Often called the “St. Tropez of Greece,” the island of Hydra attracts its share of the rich and famous along with hordes of tourists arriving by day boat, but the cobbled streets, donkeys (there are no cars on the island – donkeys are used for land transport) and whitewashed bougainvillea-draped walkways on the hillsides above the harbor make it the favorite of most who choose a Saronics cruise. Here are some insider's tips.
For those arriving by chartered yacht, the first key to a successful visit is to get there early in the day, ideally before 1 p.m. Time your departure from your previous port accordingly. The harbor's beauty is equaled by its diminutive size – there is only space for 15 to 20 yachts along the north and south quays, docked stern-to. Late arrivals must anchor outside the first row of boats, a task that is both tricky and irksome; passengers must then do gymnastics to climb off their own boats and pass over another's simply to get to shore. At times the harbor is so crowded that there are three tiers of boats on either quay. Do your best to arrive in time to dock stern-to the quay - not stern-to another boat's bow.
If you need provisions or ice, there are three "supermarkets" and one smaller mini-mart in and around the harbor. All supplies arrive on the island by boat, so the exact thing you want may not be available until the next boat arrives. And your laundry will have to wait; Hydra's one and only laundry service for yachts has now closed.
Water for yachts is available in the harbor – the "water man" pays periodic visits. However, despite its name, the island has no natural water supply – water arrives by ship. For this reason, it's a precious commodity, and is available for filling tanks only; NOT for washing down the boat. There is no fuel available for yachts.
Hydra By Day
Ashore in Hydra, there's so much to see and do you won't be sorry you arrived early. Before the day grows too warm – this harbor can be hot – take a walk through the village. Up behind the waterfront you'll find a maze of cobbled alleys, whitewashed homes that are works of art, and small specialty boutiques. Bring your camera – the quaint village is stunning.
You can cool down with a refreshing pre-lunch swim at one of two swimming areas created off the rocky cliffs on the harbor's west side, then bask a bit on the warm rocks. If you're not having lunch aboard your boat, there are many options available along the waterfront – you won't want to be far from the harbor to watch the excitement as late-arriving boats begin to appear and vie for space. Note: Hydra takes its afternoon siesta time seriously. Many shops close between 2 and 6 p.m., then reopen until 10 or 11 p.m.
If you're not a swimmer, plan a visit to the Historical Archive Museum and gallery on the east side of the harbor entrance, or visit the home of 18th-century naval leader Lazaros Kountouritos, which is open to the public and provides a glimpse of life on the island in its military heyday. Kids may want to take a ride around the village on a donkey – donkeys for hire congregate with their owners at the northeast corner of the harbor, next to the fleet of water taxis. To reach one of the island's excellent beaches, water taxis are the best choice (and Mandraki is best!). Cost for either means of transport is only a few euros (prices vary).
If you're an early riser, go for a morning hike or jog along the scenic cliffside path that begins on the harbor's west side and heads to the small villages at the island's west end.
There’s plenty to do on this small island, but it’s also one of the best places for lingering with a cool drink at a waterfront café. The Pirate's Bar is best; it also serves excellent continental fare and is a great place to just sit and people-watch. You can also connect with the outside world via widely available café Wi-Fi.
Hydra By Night
By early evening the day trippers have departed, and only the yachties, locals, and visitors staying on the island remain. Don't miss catching sunset at Hydronetta, a small, west-facing café a short walk uphill from the harbor. Hydronetta sunsets are a Hydra ritual rivaled by those in places like Key West, complete with a moment of silence and inspirational sunset music when the sun dips below the horizon. Get there about 45 minutes before sunset to get a table, and bring your camera!
For dinner ashore, two favorites are the Dry Olive, a spacious taverna under the trees up in the village behind the harbor, with excellent food at reasonable prices plus live bouzouki or guitar music on weekend nights; or Christina's, in the same area – smaller and more homey, with excellent fare. For an extra-special, romantic dinner for two, try either Sunset or Omilos, both on the harbor's western cliffs; are good bets, but rather pricey. For night life with good music late-night dancing, visit Amalour about a block up from the harbor.