THE sun is just beginning to set as I saunter past Agios Ioannis church, a bright white cube with two red domed roofs perched on the west coast of Mykonos.
All afternoon I’ve watched from my hotel further up the hillside as buses pull up and tourists spill out, taking photos of the tiny chapel.
I want to know what all the fuss is about, so I follow the crowds. But as I continue along the dirt track lined with red and yellow wildflowers, I find myself alone and my curiosity is rewarded with something far greater.
A few minutes later I emerge at the top of a steep path that leads down to a sandy beach, deserted except for the remains of an old rowing boat. I clamber down the rocky steps, flop down on the sand and marvel at the serene scene.
Aren’t the beaches of Mykonos all meant to be heaving with mojito-sipping young things and soundtracked by house music? Evidently, not.
I later find out this is Kapari Beach, one of the island’s few undiscovered (for the most part) coves.
While there are plenty of beach clubs dotted around the coast of this 33 square-mile island, drawing a party-loving crowd all summer long, it turns out there are still hidden gems waiting to be unearthed – you just need to know where to look.
From when’s the best time to visit, to how to get around, here’s what I learned from the locals…
WHEN TO VISIT
For virtually guaranteed wall-to-wall sunshine, July or August is the obvious time to go to Mykonos, but during high season you’ll have to share the island with hordes of other holidaymakers.
“In July you can’t find peace anywhere,” says Olga Panagiotopoulou, a Mykonian native who has watched the island’s tourism industry boom in the last few years.
Like Ibiza, the beach clubs (they turn into night clubs after dark) are open from mid-May to September. Go at the beginning or the end of the season if you prefer the quiet life, Olga recommends.
WHERE TO STAY
One of the island’s hottest new openings, The Wild Hotel (rooms start from €359/£317 per night; thewildhotel.com) on the south east coast offers chic interiors and a trendy but relaxed vibe.
At this boutique property you can take your pick from two prime sunbathing spots: Enjoy views across the Aegean from a lounger next to the curved infinity pool, or head down the steps that lead to the hotel’s private beach in the secluded cove below.
A short drive by taxi from the main town of Hora, Katikies (rooms start from €340/£300 per night; katikies.com) in the Agios Ioannis area takes the traditional whitewashed architectural style of the Cyclades islands and makes it feel modern and luxurious.
Each meticulously decorated room comes with a private terrace and outdoor jetted tub, and there are two swimming pools to choose from.
WHAT TO DO
Main town Hora on the west coast is stunningly beautiful, from the colourful waterfront Little Venice properties (named because they resemble those in the Italian city) to the Old Town’s maze of narrow streets filled with shops, cafes and galleries.
A great way to take in the coastal views of Mykonos and its neighbouring islands is with a boat trip starting at Hora’s port, and if you embark on a private chartered yacht with Mykonos Paradise Cruises (mykonosparadisecruises.com) you’ll get a Greek mythology lesson thrown in from first mate Panos Panousis.
“Zeus was a very, very naughty boy,” he says as he explains the mythical tale of how the king of the gods created the island of Delos to hide his pregnant mistress from his wife.
You can also book a ferry with Delos Tours (delostours.gr) for around €19/£17 per person, return.
You can’t stay on Delos – now a Unesco World Heritage site – but you can stop off to visit the Archaeological Museum of Delos (free when you pay around €11/£10 for the island entrance fee) and see its current ‘inhabitants’, positioned there by god of the art world Antony Gormley.
The British sculptor has installed 29 iron ‘bodyform’ pieces as part of his ‘Sight’ installation, which is in place until October 31.
Back on Mykonos, if you’re looking for the best places to sunbathe, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Nammos on the south coast’s Psarou beach, is probably the island’s most notorious beach club – it’s here that the rich and/or famous come to pose on a sun lounger, paying €91/£80 a day for the privilege.
A bit out of your price range? Paradise and the smaller Super Paradise beach, both found further west along the coast, offer the same lively vibe as Psarou, but sunbed rental starts from about €11/£10.
Too noisy? Try family-friendly Ornos, a 10-minute drive south of Hora, which is home to lots of great Greek and seafood restaurants.
As day blurs into night, things start to liven up at places like Scorpios on Paraga beach, a Mykonos institution that actually lives up to the hype.
“Scorpios is magical,” says the Wild Hotel’s Panos Vakouftsis, who has worked on the island for the last six years.
The restaurant and beach club, about a 15-minute drive from Hora on the south coast, is ideal for sunset viewing and hosts big-name DJs throughout summer, keeping guests dancing until the sun comes up. Entrance is free but it gets busy so it’s wise to book a table a few days in advance.
In Hora, locals often start their night at the Queen of Mykonos (queenofmykonos.gr) – a tiny, church-like cocktail bar with an LED ceiling where a gin and tonic will set you back around €15/£13.
It must be said, on the whole, Mykonos is pretty pricey when it comes to dining and drinking, but one of the few places you find cheap plonk is Skandinavian Bar (skandinavianbar.com), where you can get a glass of wine for about €4.50/£4.
“I love it because everyone goes there, it’s a mix of all kinds of people,” Panos says of the party hotspot, which comprises several ground-floor bars and an upstairs disco.
WHAT TO EAT
Hungry? Or hungover? Start your day with a hearty brunch at The Liberty Breakfast Room. Here, the hardest decision you’ll have to make is which combination of eggs and coffee to have – I went for the scrambled with Mykonian cheese and truffle oil (€14/£12) along with an almond milk latte (€4.50/£4) – and I have no regrets.
For a filling but affordable late lunch, you’ve got to try Greek speciality gyros, sliced rotisserie-cooked meat (usually chicken or pork) served in pita bread with salad and tzatziki.
Much-loved Souvlaki Story (souvlakistory.com) is Mykonos’s answer to KFC, with five restaurants dotted around the island – a huge, tasty gyros platter for one is about €12/£11.
Finish with an indulgent supper at Kuzina at the Ammos Hotel (mykonosammoshotel.com) on Ornos beach.
Remember: You’re on Greek time now, so no-one eats dinner before 9pm. And be sure to get a side of the ‘famous’ Naxos island style skinny fries with tangy feta sauce (€8/£7).
HOW TO GET AROUND
There are reportedly only 32 taxis on the entire island, all owned by the same company, so you can imagine how in demand they are at the height of summer.
It’s therefore definitely worth pre-booking an airport transfer. The rest of the time, ask your hotel reception to call for a taxi when you need it.
Make sure you’re ready to go when it arrives – supply and demand dictates that drivers won’t wait. The taxis don’t have meters so check the price before you depart – a 20-minute journey shouldn’t cost more than about €25/£22.
There are also public buses that run between the airport, Hora and larger beaches. Fares are €2/£1.70 and timetables can be found at mykonosbus.com.