Mykonos Travel: Inside the Intense Scramble to Nab the Biggest Villas on the Greek Island

Each July, the idyllic Cycladic islet of Mykonos goes to war. The victors claim sprawling, ultra-luxurious party palaces, built for sipping retsina with the world’s rich and famous. The less-privileged check in to double-bed hotel rooms.

A 33-square-mile speck in the Aegean Sea, Mykonos has one of the densest inventories of luxury private villas anywhere in Greece. In the summer, its population swells from about 15,000 to over 200,000 well-heeled sun-seekers each week. In the last two years, Demi Moore, Elon Musk, Bella Thorne, Nicole Scherzinger, Tommy Hilfiger and A-list stylist Warren Alfie Baker have all visited, but it’s the multitude of semi-anonymous European billionaires, Middle Eastern royals and American status-seekers who really keep the island’s villa economy afloat.

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Big names and big money are, of course, nothing new to the island. Long before Lindsay Lohan opened her ill-fated Beach House and billionaires packed out exclusive nightspots like Scorpios, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Jackie and Aristotle Onassis, and Sophia Loren basked on its shores. What is new is a post-pandemic supply-and-demand crunch ripped straight from an Econ 101 textbook.

“We are a small island,” said Konstantinos Koukas, the mayor of Mykonos, who noted that the newly renovated airport on the island is already fully booked for summer flights. “We don’t have the opportunity to receive millions and millions. My target is to receive even less people, who spend even more money.”

Last summer, Mykonos saw record tourism (with 220,000 visitors during one week in July), and brokers, villa owners and the government are now bracing for the peak late-summer season to be bigger.

“Mykonos is like a boutique,” says Elpida Kennedy, the concierge behind rental agency Kennedy’s Group, which rents many of the island’s top properties. “And last year, we saw about 30 percent more business. Most people start making bookings in January and February, but now many people make their reservations for next summer when they check out.”

And in any marketplace where money is no object, dramas play out.

The eight- bedroom Serenity Psarou Estate, which starts at about $9,900 a night and comes with a staff of 10.
The eight-bedroom Serenity Psarou Estate — from $9,900 to around $27,000 a night, depending on season — comes with a staff of 10.

Last summer, at the 12-bedroom villa dubbed Mykonian Fantasy in Houlakia on the northern coast (it’s hosted dozens of celebs including Paris Hilton and Naomi Campbell), an impasse unspooled between two royal renters, according to a source who asked to remain anonymous because of an NDA. “‘Prince A’ decided not to leave the villa,” says the source. “He was having so much fun and he told his agent that he would extend his stay regardless of the contract.” The property boasts a lake-shaped, 5,300-square-foot pool, one of the biggest in the Mediterranean.

However, a member of a different royal family had booked for the following week. “The property manager and his agent tried to explain that the villa was rented by another client who had already paid for his stay, but as he had diplomatic immunity, no one could force him to leave the villa,” says the source.

When “Prince B” arrived and found his villa still occupied, he felt “insulted,” and a team of amateur diplomats scrambled to produce a rapprochement. After two days of negotiation, Prince A offered Prince B a week on his yacht — “one of the most iconic boats in the world,” the source says. “They lived happily ever after.”

There are about 400 commercial villas on the island and about 120 private villas. But less than 10 are really beyond luxurious, or “royal-worthy,” according to Kennedy, who adds that top properties can cost up to $200,000 per week, while $20,000 per week is a more standard price.

“But everyone wants to rent the best and the most expensive villa on the island,” says Kennedy. “I have to go to owners and say, “Look can I rent you a mega-yacht for the week, because I really need your property.’” For visitors who aren’t renting, some of the best hotels on the island are Santa Maria Mykonos, Mykonos Blu Grecotel and Kalesma Mykonos.

Kalesma Mykonos - Hotel - Guest Suite - Mykonos
A suite at the Kalesma Mykonos hotel, located near Ornos Beach.

Complicating matters, brokers say Mykonos operates under a strict code of “first come, first served” and that bidding wars are mostly verboten — meaning that European families who rent the same house year after year keep many private villas locked away from nouveau riche Americans or come-lately celebrities.

London-based Ina Dimitrova, founder of the anti-aging treatment brand Optimise Health, is one of them. She has been coming to the island since childhood, but for the past two years, she has stayed in the same five-bedroom villa in the ultra-exclusive beachside town of Ornos for the summer — rebooking for the next year upon check out.

“I have certain requirements,” said Dimitrova. “There are a lot of villas on Mykonos, but only a few can meet my requirements.”

So what’s an old-fashioned billionaire hoping to score a top villa to do? Like some things in life, it can come down to being Instagram hot and culturally relevant. “Properties like these look at your profile,” says Kennedy. “They decide if they want you there or not. It’s not just that you have money, you also need the profile.”

Santa Maria Mykonos - Hotel - Turquoise Villa
The Turquoise Villa at the Santa Maria Mykonos hotel.

A version of this story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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