Mykonos has had its fill of champagne-fueled tourism

Mykonos has had its fill of champagne-fueled tourism

Mykonos has had its fill of champagne-fueled tourism

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It’s 3pm in Rizes, a farm in the heart of Mykonos, and there isn’t a bottle of champagne in sight, a lounger to lie on or a twinkle of music that could drown out the sound of winds blowing through the nearby bamboo. .

This is because Nikos Zouganelis, “born and raised” on the party island, has deliberately tried to do something new. “In Rizes we want to experience the Mykonos of our roots,” he says of the company, whose delights include cooking, baking and horse riding courses. “We don’t make champagne, we don’t make music, we don’t make crowds”.

Zouganelis’ quest to honor what was once the authentic Cycladic island lifestyle is in part a reaction to what he saw around him. Yet he was not instinctive.

He too, he says, has done his fair share in contributing to Mykonos’ phenomenal success. In the construction industry like his father before him, the 52-year-old bearded man has spent decades building the villas and hotels that helped transform a rocky outcrop, whose terrain even in antiquity was legendary for its ruggedness, into what it is today. : a playground for the rich and famous.

This summer they included Elon Musk, the richest man in the world; singer and TV personality Nicole Scherzinger and her boyfriend, former rugby star Thom Evans; and footballer Mo Salah, who has reportedly signed a contract extension for Liverpool worth over £ 350,000 a week while on holidays on the island.

Zouganelis believes his beloved island has reached a turning point. “We are lost,” he sighs sadly after the rounds of bulldozers, which may not be in sight around Rizes but which have gnawed through the earth to make way for record speed homes elsewhere. “Mistakes have been made. We all contributed to them ”.

The tourist season is far from over, but already more than a million vacationers have passed through Mykonos. In July, around 220,000 visitors were registered in a single week with at least 30,000 employees – three times the resident population – with staff from restaurants, hotels and private villas. “Everyone wants to live their myth in Mykonos”, smiles Mayor Konstantinos Koukas.

“Mykonos is a miracle. It is just a small rock in the Aegean Sea and has managed to become an international tourist destination that brings billions of euros in revenues ”.

This year alone, he enthusiastically stated, a series of contracts were signed with Middle Eastern airlines, guaranteeing a new tourist market from the Gulf states.

True to last week’s shape, black-windowed people haulers shuttling newcomers to Mykonos have been navigating the heavily congested road network of Mykonos, just like they do every summer. Champagne flowed in high-end restaurants; TikTok fashionistas and influencers paraded through the cobbled streets of the city as the shops made a lively bargain selling haute couture and the clientele of the famous gay club JackieO ‘enjoyed cocktails at sunset.

It’s a microcosm of glamor and glitz that has managed to survive alongside another world inhabited by older generations of church-going locals, also to be seen in the city’s waterfront cafes.

But success brought drugs, money laundering, protection rackets, and organized crime. The once dirt-poor island ignited the country’s tourism industry in the wake of its “discovery” in the 1950s – by travelers visiting Delos, the neighboring island long considered the holiest place in the world of ancient Greece – but is now facing the consequences of overdevelopment.

“Our island is full, it has exceeded its limits,” says Marigoula Apostolou, president of the local folklore museum. “Our natural environment has been destroyed, our water and sewage infrastructure can’t make it, and that’s before we even talk about the threat to our lifestyle by being labeled a party island.”

Mykonos, he said, was more than “eclectic menus and nightlife”. “We have customs and traditions that should also be explored. Any further so-called development by foreign investors will not only increase the pressure, but lead to global degradation. “

In her workshop in town, Irene Syrianou is among those seeking to promote the culture of Mykonos through mosaics inspired by the magnificent examples found in the ruins of Delos. Her is a world of stone, far removed from the island’s transformation into a luxury tourist spot and a VIP mecca. As the daughter of a farmer, she is increasingly concerned about the pressure exerted on locals who cannot afford inflated rents and grocery bills. The beaches have also been privatized by companies charging over € 70 (£ 60) for a sunbed.

“Many of us have forgotten that we are the children of poor people,” he says, adding that noise pollution from bars had gotten so bad that locals started petitioning the mayor. “Living here is difficult, the prices are very high and the living conditions difficult for those who work seasonally. What none of us want is for our island to lose its soul, lose its character ”.

In his office, Mayor Koukas has a panoramic view of the hill opposite, a hill that was practically devoid of buildings when he was a child but today is a cluster of villas, many with chefs, doormen and masseuses ready to satisfy the whims of football players. and other A-listers.

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“Welcome to my world,” he replies when asked about the construction of a particularly large villa carved into the hill, after the approval of a former minister of culture.

He too shares concern that Mykonos may stagger towards saturation point after the pro-business Greek government announced it would carry out controversial plans to build giant hotel units in the name of “strategic investments”. An investor-backed project in Abu Dhabi and Kuwait involves the construction of a small village with a port capable of hosting superyachts.

“Mykonos has had its best year ever, tourist arrivals have increased by at least 20%, but sustainable development is our biggest problem,” admits Koukas. “We want to decide our future as a local community… yes we are a party island but Delos is right next door. Elon Musk visited it and we are very happy about it because we would like to be known also as a center of cultural tourism. The last thing we want is to lose our cultural identity. “

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