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Greek islands in the off-season: Discover a serene side to Mykonos

"You should have come in the summer!"

This was the greeting we received upon stepping off the ferry in Mykonos in the end of October-- and one we would continue to hear countless times during our stay.

The Greek island, known during the summer months for sunny beaches packed with day-to-night revelers, pumping music and flowing cocktails, had grown eerily silent, its most popular seaside hotels left vacant, main streets in town gone totally dark.

Drawn to traveling in October by low prices and available time off from work, we knew the Mykonos of fall wouldn't be the same Mykonos of summer. What we didn't know was just how off the off-season would be.

"What activities are available?" we asked the concierge at our upscale, beach-front hotel (that we paid $50 a night for). "There aren't any," he told us unapologetically. "You should have come in the summer."

After a brief period of disillusionment, a few hours of sunbathing beside a crystal blue sea ignited a newfound sense of determination within us. We were in Mykonos in the fall, not the summer, and we would find ways to enjoy it, with or without anyone's help.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that fall offers advantages of its own. Instead of feeling the rush of a dance party on the beach, we felt the rush of exploring a new frontier on our own. Instead of dressing up to snag a table at the hottest restaurant or club in town, we enjoyed a warm, family-style meal in a restaurant kitchen with generous locals on a rainy day. And instead of being in awe of perfectly toned and bronzed beach bodies, we found ourselves in awe of the island's natural beauty, which we were lucky to encounter in a pure state of post-summer tranquility.

For a more lively off-season experience, try Santorini for gorgeous sunsets, hikes with perfect caldera views, and shops, restaurants and wineries that remain open further into fall, or Crete for typically warmer weather and endless gastronomic delights. But if you do opt for a laid-back Mykonos vacation outside of the summer months, here are some of the treasures you'll find.

AFFORDABLE PRICES

Flights from New York to Greece are much
Photo Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Flights from New York to Greece are much more affordable in the off-season, with some one-stop flights to Athens usually hovering below $500. Ferries from Athens to Mykonos are around 35 Euros, and Mykonos hotels, especially near the beaches, are a fraction of summertime prices by October. To stay at Mykonos Beach Hotel (on Platis Gialos Beach, above), we paid $50 per night for a room that in summer can skyrocket to around $400 per night.

Affordable vacation packages including airfare, accommodations and more for Athens, Mykonos and Santorini are also easy to find in the fall and spring thanks to deal sites such as Groupon Getaways and Living Social Escapes.

Take note when planning your trip, however: Mykonos tends to be windy, especially during the unpredictable off-season, and ferries will not leave if the water is too rough.

SERENE NATURE

Given its milder temperatures and emptier streets, spring
Photo Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Given its milder temperatures and emptier streets, spring and fall are the perfect times to rent an ATV and explore the countryside.

A handful of rental spots remain open in the heart of Mykonos Town, as they call the city center, so grab a map and get going, because once you have the keys to the easy-to-drive vehicle, which sits up to two, Mykonos is your playground.

You'll have access to main roads and smaller, dirt roads, that will take you past gorgeous beaches, picturesque churches and ancient archeological sites. You'll spot horses, sheep, donkeys, pelicans and cows, see the island's iconic windmills and soak up breathtaking panoramic views. Take the long, rough road up to the abandoned Armenistis Lighthouse for an unforgettable vista, pose for a photograph with the island's most famous church, Paraportiani, and stop by the Monastery of Panayia Tourliani for a moment of serenity and a peek at Ano Mera Square and the surrounding village, the area locals call "the real Mykonos."

PRISTINE BEACHES

Though markedly less predictable, the weather in Mykonos
Photo Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Though markedly less predictable, the weather in Mykonos remained mostly warm and sunny in October, and the same beaches that were littered with partiers and tourists just a month before are left empty, rewarding brave, off-season travelers with a dip in their own private, pristine oasis.

To lounge under a tiki hut, drink in hand, go south to Platis Gialos, or for breathtaking landscapes and even more isolation, head north to Agios Sostis or Panormos, neighboring beaches lauded by locals as the most beautiful on the island.

AUTHENTIC DINING

Though it's situated well off the beaten path,
Photo Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Though it's situated well off the beaten path, nestled into a cliff above Agios Sostis towards the northern side of the island, eager visitors make the trip to Kiki's Tavern (Notio Aigaio, 846 00) all summer long, and often wait hours for a table. Off a tip from a foodie friend back in NYC, we hitched up our ATVs and headed in Kiki's direction, not sure if it would be open, since they don't have a phone.

Upon stumbling down a hill towards the beach, we encountered owner Vasillis Stichios, a friendly man in a Hawaiian shirt, grinning at us from his rustic, open-air dining room overlooking the water. "You have found the right place," he said. Kiki's was open, and, thanks to the weather, we were about to be very special (read: the only) guests.

After helping us to a heaping serving of the daily selection of freshly made salads-- among them lentils with feta and sundried tomatoes, lemon-parmesan artichokes and zesty fava beans-- a giant outdoor grill was fired up and we were served the largest, juiciest, most perfectly-marinated pork chop we had ever sunken our teeth into.

Then came decadent chocolate cake, hot tea and house wine, all of which they stubbornly refused to take our money for, as if the rain had been their fault. After an impromptu Greek lesson and a meet-and-greet with Lola, Kiki's resident canine, we headed off into the gloomy day with full stomachs and a warm feeling about the people of Mykonos; seeing our thin sweaters, the staff at Kiki's actually tried to give us their own jackets for the road.

SURPRISES AT EVERY TURN

Upon first glance, it's disheartening to find the
Photo Credit: Nina Ruggiero

Upon first glance, it's disheartening to find the quaint, white-washed streets of Mykonos looking like a ghost town. Dare to wander into the town anyway, however, and you'll be surprised to find that many of the most silent streets wind into the complete opposite-- lively stretches lined with open stores, eateries and bars waiting patiently to be stumbled upon by the curious visitor. Getting lost in the darkness makes happening upon a busy street that much more exciting, anyway.

Before long, you'll be browsing everything from designer fashion and olive oil soaps to home decor and artwork. The beautiful glassware and decorative light fixtures at Chora (facebook.com/choradesign.mykonos) are worth browsing, even if it would realistically be a challenge to get anything home in one piece.

If the water is calm enough, stop for a sunset drink at Katerina's (Agion Anargiron 8), where a seat at the bar comes with an unbelievable view of the water and colorful Little Venice, and stop for souvlaki or a fresh, stuffed pepper at casual but trendy Pepper (Kouzi Georgouli 18).

Once the clock strikes midnight, find the party at Caprice (Caprice.gr), a waterfront bar with a live DJ, long cocktail list and decor that brings the asthetic of Mykonos Town indoors.

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