Hydra, Greece

Welcome to the island of Hydra (alternatively, Idra, or Ύδρα). For five days, Helen and I stayed on this idyllic isle in the Aegean Sea, swimming, laying out on beaches, drinking, and eating enough food to burst. Also, playing with cats. But I’ll get to that. Here is Part 2 of our three-part trip: Hydra, Greece.

The Port of Hydra, Greece

After our first weekend in Athens, Greece, Helen and I spent five days and four nights in Hydra. We stayed at Hotel Kirki, a two-story home converted into a B&B-style accommodation. Our room included a large balcony off the back with a view of the surrounding red terracotta roofs and the towering hills that surround the main port of the island.

The Hydra Port is the first thing you see when you reach the island (by ferry). An active, commercial port, the area transforms throughout the day. Both pleasure yachts and fishing boats are docked there overnight. In the early morning, locals and delivery workers moved about, unloading shipments from boats and transporting them by cart or donkey to the various stores and eateries.

(Hydra is an island that purportedly doesn’t have cars, but we actually saw quite a few work trucks and vehicles. Tourists, though, should expect to either walk or ride a donkey.)

As the day progresses, Hydra Port becomes a tourist haven, with dozens of restaurants, cafes, and bars serving both day visitors and long-timers. Additionally, there are clothing stores, souvenir shops, and food markets, providing you with essentials (and non-essentials). The port is sliced into sections by streets that lead up to the rest of the island town (Hotel Kirki is a few meters up one of those side streets, Miaouli).

Serving as the focal point of the port and a kind of visual pinpoint as you wander is the Hydra clock tower. Day or night, you can spot it, and even when you can’t see it, you’ll hear it.

Hotel Kirki’s proximity to Hydra Port turned out to be a major plus, as getting out of the town and to the various beaches on the island involved cutting through the port and turning either left or right. And the beaches were our main reason for visiting Hydra.

The Beaches of Hydra, Greece

For our birthday – yes, our; we share a birthday to Helen’s chagrin – we wanted a relaxing, even decadent day on a beach. The goal: lounging on a beach and having people bring us drinks. So we walked the half hour from Hydra Port to Mandraki Beach Resort.

It turned out Mandraki Beach Resort was the most expensive option we could have picked for renting lounge beds, but we figured, what the hell? We’ll indulge. Unlike most of the beaches we encountered on the island, Mandraki was a sandy beach (as opposed to pebbles or stones). We swam, read our respective books, napped, and had a drink brought to us, as we wanted.

Other beaches we visited included Spilia Beach Bar (our first stop upon arriving) and Hydronetta Beach, which are essentially at the port’s edge. Slightly further out (15 to 40 minutes on foot), there’s Avlaki Beach (Paralia Avlaki/Παραλία Αυλάκι), Vlichos Beach (Παραλία Βλυχός), and Vlychos Plakos Beach (Παραλία Πλάκες).

Of those last three, Vlichos Beach is the most touristy, but not in a bad way. You can rent beds for €5 and there are restaurants and cafes around so you don’t have to really leave the beach to get lunch. We ate at Taverna Marina, which turned out to not only have some of the best food we had on the island, but some of the best views too.

The Best Restaurants on Hydra, Greece

As in Athens, much of our time in Hydra was spent eating far too much food. Progressively throughout the week, we tried ordering smaller portions, but it never worked out. Appropriately, most of the restaurants on the island served traditional Greek food (if you’re hoping for Mexican or Sushi on Hydra, well, why are you there?).

For our birthday lunch, we ate at Mandraki 1800 (Μανδρακι 1800), which serves a variety of mostly seafood-based Greek dishes, including shrimp saganaki (prawns with feta) that Helen absolutely loved. Like Mandraki Beach Resort, Mandraki 1800 was nice, but pricier than other options that ended up being just as good or better.

For our birthday dinner, we ate at Sunset, which, appropriately, is positioned high above the water’s edge for spectacular sunset views. Again, the food was delicious, but the prices definitely had a View Charge added on. Our waiter was helpful and happily took our picture (“That’s my job,” he smirked when we asked), though after finishing our main course, we struggled to find him (or, really, the back waiter) for a dessert order. A manager eventually came and gave us a free dessert (a sweet Greek yogurt-based concoction) that was fantastic.

We ended up visiting another restaurant, Kodylenia’s Taverna, twice, once for dinner and another time for drinks. It overlooks the Kamini Fishing Shelter (an enclosed boat dock about 15 minutes from the port). It’s not as elevated as Sunset, but Kodylenia’s views were still some of the best we found (at a restaurant). This was a spot where we only wanted a small bite but nonetheless left stuffed. I only ordered a Greek Salad!

We didn’t have to venture far to get great food and drinks, though. Across from Hotel Kirki was Lulus Taverna, where I had what I erroneously thought would be a small souvlaki plate. On a cold and overcast afternoon, we had a cocktails-and-Shithead session at Plakostroto, the terrace bar right next to Hotel Kirki. We also enjoyed breakfast, gelato, and drinks at the various Hydra Port cafes.

One of our best meals in Hydra was on our first night, a local spot we happened upon. We had taken off from our hotel and walked up a hill, away from the port, only to find ourselves blocked by a cemetery. We could either go back or cut through the cemetery and pass through a closed gate. We chose the latter. It’s good we did because we were greeted by a stunning view of the port town from high above.

After coming down the hill, we chanced upon Giasemi Taverna (Γιασεμί). There, the woman who served us steered as toward the night’s special, roasted chicken, which, typical of our experience, was both delicious and more than we needed.

Giasemi proved to be emblematic of Hydra restaurants for another reason: we spent the meal with a squadron of cats.

The Cats of Hydra, Greece

Giasemi’s waitstaff kept coming by to shoo the begging cats away, but honestly, we enjoyed it. Like typical tourists, we fed a bit of our food to the cats, which ensured they stuck around throughout the whole meal. This became the theme of our week in Hydra.

We couldn’t turn around without spotting a cat (we made a game of pointing out every one we saw, which I’m sure annoyed any locals who heard us). Most were indifferent to us when we didn’t have food. Clearly, Hydra belongs more to its cat inhabitants than to humans.

I understand why locals find the overwhelming feline presence a nuisance, but for us, the cats of Hydra were a bonus.

Speaking of cats, we stopped by the former home of one cool cat who used to live on Hydra: Leonard Cohen. (Seamless segue). Cohen, the beloved Canadian singer/songwriter known for writing “Hallelujah,” “Suzanne,” and “So Long, Marianne,” lived on Hydra throughout most of the 60s and, as a result, is claimed by the island. His former residence is marked by a sign, and there’s also a Leonard Cohen Memorial Bench on the way to Avlaki Beach.

Saying Goodbye to Hydra, Greece

Our last two days on Hydra were slightly marred by a morning cold front that covered the sky in clouds and ripped through the town with gusty winds. It ruined any attempt at a beach day on Thursday (hence the Shithead tournament), though it did make for some cool photos.

On Friday, even though the clouds lifted, the strong winds had made swimming all but impossible because they brought with them a horde of unwelcome guests: jellyfish.

The water was pocked with these translucent pink monsters. As a result, even if the water hadn’t been too choppy for swimming, we were blocked from entering the sea. We made do with reading in the sun on this Grecian island. Truly a struggle.

We didn’t get much reading in, though, because about 30 minutes after we arrived at Avlaki Beach, we were engulfed by some sort of soft erotica/porn shoot. A group of young (18, maybe) boys and girls descended on the beach (literally; you climb down cement stairs to get to the water), and within a few minutes, two of the boys were dick-swingingly naked.

Eventually, a middle-aged British women arrived with a team of photo assistants and started taking pictures of the boys (and a couple girls) in various stages of undress (with a banana at some points).

(No juicy bits are visible in these photos, as far as I can tell.)

We didn’t stick around to find out if the photo shoot turned into a video shoot.

Despite our last beach day being interrupted by two different invasive swarms, we still enjoyed our final romp on the island before we had to catch the ferry back to Athens.

We both hope to go back. Five days, it turns out, is not long enough for a stay on Hydra. But, alas, we had to go, not just because we needed to see more of Athens, but because, in three days, we were flying to Sicily. More on that next time.

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