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Temptation Islands of Greece

Corfu | Siren Song

I'd like to say, out of family loyalty, that I keep returning to Corfu to catch up with my cousins. But that's only partly true. The cousins are four sisters who live on a hill in neighboring pink and peach houses. On my first visit, when I was 18, the youngest told me about turning down her American boyfriend's marriage proposal when he mentioned she'd have to move to Maine. "My sisters asked him, 'Wouldn't you rather come back to Corfu and live with us?'" she explained, shrugging.

She is 10 years older than I am, and perhaps wiser. But I knew, already, after a week of narrow, winding streets that open suddenly onto ocean views, long lunches of well-spiced shellfish beside a warm, cobalt sea, and frothy iced coffees under colonnaded walkways, that I would choose Corfu over the vast majority of men. Now, more than a decade later, I have yet to meet the man for whom I would trade the island.

Corfu is so alluring that centuries of visitors and rulers felt compelled to make it their own, to leave something of themselves behind.The Venetians carved the lion of Saint Mark on the city walls and erected not one but two fortresses thrusting into the sea. The French modeled the archways and swinging gas lamps of the Liston, Corfu town's main drag, on their Rue de Rivoli. And the British left the island a cricket ground, an affection for ginger beer (known as tzin tzin birra), and the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, now the Museum of Asiatic Art. All these donations are the obligation of a ruling power, I reasoned, as I sat under an archway on the Liston, drinking my tzin tzin birra, watching cricket, and selecting black-market CD's of Greek music from a Senegalese vendor. I didn't owe the island anything more than the price of my drink. I could let it seduce me. I did.

One bright afternoon, I visited the British Cemetery. The supervisor, George Psailas, was born on the grounds in 1927; his father, one of many Maltese settlers, had been the cemetery's caretaker before him. Mr. Psailas led me past rare wild orchids to a marker honoring 44 British soldiers lost at sea when a mine exploded as they were returning from World War II. Equally moving was the loyalty of dozens of expatriate Brits who wanted their remains laid to rest here. One man engraved his wife's headstone with GOOD NIGHT, MY LOVE, I'LL BE ALONG LATER.

I wasn't surprised that on Corfu, death is just a pause between journeys. I had often kissed the silver-and-ebony coffin of Saint Spyridon, the island's patron, who, despite having died in A.D. 348, wears out his slippers wandering at night performing miracles. But I felt envious of my cousins and Mr. Psailas, even the less lively inhabitants of the cemetery; they had all left their mark on Corfu as surely as any ruling country.

On a subsequent visit to the island, I happened into a real estate agency and fell in love. The object of my affection was a pink, five-story Venetian town house with a Juliet balcony, views of the harbor from the roof garden, and a price that matched the appraisal on my minuscule New York apartment. The agent said he'd arrange a visit when the current renters, a British couple, were out. For two days I stumbled around, drunk on the vision of my new life. Then the agent called: the Brits had bought my house.

Later, I sat at a moonlit dinner partybadgering a local lawyer to notify me if my house went back on the market. "Why are you so desperate to own something?" he scoffed.

I could have said that he and my cousins would always belong to Corfu, whereasI was eternally the "cousin from America." I should have explained that I wanted to feel, when I was away, as if I had simply said to Corfu, "Good night, my love, I'll be along later." But I was too busy wondering how soon the Brits would tire of scaling those five flights of stairs, and whetherSaint Spyridon might smite them with four bum knees.
—Eleni N. Gage

Mykonos | ...Is the New Mykonos

It's a sultry Saturday night in Mykonos, but the scene could be right out of P. Diddy's Hamptons backyard: the annual "white party" at the Hotel Belvedere—the Greek island's Schrageresque boutique hotel—has attracted Hollywood actors, New York media moguls, even a few Bergdorf blondes. Sporting deep tans and bare midriffs, the revelers snap cell-phone photos and down tequila shots as Nelly's "Hot in Herre" blares from the DJ's speakers. The ocean air is the only trace of a chill vibe.

Mykonos has a history of wild nightlife that dates back to the disco era. Though it's often represented on postcards by sun-bleached churches (there's a minimal aspect to its white-on-white architecture, as if Calvin Klein had designed the entire island), jet-setters who descended in the late sixties have less pristine memories. Then considered an unpretentious alternative to St.-Tropez, Mykonos was the "it" island for Studio 54 habitués who barhopped in flip-flops with the likes of Jane Fonda and Jackie O. While the tourist trade isn't as upscale these days, some ambitious locals are attempting to give Mykonos a makeover.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the Belvedere, which houses a Delano-worthy pool scene, a luxurious in-house spa, and Matsuhisa Mykonos, the world's only outdoor Nobu. On the plane ride over, I laughed when I read the cover line on my Aegean Airlines magazine: "It's Chic to Be Greek." (My family hails from an isolated village on the remote island of Kárpathos, where indoor plumbing is a recent trend.) But I could almost believe it in cosmopolitan Mykonos. My mother and I ate at Matsuhisa on our first night. It was a bit like dining in a wind tunnel—Mom held on to her hairdo with one hand and her saketini with the other—but how nice to dine in a place where no one broke plates. The sentimental journey to her ancestral home moved my mom, but she didn't mind trading freshly slaughtered goat for tuna tartare. "Here's to Mykonos!" she said, clinking my glass.

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