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Greek Isle of Hydra: Easy Getaway from Athens


Just a 90-minute ride via hydrofoil from Athens, the Greek island of Hydra is a delight. It’s traffic-free: Donkeys rather than cars carry goods. The town of Hydra is a pleasant mix of residents, tourists, artists, and writers enjoying family-run cafés, sea views, and tranquility.

Complete Video Script

We're riding a Flying Dolphin — one of the fleet of speedy hydrofoils that zip from Athens to the islands, and from island to island. It's fast but less scenic, as the passengers are stuck inside. I like to hang out in the windy doorway.

After a 90-minute ride, Athens is a world away, and we pull into the isle of Hydra. Its main town, also called Hydra, is home to about 90 percent of the island's 3,000 residents.

After the noise of Athens, Hydra's traffic-free tranquility is a delight. I'm glad I'm packing light as I hike up to my hotel.

Hydra is one of the prettiest towns in Greece. Its superb harbor is surrounded by an amphitheater of rocky hills. There's an easy blend of work-a-day commerce, fancy yachts, and lazy tourists on island time. Donkeys rather than cars, the shady awnings of well-worn cafés, and memorable seaside views all combine to make it clear you found your Greek isle.

Hydra was a Greek naval power famous for its shipbuilders. The harbor, with twin forts and plenty of cannon, housed and protected the fleet of 130 ships as the Greeks battled the Turks in their early 19th-century War of Independence.

The town stretches away from the harbor — a maze of narrow, cobbled streets, flanked by whitewashed homes. In the 1960s, the island became a favorite retreat for artists and writers, who still draw inspiration from its idyllic surroundings.

One of the island's greatest attractions is its total absence of cars and motorbikes. Instead, donkeys do the heavy hauling today just as they have through the centuries. And, I suppose, for just as long they've treated children to rides as well.

At the top of town, the humble Taverna Leonidas has been around so long it doesn't need a sign. The island's oldest and most traditional taverna was the hangout of the sponge divers a century ago. These days Leonidas and Panagiota feed guests as if they're family. And tonight the place is all ours, as our enthusiastic cook welcomes us into his kitchen.

Rick: So what are we cooking?
Leonidas: We cook the lamb with the roast potatoes. Green shrimp with a lemon sauce, calamari with a garlic sauce, spanakopita—spinach pie.
Rick: Spinach pie.
Leonidas: Eggplant. And then beets.

And before we know it, Leonidas has us all sitting at the table and he starts bringing in wave after wave of his fabulous dishes….

Rick: Here we go, the shrimp.
Leonidas: Yeah the shrimps, green shrimps with the oil and lemon sauce.

A fleet of taxis shuttle people to outlying hamlets and beaches. We're catching one for a windy survey of the island and to be dropped off for a scenic hike back into town. Hydra is popular with walkers, who come to explore the network of ancient paths that link the island's outlying settlements, churches, and monasteries. And in springtime, hikes come with fields of wildflowers.

A delightful way to cap the day is to follow the coastal path to the village of Kaminia. Its pocket-size harbor shelters the community's fishing boats. Here, with a glass of ouzo and today's catch, as the sun slowly sinks into the sea and boats become silhouettes, you drink to the beauties of a Greek lsland escape.

Perhaps nowhere else does the historic and cultural timeline of Europe reach so far back while being so vibrant today. I hope you enjoyed our look at Athens, the oracle of Delphi, and the romantic isle of Hydra. I'm Rick Steves. Until next time, keep on travelin'. Antío.