Muse to Poets, Painters, the Yacht-set and Stars
Arriving by ship from Athens, Hydra is a rocky world away, suddenly revealed from behind its guardian cliffs – a picturesque harbour-front town rising theatrically out of the sea. To the right and left are imposing mansions built on 19th century shipping fortunes, behind them, like a wreath around the hill of Kiapha, sit the houses of the bourgeoisie. Along the quay are the colourful shops of the market-place. Narrow geranium-filled alleyways and steep staircases lead from one quarter to another and on to the fields and small settlements beyond.
The harbour remains the focus of all activity with art galleries, stylish boutiques, unique jewelry shops and countless bars and tavernas filling every nook and cranny. The setting of the 1950s film Boy and the Dolphin with Sophia Loren, Hydra was rapidly discovered by writers and painters who moved in and are still a part of the island’s cosmopolitan social fabric. The American painter Timothy Hennessy has lived and created here for close on 50 years and Leonard Cohen continues to come and go from his sea-captain’s house. Every famous visitor has sat in the Pirate Bar on the waterfront, from Hemingway to Grace Kelly, to Diana, Princess of Wales. On summer weekend evenings one of the most fashionable voltas in Greece unfolds. Fishing boats, the caique Eleni (star of the 1950s movie Zorba) ferry boats, unload all the necessities of life before an audience of resigned donkeys and ever hopeful cats. It has scarcely changed in years, is utterly charming, perfectly genuine, and yet it exists purely for tourists, the island’s only industry.
Seriously fashionable Athenian money is sunk in weekend homes here, but discreetly. Richard Branson tried to build a Caribbean-style hotel quite recently and the locals rebuffed such ostentation.
Hydra is an excellent base for sightseeing with Mycenae, Epidauros and Nauplion being a water taxi and easy car trip away, and Spetses and Poros just a water taxi hop.
Best forNo-car policy. Cars are replaced by water taxis and mules. Beautiful if hot climbs and coastal walks through rockscapes and plateaus to chapels and monasteries, and to tiny pebbly swimming bays. Mule ride to Vlychos (with two delightful tavernas on the little quayside) or further round to the small beaches of Bitsi (good spearfishing), Kaoumithi (thick sand, pine trees), and Aghios Nikolaos where many boats anchor.
Worst forThe rocky, treeless island can roast in the summer sun. Not much in the way of beaches. The town practically sinks under the weight of tourists and day-trippers. Escape them by taking your own boat or water taxi to more tranquil bays.
Would SuitElegant bohemians wanting to eat and drink well, groups wanting a lively but easy town, teenagers who can walk everywhere at night or be safely transported by water taxi, donkey-mad children, snorkellers and spearfishermen, cultured visitors wanting sightseeing, and people who like speedboats.
Would Not SuitBeach babies and those wanting to lie in hammocks under shady trees - Hydra's few beaches are not great and very crowded, thought the water is clear, calm and beautiful.
Don't MissThat evening Volta when the townsfolk and yachters promenade. Classical music and a chilled martini at the Hydroneta Bar. A poolside dinner at the Bratsera hotel, which is a beautifully converted old sponge factory that belonged to the family of the chic and beautiful owner Christina Nevrou. The appropriately named Sunset restaurant (the dismantled cannon on the shore are aimed at the sunset and the purple shoreline beyond!). Kondylenia fish taverna at Kaminia where the sea-urchin salad and the sea fennel (kritama) are musts. A browse through the Historical Museum to understand the island's illustrious past.
ActivitiesWining and dining, shopping, boating activities and watersports at Mandraki and Kamini, trips to mainland sites of ancient Mycenae, the theatre of Epidauros (July/August festival) and the neo-classical town of Nafplion. Day trips to Spetses are also easy with the hydrofoil.
High SeasonA flood of visitors, so you need to be able to retreat to a hideaway as needed! The three-day Miaouleia event in June featuring torch races, boat races, swimming contests, fireworks and dancing plus the burning of a Turkish flagship effigy - all commemorating Admiral Miaoulis and his fighters in the sea battles for Greek Independence 1821.
Every July, there is the International Marionette Festival.