Finding Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventure in Mykonos: Greece’s Notorious Party Island

Discovering the lesser-known side of Greece's famous party island.
Discovering the lesser-known side of Greece's famous party island. Mary Zakheim
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It probably should have been an early warning sign that whenever I Googled “cheap things to do in Mykonos,” the whole of the Internet failed to produce anything that captured my interest. But alas, when I see warning signs, I usually take them as challenges posed (unless they’re placed on the slick floors of freshly cleaned bathrooms—that’s one sign I’ll happily obey). So I took a ferry at 7:30 in the morning from Athens to Mykonos. And, dammit, I was prepared. I’m talking saved-my-Google-maps-offline-and-starred-well-researched-restauraunts kind of prepared.

“No worries,” I said confidently to my friend when she asked how we’re getting from the port to our Airbnb. “I’ve done my research—” Remember the Google maps? “—We can just walk there, it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.” And I pulled out my phone to prove it. Satisfied at my level of planning, I tilted my chair back and slid my sunglasses over my eyes, giving in to the sleepy rock of the ferry against the ocean.

If you’d have told any of my college friends that I’d only started planning my Greece vacation about three days before I was set to leave, they wouldn’t have believed you. “Mary?” They’d ask incredulously. “No, you’ve got it all wrong. Mary starts packing a month in advance. Her trips are planned before she even books a flight.”

But I’m not in college anymore. Now I’ve got a full-time job and a trendy Brooklyn apartment (a front door that doesn’t lock is trendy, right?) that sucks up half my paycheck—meaning that travel in my mid-20s is allotted both less time and less money. I spent the Wednesday before my Saturday flight adding stars to my Google map, the morning before my midnight flight packing, and the nine hours before I landed going over a rough budget with my friend.

This way to off-the-beaten-path adventure. 
    Mary Zakheim
This way to off-the-beaten-path adventure. Mary Zakheim

By the time we landed, it was settled: we’d not spend a penny over $400 over the course of eight days and we’d dine like kings—or, whatever eating our way through our Airbnb host’s list of recommended restaurants qualifies us to be.

By the time we arrived in Mykonos, it seemed as though my haphazard planning method had miraculously worked: we’d been in Athens for three days and had only spent about $45 each. Three hours after arriving in Mykonos, it was clear that my haphazard plans had caught up to me. We were perched atop a hill overlooking Mykonos town, sweaty from dragging our carry on bags up uneven streets set at a laborious angle.

We could not, as it turned out, walk from the port to the Airbnb—a one-mile venture alongside a highway with no shoulder to speak of. So we stuck our thumbs out and caught a bus that took us into town. From there, we made the 30-minute trek up a monstrous hill before needing to take a $10 taxi to take us the rest of the way to our flat when we couldn’t figure out where this place was—a whopping three-minute drive away.

A pristine beach in Mykonos. 
    Mary Zakheim
A pristine beach in Mykonos. Mary Zakheim

THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT MYKONOS BEFORE ARRIVING, BUT LEARNED IMMEDIATELY UPON ARRIVAL:

Mykonos is a party island; Mykonos is an island that caters to travel via cars and motorbikes rather than foot one and foot two; Mykonos is expensive (like, budget-breaking expensive); Mykonos is a haven for rich, tanned Millennials who like to party (I’m a tan Millennial, but I’m not a rich one nor am I one who likes to party); Mykonos is not an island for walkers or hikers or travelers interested in seeing numerous cultural attractions (I am all of the above). In short, Mykonos is not the island for me.

And yet, I was in Mykonos and would be for the next four days. So I did what I do when I’m in a place that I don’t like: I do things that I do like. Like hike. And scrap together cheap meals. And walk to places when it seems like only cars should be able to get there. And ask locals what it is they like to do.

The next day, we took full advantage of the free breakfast—Greek yogurt and coffee—and took a seven-mile hike to the Armenistis Lighthouse. We stayed on the west side of the island, climbing higher and higher until we reached the saddle and the lighthouse crashed into our line of sight: a picturesque block of white stone surrounded by purple wildflowers and an unbelievably blue ocean. Nobody else was there, a fact I was almost offended by. Who in their right mind would choose an overpriced $15 cocktail over this? We finished our night with a $4 souvlaki, a $5 beer, and a tipsy trek stumbling up our steep path home.

A sea of wildflowers. 
    Mary Zakheim
A sea of wildflowers. Mary Zakheim

Another day, another seven-mile hike, as they say. We spent our Thursday cutting eastward across the island, eventually ending up at the deserted Agios Sostis beach. Tourists, seeking the popular beaches on the southern edge of the isle, sped past us, staring at the two Americans in tennis shoes and hiking shorts giggling their way across Mykonos on foot. After sleeping in the sun for hours, we treated ourselves to a $25 late lunch of grilled octopus, chicken, lamb, and Greek beer.

We fancied ourselves explorers of some sort: surely we were seeing Mykonos as no tourist had seen it before. But still we wondered—and asked, with no success, every “local” we came upon in the town—where actual locals eat, drink, and be merry on this small island? In our two days trekking across the northeast and northwest sections of Mykonos, we’d seen little sign of life. No markets, no farms, no bakeries, not even a small taverna to throw back shots of oizo (sp?) in.

Olives and cheese—could you ask for much more? 
    Mary Zakheim
Olives and cheese—could you ask for much more? Mary Zakheim

On the third day, we found it.

Our 11-mile hike started with a wrong turn and ended in a winery. From our Airbnb, we headed south for the first time. No even 10 minutes into our walk on this unfamiliar route, little bakeries and shops started cropping up. Life! Real local life! We passed by a fish market, yells echoing out of the tin chamber as people clamoured for the best catch. Church bells rung on a tiny church and a man knelt on the roof, praying. Schoolchildren ran around a concrete yard after lunch. Villages came and went. We snorted at pigs and yelled at cows and ran away from a particularly malicious looking goat. Then we saw a sign: Vioma Organic Winery. It had an arrow. We followed it.

The entrance to the Vioma Organic Wine Farm.
    Mary Zakheim
The entrance to the Vioma Organic Wine Farm. Mary Zakheim

From the barren, cracked earth that we’d been surrounded by, a winery began to appear. A man with a scythe and a smile bigger than any I’d ever seen cheerily guided us to the entrance. Vines twisted around the weathered sign welcoming us to the unlikely winery while short, stubby grape plants poked out of the earth, like it was an accident that a winery was here at all.

We had to affirm with the two women who greeted us, several times, that we did, in fact, hike here from Mykonos town. When we finally convinced them that it was true, the younger of the women said with a shrug and a quick, approving nod, “Wow. That’s really cool.”

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