An ode to Mykonos: the island of love and freedom
Cities Without Houses member and film-maker Marco Orsini has spent six months in Mykonos every year with his partner since 2003. The founder of the International Emerging Talent Film Association of Monaco writes a love letter to the island, giving an insight into how it’s changed over the years, and where its deep appeal truly lies
By Marco Orsini | Photography by Teo Papadopoulos
In the summer of 2020, those of us with a reason to be on this wonderful Greek island were granted a vision of Mykonos past – the town, island, beaches and interior experienced in eerie solitude. Gone were the thronged streets, monumental cruise ships, unattainable reservations, absurd traffic, and the ruckus of holidaymakers floating up from town late into the morning. It was beautiful and rare, terrible and tragic.
Despite pandemic restrictions, the island was back to the business of love and freedom by the summer of this year; at least for now. Why love and freedom? This is a place of romance – whether spiritual, marital or physical – and liberty is the modus vivendi of this world-renowned destination. Inhabitants have been trading and travelling the East Mediterranean for millennia; superb natural harbours made them bold, sea-faring people, bound less by rules and rituals than to opportunity and enterprise. Today, respect is expected of visitors, and generously returned with regards to choices of entertainment, pleasure, habits, and lifestyles.
My Mykonos is not your Mykonos, nor will it be the Mykonos others experience. It certainly isn’t the Mykonos of this or that ‘amazing’ decade before you got here. Places change; so do people, and so do the things people value in the places they love. What grabs me and ties me to this dry, windy, rocky island at the centre of the Cyclades, is the pulsing intersection of people, culture, desire, ideas, commerce and leisure – a mash-up that’s been unfolding for centuries.
'This is a place of romance – whether spiritual, marital or physical – and liberty is the modus vivendi of this world-renowned destination.'
I came to Greece in 2001. I began my romance with the island that autumn; two decades later, I have my own memories. But, better still, I’m making new ones in this pastoral paradise of stone huts and white-washed villages, villas, chapels, and tavernas. I’ve found and forged a community under the olive groves and along the dry-stone walls, walking the golden beaches, swimming in the sheltered bays, and gawking at the neighbouring islands visible in every direction. Best of all, my life and community are continuing to evolve.
Those early days, we’d go from beach to town, wearing no more than a sarong with a few euros tucked in a packet of cigarettes. We’d meet friends or strangers in the alleys and walk and talk en route to a restaurant to eat good local food. At night, the labyrinthine streets of Mykonos town became a mobile cocktail party – bar to bar, club to club – dancing and drinking to a soundtrack of Greek melodies, crashing waves, and the blast from the ferry as it pulled into the old port.
I’ve found and forged a community under the olive groves and along the dry-stone walls, walking the golden beaches, swimming in the sheltered bays, and gawking at the neighbouring islands visible in every direction.'
It was the summer of 2003 when the idea of a beach club with music, food and party took off. That year was the birth of Nammos on Psarou Beach, and Kalua at Paraga Beach. Both offered a unique service, but most importantly, attracted the international players to come and spend more money, more time, and bring more people to the island. This also brought more tourists from the Middle East who wanted a taste of love and freedom away from their family and country.
There was a time when the idea to open another gay club in town was considered absurd, yet the partners of Jackie O’ did just that in 2008. And a few years later, they opened another outpost on Super Paradise Beach. In 2010, Alemagou opened in a corner of Ftelia Beach and became an instant success, known for its bohemian setting and day parties that continued late into the night. But nothing rocked the tiny island and its inhabitants like the birth of Scorpios in 2015; it transformed everything around it.
Now, international brands are teaming up with local establishments and taking the Mykonos hotspots global. Scorpios is a good example of that, as is Nammos, which is now in Dubai, too. The arrival of each venue has redefined and raised the level of the entertainment experience available here. At these amazing places, I’ve felt euphoria like I’ve never felt anywhere else. The guests that visit us at our home here tell us much the same.
After COVID-19, like many of us, I became lost in a world I didn’t understand. I was forced to pause. As a film-maker, I began reconsidering my options. As a humanitarian, I was conscious of how world leaders had failed their people affected by the pandemic. But in Mykonos, I found refuge in the ability to meet people again, and in the relaxed attitude the island is known for. The famous and the not-so-famous are mingling again; something that’s rare in these times.
Even in this uncertain age – among the hedonism, glamour, sophisticated food, deep history, and sun, sand and sea – Mykonos is still the island of love and freedom. More so now than ever.
Marco Orsini is the founder and president of the International Emerging Talent Film Association of Monaco. He is the writer, director and producer of seven acclaimed documentaries, and creates and produces visual content and media campaigns for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
His most recent feature documentary, Beyond The Raging Sea, is a collaboration with the UNHCR and the United Nations Development Programme, and is to be released in autumn 2021. He is currently in post-production for Latin Four Plus, an untold story of Vietnam.