-known landmark church or city building. Be patient and relax; it’s hard to get too lost on a small island.

In summertime, the evenings pulse with nightlife. Restaurants tend to get busiest after 8pm, bars after 10pm. High season runs between June and September. Greek cuisine features the mezze, or “middle,’’ a filler but not a full meal. Traditional mezze may contain marinated olives, fresh bread, soft feta cheese in oil, dolmades (stuffed vine leaves, with rice, pine nuts and raisins), sundried tomatoes, sardines and other seafood. Portions can be so generous they become full meals. Salads, fish and meat are local and fresh — there’s no fast-food here. Wine, spirits and the local ouzo — anise-flavoured liqueur — are always on the menu, together with cognacs and fine coffees.

Mykonos has a wide variety of beaches and bays. Some are unspoiled, with few or no amenities; others, famously, serve up everything you might want. Beaches are packed in July and August but are much quieter come September. Getting to the beaches can be exciting;  the roads are narrow and rocky and there are bumps and holes everywhere. Rent a car or a bike. Taxis are reasonable if you can find one, or there’s regular bus service from downtown to the most popular spots — Paradise, Super Paradise, Paraga and Elia — from early morning until 9 or 10pm. Fares are cheap, just over a euro, and you can buy a book of tickets for even less at local shops. Boats can be used to beach-hop, too, running back and forth all day at reasonable rates.

Paraga Beach, a gorgeous sandy area 15 minutes’ walk from Platis Gialos Beach, is another small nude beach with a gay and mixed crowd and a rocky cruising area nearby. Sun bed and umbrella rentals, restaurant refreshments and masseur services are available. The raised rocky end features naked men and fantastic views of the beach and surrounding countryside. Daytime cruising gets busy, and skinny-dipping is the fashion. Wear good shoes for climbing the sharp rocks.

Super Paradise Beach (aka Plintri) was for years the island’s most famous gay beach, the place to be in Mykonos. At 10 kilometres out, it’s more difficult to get to than Paradise Beach, but the beautiful sand and the cute men in Speedos and sunglasses at the mainly gay and nudist end make it worth the effort. A bar and restaurant with pool overlook the sea above the gay section, and the water is deep and clear, especially beside the rocky areas. Boats arrive regularly from Platis Gialos Beach, and the JackieO’ Beach Club may pull back some of those who have made Elia Beach more popular lately. Pack a snack and plenty of water, or pay the premium prices.

Elia Beach, a mixed gay and straight stretch of sand with a handful of restaurants and bars and a clothing-optional section at one end, is farther along and takes longer to reach. Its more relaxed, natural ambiance and its long, wide stretches of sand make it popular with gay travellers. Organizers of the XLSIOR Dance Festival hold one of their annual beach parties here. You can take a small boat from Platis Gialos Beach, or there’s a bus from Chora. The smaller and more secluded Agrari Beach is a five-minute walk beyond.

For more on gay Mykonos, see our City Guide, Listings Guide, Events Guide and Activities Guide.