Hydra: From Cohen to Covid.

We have not encountered one single Canadian during our entire trip and when we told people where we were from, they often repeated, “Ca-na-da” as if we were curious specimens from a long-forgotten tribe.

In Hydra, we feel redemption. We have a Canadian brother, Leonard Cohen, who bought a house here in 1960 for $1500 at the age of 26. He was almost-famous then and Hydra became his home for much of his 20’s – a home he shared with his famous girlfriend and muse Marianne. His home sits empty now but is still owned by his family. Naturally we made the pilgrimage.

Right around the corner is the Four Corners grocery store. I’m quite sure it enjoys a bit of spill-over business from tourists curious about Cohen’s haunts.

Hydra’s reputation as a bohemian hangout in the 60’s changed as the rest of the world changed and by the 1980s, the money had arrived. Yachting and sailing were a huge draw and Hydra became an attractive and convenient (1 1/2 hours by hydrofoil or catamaran) getaway for frazzled Athenians.

The artists are still here, but real estate has gone up since Cohen’s day and waterfront cafes are a bit more spendy.

Still, the wealth is understated and does not define the essence of Hydra. Most locals and tourists have the same steep climb to get to their home or hotel room.

The island of Hydra is compact, very hilly and extremely photogenic. it also has the distinction of being entirely car and motorcycle-free, so it is incredibly quiet and blessedly free of diesel exhaust.

The one exception to the non-motorized rule are garbage trucks. Otherwise, people get around by walking, sea taxis or by mule or horse. The term “donkey” has been widely and erroneously used, probably because it has a better ring to it than “mule.” In fact donkeys are somewhat rare on the island. Mules are the sturdy little pack animals that carry everything from cargo to luggage to people up and down the hills.

The muleteers all ride side-saddle – not sure why unless it is easier to jump on and off that way.

When the cargo boats dock, mules are lined up to transport goods and/or to drop things off to be delivered off -island.

Although I was all set to carry our bags, our host strongly advised that we hire a mule. We are so happy we did – this fellow carried ours and another family’s luggage up the hill.

Our host Katarina met us at the ferry and after several hot and sweaty twists and turns up 300 steps ( at least that many – I counted later), we finally arrived at our place – almost to the top of the hill, and behind this red door.

We discovered that walking up and down many, many steps twice a day was not as difficult as we had imagined. The locals fly up and down without a thought and we followed suit. We got lost a few times, but only briefly, and always there was the reward of a new corner to be discovered.

Some of our discoveries:

Hydra Town’s crescent-shaped harbour is the main draw for tourists, locals, diners, walkers and boaters.

The three flags, from left to right are: Hydra, Greece and the E. U.

Bicycles and boats

The harbour at night.

Shopping on Hydra appears to have two price points – mid-priced tourist stuff and high-end quality goods. Greek textiles are absolutely beautiful.

This shop offered some wardrobe inspiration. As you sort through your collection of monochromatic, summer-into-fall linens, you may want to add bold jewellery .

The oldest pharmacy on the island – founded in 1890. I spoke to the pharmacist, the grandson of the founder. He was just days away from retirement and was passing the business on to his son – a 4th generation pharmacist. I congratulated him on his retirement and when I commented that he must be very proud of his son, he just shrugged with a smile.

There are many restaurants to choose from right in Hydra Town, as well as a number of tavernas that can be found along the coast and in the other tiny communities.

As is often the case, waterfront restaurants can be pricey and hit-or-miss. It was worth exploring a street or two back to find something a little more interesting.

We discovered one of our favourite tavernas at Vlychos Beach – a beautiful beach area about a half hour walk away. This was the view from the taverna.

Our host spoke perfect English, French and German, as well as Greek, of course, and he was very keen to show me around. I got a tour of the kitchen and met his mother Marina, who has been in front of that stove for a good many years.

This was the beach close by, as viewed from the cliff above on our way down to the village. In ordinary times, there would have been four times the number of umbrellas. Delicious swimming, but starting to get cold.

If anyone knows what this tree is, please tell me. I asked the men sitting underneath, and they said “ariki” or “atiki”. I have Googled to no avail.

On a hike to another beach in a tiny area called Mandraki, we had lunch at this taverna.

The food was okay, but the whole experience was hilarious. We were served by a rather brusque woman, which is not unusual, but it was her husband who made our visit memorable. He stalked the terrace with a squirt bottle in hand, trying in vain to keep the cats away. When that project proved unsuccessful, he turned his attention to the inhabitants of the sunbeds below. As the sunbeds are free to taverna customers, he wanted to make sure that everyone would be coming up to eat. For most of our meal, he was either yelling down to the indifferent swimmers or terrorizing the cats.

The small village of Mandraki, (pop. 11)

Accommodations in Hydra range from Airbnbs of varying size, quality and price to a handful of luxury properties, as well as a few established older properties that offer good value.
The Sofia – a small and stately old hotel, at a palatable price of $150 a night.

If you have a bit more to spend, the Hydra Four Seasons is discreetly tucked away down the coast, accessible by an hour’s walk or a private sea taxi. A room there is surprisingly reasonable – currently being offered for $170 a night at late autumn Covid prices.

It is well-appointed, staff are professional and attentive and the grounds are beautifully landscaped, but the hotel itself was unassuming and simpler than I would have imagined for a Four Seasons.

Our main objective for being here was to investigate Plakes beach, which is open to the public. Unfortunately, the weather had turned quite windy and chilly and nobody was venturing in the water. We were disappointed, as we hoped for one last glorious swim before heading home.

We stopped for coffee on the terrace, and enjoyed the company of this little character.

Once she realized she was not going to get the attention she was seeking from Stephen, this little cat jumped over to my lap and stayed there for about half an hour.
One of the staff came over to make sure she was not bothering us and that is when we found out she belonged to the hotel owner and her name is Alice.

One of the things I miss with our travelling life is having a pet. I have been so taken with the cats of Greece. With the exception of a few tough old toms, most of the cats are quite petite and friendly. They appear to be well-fed. These two little kitties lived just around the corner from us – if it was possible I would have cat-napped them.

The walking and hiking on Hydra is simply breathtaking. We missed out on seeing the many monasteries and churches on the island, as that would have involved hiring a mule or horse for the day, but we saw a lot travelling under our own steam.

Most of the paths were either cobblestone or concrete, and very easy to follow.

We followed the coastline.

We also walked high up into the hills overlooking the villages.

We walked over an ancient old stone bridge that led us down to a beach.

And we could have walked for many more days – Hydra was a perfect way to end our Greek adventure.

I am writing this from Athens; sitting in our little suite overlooking the Acropolis. The weather has turned – it is cool, drizzly and dull – which makes leaving Greece easier to bear. We get up tomorrow at 4:00 a.m. to catch a 8:00 a.m. flight home – 24 hours later we open our door in Nanaimo. We will then have two weeks of quarantine.

I have one more blog posting – our thoughts on travelling during Covid and Stephen’s financial summary.