Hydra has connected its name with intrepid captains and pioneers of the Hellenic Revolution, with leading artists and big names of the domestic and international jet set. Within its few square kilometres history and tradition are combined with cosmopolitanism, the natural wildness with the urban nobility. Robust, stone mansions stand in the much-photographed port or climb amphitheatrically the rocky hillside, without the trace of a car disturbing the scenery. On this island of the Saronic Gulf, the summer dream is experienced on donkeys and water taxis, in courtyards drowned in bougainvillea and geraniums, in houses made of gray stone, tile and wood, in uphill and downhill alleys with lots of stairs where a postcard-like view reveals itself every so often.
It was a painter who discovered the hidden beauty here and paved the way. In the late '30s, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas captured in his work the greatness the Greek Aegean light offered the cliffs and strict architectural volumes of Hydra, giving the first impetus that brought to the island its current aura of an art shelter. The magic of Hydra captured Seferis, Elytis, Engonopoulos, and artists like Picasso and Chagall, who incorporated its geometry into their paintings. It was then discovered by the cinema. Hydra became widely popular through the shots of the film "Boy on a Dolphin" (1957), starring Sophia Loren, but also from "Phaedra" (1960) with Anthony Perkins and Melina Merkouri. During the 60s, a troupe of filmmakers, actors, singers, ship-owners, politicians, poets and art lovers arrived on the island: from Onassis and Maria Callas to Brigitte Bardot, John Lennon and the Rolling Stones, all took their walk around the harbour, enjoyed in the legendary Lagoudera - the only all-day entertainment place on the Greek island territory, when Mykonos had still no infrastructure - and put their signature on the legend of Hydra. Many of them acquired their permanent summer refuge here, creating a unique multiethnic community. “If you own a house on Hydra, the cities seem less scary”, Leonard Cohen used to say, who bought a mansion on the highest point of Kiafa, the old town of the island.
Several decades later, the scenery so many artists loved remains almost unchanged. No cars circulate on the island and all transport is still made by boat or by donkey. One can palpate the cosmopolitan aura of Hydra in the morning around the harbour, watching the yachts and water taxis coming and going constantly, with all the high society of the island; taking a leisurely walk along the waterfront, from the Statue of Miaoulis to Periptero, among the ramparts with the cannons which once protected the city, where one will discover well-preserved 18th century mansions surrounded by small squares, art galleries, atmospheric bars and jewellers’ shops. The heart of the port is dominated by the Cathedral of Hydra, built in the mid 17th century. In its premises are housed the City Hall and the Church Museum. Climb the stairs in the streets paved with carved stone to get to Kiafa, the oldest district. This is a defensive settlement with stone-built houses, high walls and narrow streets. Here, attention will be attracted by the brightly coloured houses and by churches – among which these of St. John the Faster and Saint Constantine of Hydra stand out. The highest point of the settlement is a lovely balcony to see Hydra and the port. If you still have strength, continue to climb to the monastery of Prophet Elias, built in 1815 by Mount Athos monks, and get to the top of Mt Eros (598 meters) to admire the Saronic Gulf and the Myrtoo Sea.
In the afternoon walk downhill the stairs and head towards the cliffs of Hydroneta and Spilia to attempt a dive in the cool deep-blue waters. It is no secret that Hydra is not renowned for its large and sandy beaches. If, however, rocks are not of your taste, it’s worth taking the coastal road which runs through Avlaki, built on the cliff, and walk watching from above the sea and the white sails of sailboats up to Kamini. Take your bath and enjoy the hot sun on the pebbles of the small port, then continue with ouzo and seafood in the shady taverns on the beach. A gravel beach path leads from here to Vlychos, a small village with white houses perched on cliffs and an organized beach. Another route you can follow is to the east, starting from the harbour and the Statue of Miaoulis to end up - after about half an hour – to Mandraki, the old naval port with the most organized beach.