Welcome to Hydra
“She was a dayyyyy-trippperr. One way ticket, yeah.” I know The Beatles were talking about something else entirely, but they also could have been referring to me circa my last few days in Greece. After hitting up the Peloponnese, I was fidgeting to leave the city again and had my sights set on a different kind of day-trip. Located only an hour and a half from Athens by ferry, Hydra still feels like a world of its own. Life moves slowly here, very slowly. A characterization that is made true by the island’s ban on cars and motorbikes. After stepping off the ferry, you have no choice but to rely on your own two feet or the (hopefully four) legs of a donkey.
The lack of wheels has meant that no heavy construction could occur, saving Hydra from the unfortunate trend of overdevelopment (unlike, say, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand). There are no street names on the island, you just have to go, trust your inner compass, and follow the peacefulness. Hint: the ferry back leaves from the shimmering blue part of town.
I’m certainly not the first bohemian bon vivant to be lured by Hydra’s charms. Leonard Cohen made the island his spiritual and physical home during his 20s, Henry Miller was enthralled by the island’s “purity” and “wild and naked perfection”, and Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Pink Floyd, Joan Collins, and Jackie O all seemed to like partying here quite a bit as well. Despite all of Greece’s economic woes, the island of Hydra has remained a luxurious paradise. In part, because it has never tried to be something that it is not. Spend a day here if you are solo, a couple of days if with others, and be prepared for higher prices than Athens.
Do & See
Meander – The most important thing to do in Hydra (and probably the most tempting) is just to meander around the little island. Stroll along the bougainvillea-lined paths to crumbling mansions, secluded beaches, and open-air tavernas. Follow the cats up and down the crisp white stairs, while smiling at and waving to the locals. The hustle and bustle (and slight grime) of Athens will feel like a universe away. In between all the Instastories, take some time to really hear how the island sounds and feels.
Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion – Continue the meandering up to the Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion, an ochre-colored stone beauty that sits perched above the harbor. One of the major figures in the Greek independence struggle’s home, the mansion now features original furnishings, handicrafts, and a painting exhibition. But it was the folk costumes that stole my heart. Outside also happens to be the site of a great Insta-shot (see below).
Kimisis Tis Theotokou Cathedral – On your way to Flora’s (see: eat & drink), have a brief stop at this peaceful monastery complex. Dating from the 17th century, the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Cathedral is small and quaint and exactly how you imagine a Greek island cathedral to be. With a light and bright courtyard, a Tinian marble bell tower, and a not-so-shabby amount of interior jewels, it is worth a 10-minute look.
Deste Foundation’s Slaughterhouse Project – Only open between June and September (Disclaimer: I wasn’t able to personally visit), the Foundation hosts a series of contemporary art exhibitions by different artists each season. Said to be the hub of Hydra’s bustling art scene, definitely have a look if you are visiting in the summer months.
Beaches – Hydra’s handful of beaches are mostly pebbly and reached by foot or boat, which you pick up in the port beside the donkey stand.
Speak Out – Arguably the best boutique in Hydra (and there are a surprising amount of boutiques for such a little place), this delightful little place will make all your island-style dreams come true. Bring your significant other in here, there are some leather beach shoes, kaftans, and local jewelry that you just need to show them. Wink.
The Hydra Gallery – Filled with elegant homeware, antiques, and linens, and regular exhibitions of Hydra artists, The Hydra Gallery is the perfect spot to find a souvenir that you actually want. We all could benefit from a little Hydra-lifestyle in our day-to-day, opt to look here and forget the tourist t-shirts.
Turquoise – If you happen to be in need of new bedding, or just enjoy viewing beautiful things, then head to Turquoise. Local designer Dimitris combines old traditional Indian patterns with old or modern Greek motives to create an annual line of women’s wear and accessories. Using intricate Indian block prints and specially commissioned printed fabrics, his creations result in unique beach kaftans, dresses, and pareos.
Elena Votsi – As the designer of the Athens Olympic Games Medal, Elena Votsi has some serious design cred. A Hydra-native, Elena sells her beautiful and bold jewelry in this darling flagship shop.
Eat & Drink (listed from morning to night)
Roloi Cafe – Formerly known as the kafenion O Katsikas, Roloi Cafe is where Leonard Cohen and a generation of artists and bohemians hung out. It is also where his first concert took place! Grab a coffee in the morning to relax you into the Hydra way of life (if you needed any more help!).
Flora’s – You won’t find a sign saying “Flora”, but if you are in a bright square full of lemon trees and you notice a lot of Greek men sitting outside — just chilling — you have made it. Flora herself will probably serve you, and when she does you better be ordering her galaktoboureko (custard pie) or her rice pudding, both made from local goats’ milk.
Ostria – This taverna only serves what is fresh, so be open to their suggestions. Personally, I liked the zucchini balls, black-eyed beans, and fried shrimp. But that’s just me. You do you. Head here for lunch!
Spilia Beach Bar – You can’t visit an island without having a glass of rosé, and this spot has you covered. In between lunch and dinner, stop by Spilia Beach Bar for a cold glass with a view. The beach bar is relaxed, with excellent service and rather comfy lounge chairs.
Sunset – Famed for its panoramic view, which is almost as good as its incredibly fresh, local fish, Sunset is the ultimate dinner restaurant in Hydra. Reservations definitely required!
Pirate Bar– A local and visitor favorite, this spot boasts views over the harbor and homemade dishes for the day and dangerously good cocktails for the night.
*Originally posted on June 6, 2017*