Odyssey to a Greek Isle: Hydra

The advantage of traveling with a local is that you become privy to information that you would ordinarily miss when traveling solo.  I was fortunate to have heeded my friend, Anastasia’s advice to venture outside Athens and do a three-day excursion to Hydra, one of mainland Greece’s 227 islands.  I just knew that I would be serendipitously discovering one of Greece’s gems.

If your idea of paradise consists of languid days by the sea, leisurely strolls through town, boutique shopping, and experiencing succulent local fare, then Hydra is the ideal getaway. Hydra is for the not-so “hopeless” romantic, for those who love antiquity, and for those who have simply outgrown the raucous nightclub scene.

Hydra is less than 2 hours away from Athens and is easily accessible by speedboat or ferry. There are many outfitters offering sea transportation to the islands from Port Piraeus. It’s simply a matter of finding one that best suits your timetable. For approximately $60 round trip, you can reserve a comfortable coach seat with Hellenic Seaways (www.hsw.gr).

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When you disembark from the ferry, you will feel as if you have been “time-warped” into the 19th century, when travel by horse and wagon was ubiquitous. Donkey drawn carts and their handlers line the docks and patiently await customers. Tourists empty out onto the square, playfully negotiating fares with the locals.

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What distinguishes Hydra from its more renowned sister islands is the fact that it is relatively untouched by modernity- cars are banned on the island. So you will have plenty of time to digest the handsome port scene, explore the narrow cobblestone streets and repose at one of the many cafés serving traditional Mediterranean fare.

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Due to the fact that Hydra was built in the shape of an amphitheater and the majority of the island’s hotels lie on a steep incline, the terrain calls for sensible flats. The intricate alleyways and slender cobblestone paths do not allow for wedges or anything with a slight heel, lest you want to end up with a sprained ankle.

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If you come largely unprepared, as I did, then you can just as easily purchase a pair of cotton espadrilles for $25 from one of the local vendors.

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Avoid traveling during high season (mid-June to August) when prices are near extortionary. Mid-April to early June is the optimal time to visit due to the cloying heat and humidity of the late summer months. I was fortunate to find a quaint luxury, boutique hotel named Angelica for a fair price of $200 a night.

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Angelica is family owned; it belonged to the late grandmother of the current owner, whose namesake was used for the hotel. Each room has traditional old world flair and is named after a Greek God or Goddess. I was staying in the Poseidon room and if you remember to book a deluxe room, as I did, your room will have its own private balcony. Breakfast is served out on the sun-dabbled terrace from 6:30 am to 10 a.m.

If you find yourself too fatigued and groggy to wake up for the morning meal, there are a plethora of cafes serving up various takes on the traditional Greek style breakfast. The Mediterranean diet/Greek diet is considered to be one of the healthiest on the planet world due to the saturation of omega three fatty acids found within typical meals. Greek breakfast was meant to invigorate individuals before a long day’s work- tiganites (Greek pancakes), scrambled eggs with tomatoes and feta cheese, siglino (smoked pork), kalamata olives, and Greek yogurt with Greek thyme honey are all for the taking.

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Come lunchtime, the shops will have lifted their window shades and coverings and will have opened for business, selling handcrafted jewelry and leather from both local and national artisans, providing you with an opportunity to burn off the lingering breakfast calories.

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The shopkeepers will not place any undue pressure on you to buy, but rather appear interested in engaging you in a conversation about your hometown, the origins of your travels, and what brings you to this picturesque island. The feelings expressed are mutual; When you converse with locals, they make mention of Hydra’s “charm” and they quickly point to Hydra’s idyllic setting as the reason why they choose to be year-long residents on the island.  Residents distinctly state that they could not imagine living out their lives anywhere else and I can see why.  It is the interconnectedness of the people, the unhurried pace of life, and the nostalgic feeling of home that makes Hydra a cherished destination. At the end of your trip, you will discover that you too, have become transfixed by the magical timelessness of this Aegean isle.

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