Hydra is perhaps the most beautiful port village in all of Greece. A tiny harbour ringed with cafes, restaurants and jewelry shops is surrounded by a village of stone houses and villas that rise up the hills like an amphitheatre. But one of the best things about Hydra is that there are no cars. Everything is moved by donkey, including groceries, building supplies, people and their luggage. Hydra is the former home of Leonard Cohen and stomping grounds of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Pink Floyd and many other famous and not so famous people.
Hydra is one of the Saronic Gulf islands, which includes Aegina, Angistri, Poros and Spetses. Of these, Hydra is the most unspoiled even though it is the most popular. The reason is because growth has been limited and while the other islands expand outward to accommodate tourism, Hydra has remained the same. Most of its visitors just come for the day because there are simply not enough places for them to stay.
The main hobby on Hydra and on most islands is people watching. You can get a coffee or a soda and sit in a cafeteria all day long. Nobody will ask you to move. There are plenty of shops to keep you busy, on the waterfront and a few on the main streets leading away from it.
There are ships and yachts going in and out all day, including several large cruise ships with groups who fan out around the town looking for bargains in gold jewellery and tourist paraphernalia. They have 2 hours to buy everything they can carry back to the ship and disappear, only to be replaced by the next group. Some make their way to the rocks for a quick swim. The tourists come, they shop, they see the attractions, they eat, and they return to the cruise ship. Since the daily cruise ships visit Hydra for two hours , there was no need to develop the island, as other islands have, with hotel after hotel. The island has basically looked the way it looks now for the last two hundred years and certainly as it did when Henry Miller visited it on the eve of World War Two. Developers have attempted to buy territories on the island and create resorts, but have been stopped.
There are 3 main streets, which go up through the village from the waterfront. The first street you come to from the ferry is Tombazi, on the corner where the donkeys hang out. The next street is Mialouli, which is next to the Monastery of the Panagias and the clock tower. The third street is Lignou, which goes up the hill and ends up in the village of Kamini. Wandering up these streets is an enjoyable pastime and getting lost is both easy and fun. The interior of the village is very different from the cafe-ringed harbour with its jet setters and urban Greeks. Hydra is as traditional looking as even the most remote village once you break away from the masses. Some people who live in the village may not go down to the harbour for days and many of the resident artists, writers and soul-searchers don’t go down there at all once the summer begins.
There are many paths through the hills that lead to small settlements, monasteries and churches and a walk in springtime will introduce you to the islands large array of wildflowers. The walk to the Monastery of Profiti Illias will take you an hour but the view is worth it. There are still monks living there. Donkey rides are also a means to get to the Monastery.
Despite the lack of long sandy beaches (the swimming is great off the rocks!) Hydra is a great place to visit and one can not underestimate the value in spending time in a place that has no automobiles. You feel safer and go will return home relaxed and at the same time feeling like you have a second home.