In 1390, Mykonos became a dependency of the Venetian Republic. During the 21 years that it remained part of Venice, the island enjoyed great prosperity. Wealthy Venetian merchants set up their businesses and built their houses, as they had on their native soil, close to at the edge of, and even over the water.
The area where they settled still survives today as Venere or little Venice, on the western coast of Mykonos. Packed with cafes, restaurants, bars and brightly coloured Venetian loggias, it is one of the island’s most touristic areas. Its night life is legendary and it is the best place on Mykonos to watch the sun go down.
Venere leans so low over the sea that from my table at the Sunset Café, I could almost dangle my hand in the water. It was a rather windswept, somewhat damp lunch, with considerable vigilance and both elbows needed to anchor the table wear, but it was well worth it for the views of both land and sea as well as the incredible parade of people passing by.
When it first opened on Mykonos in the 1960s, Aris Konstantinides’ hotel, Theoxenia was hailed as a masterpiece of innovation. Built in local stone, using local craftsmanship and following the traditions of ancient Cycladic architecture, it celebrated the island’s distinctive style. It also showcased all the hot, stream-lined luxe of the era.
Some years ago Theoxenia had a modern sixties glam makeover. Now, with its signature vintage look, it is one of the most famous luxury boutique hotels, not just in Mykonos, but in Greece. Theoxenia is designated a “national preserved property”.
When our taxi pulls up outside Theoxenia on that grey September day, a woman hurries towards. She is dressed in an oversized track suit and giant sunglasses cover most of her tanned face.
“This is a great place” she says with a catch in her voice, as she slides past me into the back seat. She slams the door and buries her head in her hands.
“A reluctant departee? a casualty of a summer romance? a victim of the Mykonos party season?” I wonder, as the car drives off.
Soon, sitting on a couch, sipping a cocktail, cocooned in the white, turquoise and lime green that covers the walls, continues on the couches, chairs and curtains then flows into urns, floral decorations and art works, I have the answer. I’ve only been here five minutes and already I know I never want to leave and when I have to, I will certainly be in tears.
Outside, a quartet of windmills stand against a steely sky and beyond them the Aegean Sea is dark and ruffled with white. It’s a day for indoor pursuits and Theoxenia seems to offer many possibilities. First, there’s the bar which adjoins the spot where we’re sitting sipping. Downstairs there’s a gym, with views, through narrow windows, over the sea. There’s a restaurant, with a menu of marvellous Mykonos cuisine and a panoramic vista. For the really determined there’s a pool, surrounded by day beds with billowing white curtains and deck-chairs covered with cloud-like cushions. Then, of course, there are the rooms…
Rooms at Theoxenia sprawl in low blocks around the grounds. Ours overlooks a small rocky bay with a boathouse, where one hardy soul is bobbing bravely up and down in the waves. It reflects all those old Mykonos traditions and all the sixties glamour which have made Theoxenia an icon, from the furniture, through the bold “modern” colours, to the fluffy white robes and slippers emblazoned with a movie star face.
It is tempting to stay here, wrapped in a fluffy robe, ordering up room service, watching the clouds scud past the narrow windows, but outside, the windmills are turning and Mykonos is waiting.
It’s September and the tourist season is almost over. Only a handful of travellers trickle off the ferry at the port of Mykonos. Hundreds of bronzed backpackers and party people with sun-bleached hair surge up the gangplank for the return journey to Athens. They are taking the blue skies and sunshine with them.
The hills loom beyond the port, dark and forbidding against a heavy, grey sky. They are strewn with huge boulders, thrown down, according to legend, by the gods, in a battle long, long ago. Low stone houses glow, white against the cliffs, their blue shutters closed against the cold. Weeks, or perhaps even days ago, they would have sparkled in the sunlight, their doors and windows open to the breeze.