No airport, no beaches, no cars and no motorbikes; welcome to Hydra … and its donkeys.
Just 44 nautical miles from Greece’s Athens, this is the romantic weekender’s getaway from Athens and draws global travellers looking to experience a laid-back Greek Island escape. Graced by 17th and 18th-century neoclassical pastel-coloured mansions, Hydra’s charming horseshoe-shaped harbour has long been the magnet for artists, writers and poets.
The island’s old-world elegance is painted nightly by the ubiquitous sunsets, which have been at the heart of Hellenic culture for millennia, immortalised by the image of Helios carrying the sun across the sky on his four-horse chariot.
To step into your own picture-postcard Greek sunset, head to Yydronetta Bar. Perched above the harbour by the historic cannons, oozing ambient music, it has a splendid balcony jutting out to sea. Climb down the steps to cemented sun-loungers to await the molten glow.
Edging west along the cliff-top, the villages of Kamini and Vlyhos provide quieter sunset viewing. From the 17th-century bridge you will also snatch arresting view of the Peloponnese.
Hydra’s traffic-free tranquillity is where you are most likely to hear the sunset sizzle as it hits the hotplate of the horizon.
Why you’ll love Hydra
Over the years, Hydra has attracted a diverse crowd, including Australian writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, Leonard Cohen, and Joan Collins, who all purchased houses on the island. Hydra Town, the only settlement on the island, features stunning stone mansions built by merchant captains during the 18th and 19th centuries. The waterfront is lined with charming bars and restaurants, creating a vibrant nightlife. However, what truly sets Hydra apart is its peaceful atmosphere, as cars are not allowed on the island. Instead, goods are transported by donkeys, adding to the unique charm of this destination. Whether you’re an artist, a bohemian, or simply seeking a tranquil escape, Hydra is sure to captivate you.
What to do
Many flock to rocky Hydra for its excellent walks. Head up Mount Klimaki (an hour’s climb) to the 19th-century Monastery of Profitis Ilias where monks still reside, transfixed by harbour views. You can also take a leisurely stroll and explore some of the grand mansions transformed into museums. One such museum is the Historical Archive Museum, which houses a collection of artifacts, documents, and paintings that showcase the island’s history, particularly its significant role in the 1821-29 War of Independence. Another mansion, once owned by the wealthy Koundouriotis brothers, now serves as Hydra’s Art Museum, displaying various artworks. Additionally, the Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion is worth a visit, as it showcases 18th-century furnishings, costumes, weapons, and embroideries.
For breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea, make your way up to the cannon-equipped bastions, and if you’re up for a swim, head down to Spilia and take a dip in the sea from the rocks below.
Just twenty minutes east of Hydra Town is Mandraki, where you can find the island’s only sandy beach. If you head west of Hydra Town, you can dive the rocks at Hydronetta and visit the bench erected by the islanders in honour of Leonard Cohen’s 80th birthday.
Where to stay:
Hydra offers various accommodation options, although it doesn’t offer the big resorts that some other more famous Greek Islands do. Whether you desire a luxurious boutique hotel in a historic mansion, a cozy room in a charming guesthouse, or a peaceful hotel near one of the beautiful beaches in Hydra Town, Mandraki, or Vlychos, you’ll find something that meets your needs.
If you’re feeling seriously romantic, check into Maria Hanson’s converted windmill accommodation with private pool. Inimitable private views take in not just the retiring sun, but also the town’s natural amphitheatrical layout. If you prefer a historic hotel near the port, Sophia Hotel is a great choice, with charmingly decorated rooms and some offering balconies overlooking the harbour. Another option is The Four Seasons, located at Plakes Vlychou, which provides a resort-style experience with its private sandy beach (but still not a large resort as one might expect from the Four Seasons brand).
Good to know
Keep in mind that the island is known for its vibrant cocktail bars, so be prepared to spend some money (Euro is the currency used in Greece).
To get to Hydra from Athens, you can take hydrofoils or catamarans from the port of Piraeus. It’s important to book your tickets in advance to secure your spot. If you’re traveling by car, you can also reach Hydra by passenger ferry or sea taxi from the Peloponnesian ports of Metochi or Hermioni. Metochi even offers a free car park for your convenience.
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