Aegina. Spetses. Poros. Angistri. Dokos. The lyrical names of the islands of the Saronic Gulf, just off the coast of the Greek mainland, bring to mind ancient legends and mythical places. I caught a glimpse of the past as I explored the quaintest island of this group on a recent adventure. The first thing you notice about this island upon disembarking from your boat is how quiet the port is, and that there is no traffic at all! Also known as “the donkey island,” Hydra is most famous for what it lacks: automobiles, motorbikes, and all other forms of motorized transportation. The residents get around using a time-honored mode of transport: by donkey, thus rendering the pace of life unhurried and calm, in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of nearby Athens. The donkeys, however, are the only ancient feature of this island. Hydra is quite the cosmopolitan, chic destination.
Its picturesque waterfront, conveniently ringed by a pedestrian walkway, is dotted with upscale shops offering crafts and artwork, along with tavernas and open-air bars. Perched on the stunning cliffs above, whitewashed homes, accented with colorful doorways and flowerbeds, overlook the small but beautiful harbor that offers postcard-perfect views from every angle. It’s no mystery why the favorite colors here are blue and white: the white architecture contrast perfectly with a blue sea that seamlessly meets the ethereal sky on the horizon. Charming, comfortable and luxurious accommodations can be found in town as well.
Exploring the narrow, winding streets of the town, there was a delight at every turn: antiques for sale here, a collection of pottery drying in the sun there. Every now and again, I would encounter a resident and his donkey going along their way along the ancient walkways. After having spent my morning souvenir shopping, I found my way to a sweetshop that offered delectable baked goods and the deliciously smooth ice cream found only in Greece. As I savored my cool confection, I admired my favorite purchase: a pair of handmade leather flip-flops, which were all the rage on the mainland and in Athens. Beautifully beaded and decorated, they are available in many shops, in a palette of colors. Besides these crafts, the local shops are well stocked with souvenirs and knickknacks of all description, including miniature versions of Greek vases and likenesses of every mythological Greek character you can imagine.
Once you have seen all of the harbor area, you can venture up one of the roads to a spot where you can take a dip in the sea, or sun yourself on the rocky shore. Or, enjoy a cup of traditional Greek “kafe” as you contemplate the stunning ocean views. You can get to Hydra by taking a ferry or a hydrofoil (speedboat) from the mainland city of Piraeus. I took the hydrofoil, which was the fastest way to make the trip. The inside the hydrofoil cabin resembled a modern airliner. Beverages and snacks are sold on-board. Plan to spend at least a full day or two here on the Donkey Island of Hydra in order to fully enjoy this ancient yet modern getaway spot. Hydra
Story by Dolly Murphy
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