Heard about Hydra the tiny island close to Athens? No? Our Greek, Australian friends told us about it. “It’s paradise, you must go for a few days,” and so we did. The island is about a ninety minute ferry ride on Flying Cat No 1 from the Port of Piraeus (wharf No 8).
Hydra is famous for its maritime tradition (see Historical Archives Museum Hydra (http://www.hydraislandgreece.com/hydras-historic-archives-and-museum), the magnificent sea captains’ mansions lining the waterfront, the stark grey hills rising in the background and the brilliant warm turquoise water lapping at the sea front. Today Hydra is jam packed with sleek luxury watercraft, tourist cafes and restaurants, designer gold jewellery shops and surprisingly, donkeys. Hydra has no motorised transport making this island unique, disarmingly quiet and strikingly quaint.
Arriving at the wharf, donkeys wait to transport bags and tourists to hotels. We did without their help as our hotel, and most other villas, are very close to the waterfront. We had prepared well by leaving most of our luggage at our Athens hotel (Sofitel Athens Airport – http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-3167-sofitel-athens-airport/index.shtml) and bringing an overnight bag for our short, three day stay.
We stayed in a 200 year old former Captain’s mansion called Hotel Miranda (http://www.mirandahotel.gr/en-hydra.html). The property is named after the owner Miranda who has lived in the house since 1953. We were treated to a top floor, sea view room with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The rooms were clean and simply furnished. Between the mansions in the narrow cobbled streets we found delightful tavernas, small bars, shops and lots of pussycats, while donkeys transported goods to and from the port all day long until the last tourist boat late in the afternoon.
Things to do
Relaxing in portside cafes, ‘people watching’, sipping wine or trying traditional sweet, Greek coffee are favourite things to do. Perhaps finish the day with relaxing drinks at the Sunset Bar (http://sunsethydra.com) overlooking the sheer, flat, shimmering Saronic Gulf. One of our best experiences was swimming off the rocks, a short walk left of the port, where the water was the cleanest, clearest, sapphire blue possible. Near the port there are no real beaches but the rock ledges offer the perfect places to launch yourself into aqua marine bliss.
An easy paced twenty minute walk to the right of the port, along a scenic, mostly flat path and you will be greeted by a little piece of heaven when you arrive at Mandraki Beach. Here you will find Mavspaki, a Greek Taverna serving traditional food since 1800. We ordered the oven-cooked Greek style chicken and home made zucchini balls, while gazing over the private beach onto a dazzling, secluded bay with swanky yachts anchored for secure mooring in the late afternoon sun.
Behind the restaurant is the beautiful old Villa Mandraki which is for rent. It has two fully equipped maisonettes. The first can accommodate up to 5 persons and the second up to 4 persons, both with big, comfortable verandas, where you can enjoy your breakfast, lunch or dinner (http://www.hydra.com.gr/mandraki-villa/en-villa-mandraki.html).
After lunch we took a dip in the pristine waters of the little beach in front of the restaurant and soaked in the last of the sun’s rays which radiated off the smooth round rocks hugging the shoreline, gently bathed by the turquoise sea.
Back at the Port there are also museums like the Hydra Historic Archives Museum, (http://www.hydraislandgreece.com/hydras-historic-archives-and-museum/) and historic houses (http://www.hydraislandgreece.com/hydras-historic-mansions/). If you’re fit, you may want to take the two hour hike to Prophet Llosa Monastery. Nestled at an altitude of 500 meters into a slope of Mount Eros, Hydra’s highest peak, the Monastery provides spectacular views of the island, sea, and Peloponnese (http://www.hydraislandgreece.com/prophet-ilias-monastery-μοναστήρι-του-προφήτης-ηλίας/).
If you have extra time, take a water taxi or boat to one of Hyrdra’s best beaches (http://www.greeka.com/saronic/hydra/hydra-beaches.htm). Bisti Beach comes highly recommended and is about a forty minute water taxi ride away.
Hydra is classy and well known for its nightlife but there is nothing very gay. In fact it is a place to escape the scene. However, there are a host of cool bars around the port, many with an unmistakable Greek vibe, while others are more trendy and chilled. Wander from one bar to another and don’t miss Hyronetta Bar (http://www.hydronetta.gr/) to the west of the port. This bar is famous for it’s Full Moon parties or simply a place to be seen.
Hydra, with its dancing boats and flickering lights hugging the horseshoe harbour and meandering cobbled streets, offers a unique and secluded feel compared to other islands which offer more revelry and carousing.
Would we come back?
In a flash! If we have a couple of days to spare whilst visiting Athens we will definitely put it on the agenda. We visited in September when the weather was perfect and the sea still warm. The best time to visit Hydra is around May to early June and late September, to avoid the summer crowds.
Know Before you go
- The Sofitel Athens Airport hotel is a good transit point. The hotel will hold bags up to five days if you are returning to the hotel to stay. Travel light to Hydra.
- Bus 96 to the port of Piraeus costs 5€. Find it outside Exit Door 5 at the airport terminal and it takes about 90 minutes.
- Ferry to Hydra costs 29€ and takes 90 minutes or sometimes a little longer. We bought our ticket from Aktina, a travel agency (http://www.aktinatravelgroup.com/) with wonderfully helpful staff and you will find their office on the ground floor of the airport.
- Book Hydra accommodation well in advance. If you arrive without accommodation you may have to use your return ticket.
Like the mythological Sirens’ call, the Greek Islands continue to lure travellers back for more. We can’t wait to reignite our love affair with Hydra on our next visit to Greece.