Quietly floating in the Saronic Gulf, Hydra is one of the lesser-known islands of Greece. Still largely undiscovered by tourists, you’ll be astonished by its virgin landscape, splendid neoclassical mansions and rich history. The island is frequented by artists and bohemian lovers who look for that one serene place to call home, if only for the summer. Care to join them? Here’s why you should visit Hydra.
Hydra’s pure understated beauty has always appealed to artists, who keep coming back to it for inspiration. Painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas was one of the first to fall in love with the island. He built a community of creatives – among them, the renowned writer Henry Miller, who joined him here in the 1940s and 1950s. Many more followed suit: including Pablo Picasso and Leonard Cohen. Today, Hydra hosts an array of art shows and festivals – many of which take place at the Slaughterhouse, Deste Foundation’s creative space.
In 1960, musician and poet Leonard Cohen bought a whitewashed house on Hydra for just $1,500 (£1,112). Although initially, it had no running water or electricity, it ended up being his home for seven years – allowing him to write some of his best songs and novels as his and Marianne Ihlen’s romantic love story played out in real life. The house is now one of the most visited sites on the island. Cohen reportedly once said, “There is nowhere in the world where you can live like you can in Hydra and that includes Hydra.”
Cosmopolitan and chic, Hydra is sure to win your heart with its refined architecture. The picturesque port is dotted with lavish, pastel-hued mansions that date back to the late 18th century when the island experienced huge economic and cultural growth. Some of these old stone houses look like dreamy fortresses – while inside, most have high ceilings, intricate frescoes and marble floors. Marvel at their mullioned windows and elegant balconies just before you set the scene for a wonderful Instagram story.
For such a tiny island, Hydra has an amazing history. The very first evidence of Hydriot farm life dates back to the third millennium BC. The island’s fleet also played a decisive role in the 1821 Greek War of Independence. In the Historical Archives Museum of Hydra, you will find an urn that contains the actual heart of Admiral Andreas Miaoulis. For a taste of what Hydriot life was like in the 1800s, don’t miss the tour of the sumptuous home of War of Independence financier, Lazaros Kountouriotis.
Unlike other islands in the Saronic Gulf, Hydra is known for its marvellous – although mostly pebbled – beaches with crystalline waters. Some, like the rocky Hydroneta, are within walking distance of Hydra town, while others – like the secluded, unspoiled Bisti – can only be accessed by taxi boat. Nature lovers will also appreciate Hydra’s numerous hiking trails that pass through quaint fishing villages and lush slopes. The hills are home to rare flowers, some of which can only be found here – such as the magnificent Malcolmia graeca hydraea.
Hydra seems like the perfect place to decompress, given that cars are not permitted here. Everything you need is within walking distance but, should you decide to venture a bit further, the island’s mules, donkeys and horses guarantee to get you there safe and sound. Muleteers will offer to transport you to your hotel for a fee – keep in mind that you do not want to strain the animal, so politely decline if your luggage is too heavy. Opt for a leisurely, luggage-free horse town ride instead.
A number of Greek and foreign films have been shot in Hydra – tracking down film locations is a fun way to get to know the island. The most famous is the 1956 movie, The Boy on a Dolphin, starring the magnetic Sophia Loren. When asked about her all-time favourite film locations, Loren praised Hydra as “one of the most beautiful places in the world.” Look for the commemorative statue of the boy on the dolphin and channel your inner Phaedra (Loren’s character).
You can’t leave Hydra without passing by the Tsagkaris candy shop. Here, you will try Anna Tsagkaris’s famous amygdalota, the various sweet offerings made with local almonds. From mouthwatering macaroons to luscious marzipans, 86-year-old Anna has been making these almond-based delicacies since 1930 – now with the help of her son Kyriakos and grandson Dimitris. During the summer, the shop sells well over 150 boxes a day. They are beautifully packed, making a great gift for your friends and family back home.
Enchanted by this artistic island? Book your stay at one of Hydra’s best hotels now on Culture Trip. The island isn’t too far from Athens, so why not take a trip to the capital, too? Stay at one of the best hotels in Athens, visit some must-see historical sites or chill out on the best beaches nearby before heading to a rooftop bar for a well-deserved drink.
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