Head for Hydra

by Robin.Gauldie

Chic and charming Hydra is a romantic idyll in its own right, but it’s also a perfect base for day trips to Athens. Unlike most Greek islands, it’s open all year round, too

You could choose Hydra for a romantic break, a two-centre holiday combining the buzz of Athens with island charm, or simply stay on this dot in the Saronic Gulf and make high-speed hydrofoil forays for sightseeing and shopping in the capital. It's only 90 minutes from Piraeus by sea, and boats and hydrofoils shuttle between its harbour and Zea Marina virtually all day.

A number of its charming small hotels stay open all year (unlike those on most Greek islands), so it’s a great place for a winter, spring or autumn break, and rooms are much cheaper in the off-peak season, from October to Easter.

So close to Athens, Hydra was one of the first islands to be ‘discovered’ by expat artists and bohemians in the 1950s and ‘60s (singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen was one of them). But its small size, lack of beaches and the introduction of direct holiday flights straight to other islands mean mass tourism has passed Hydra by. It’s still a popular weekend and summer getaway for Athenians (many of whom have second homes here), and there’s a steady flow of day-trippers in summer, but except in the Greek high holiday season (July to mid-August), it’s surprisingly uncrowded.

It also has a great portfolio of charming places to stay, some excellent restaurants – and a total absence of naff nightlife, though the Ydronetta Bar, ensconced in its cliffside site, keeps up an old hippie tradition with jazz and classical music at sunset as well as full moon parties. It’s the place to go dancing, with free admission but pricey drinks – cocktails start at €8.

Hydra’s three-dimensional maze of traffic-free streets and steps rises amphitheatre-style from a semi-circular harbour, which was once home to the Aegean largest merchant fleet. If you don’t want to negotiate those steep stairs and alleys with your baggage, book one of the 12 rooms at the Hotel Delfini, whose white walls and blue woodwork greet you as soon as you disembark – it’s right on the harbour. Rooms are on the small side but recently refurbished, bright and immaculately clean. There’s no restaurant, but there is a small self-service bar and there are heaps of places to eat nearby. And it’s a bargain, with rates as low as €45.

With a slightly bigger budget, go for a room at the Hydroussa (€65-€105), with 40 plain but comfortable en-suite rooms in a typical Hydra mansion (eat breakfast in the stone-flagged courtyard) or the Hotel Ippokampos, with doubles from €110 and a 20 per cent discount if you stay seven nights or more. It’s another dignified old townhouse, with potted palms in a shady courtyard, but inside its blue and white exterior, facilities are bang up to date, with free wireless broadband making it even better value.

One of my old favourites in the budget category, the Hotel Hydra, has recently had a total makeover and is now a pricey boutique hotel, joining the already crowded ranks of chic spots on this sophisticated island. Others include the venerable Orloff, once the home of an exiled lover of Catherine the Great, where the rooms with their antique beds reek of the jasmine and honeysuckle that swamp the courtyard. A double here starts at €160.

Hotel Phaedra has just seven rooms, all different (Olympia has a gallery bed; Athena-Artemis is a two-bedroom suite with private roof terrace) starting at €100. Hotel Miranda is in a similar price bracket, with 14 rooms in a former sea-captain’s house that has been declared a national monument – all polished wood floors, white gauzy drapes and antique beds.

But none of these has a pool, which leaves the fabulous Bratsera as still the top place to stay on Hydra – especially since the nearest and only beach (such as it is – a strip of pebbly sand) is at Vlihos, a 25-minute walk from the village. You wouldn’t believe this low-rise building, with its whitewashed walls, oak beams and doors made from salvaged wood, lofty ceilings and big blue pool, was once a sponge factory. You could spend a week cocooning here without wanting to leave for more than the occasional evening stroll and dinner by the harbour. Stylish bliss – and, starting at €125 for a double, affordable bliss at that. Hydra in a nutshell.











When Robin Gauldie first visited Greece in 1973 it was love at first sight, and he spent the next four summers island-hopping, walking, swimming and picking up the occasional drachma by part-time grape-pricking. After graduating from Edinburgh University in 1976, he became a local newspaper journalist, then in 1979 joined the travel industry newspaper Travel Trade Gazette, a job which allowed him to travel all over the world at other people’s expense. He became a freelance journalist in 1989, and has written for numerous national newspapers, including the Sunday Telegraph, for which he writes the annual Insider’s Guide to Greece, and the Sunday Mirror. He also writes for National Geographic Traveller, Greece Magazine, and a number of inflight magazines including EasyJet and Ryanair. Robin now divides his time between his home in Edinburgh and a ramshackle village house near Carcassonne and spends several months each year travelling in Greece. He has written a number of guidebooks to Greece, including the new (just out) HotSpots Halkidiki and HotSpots Skiathos, Skopelos & Alonnisos guides, published by Thomas Cook; the Thomas Cook Traveler’s Guides to the Greek Islands and to Mainland Greece; Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Top 10 Crete; Charming Small Hotels & Restaurants Greece; and the Footloose Guide to Greece, as well as guides to Amsterdam, Egypt, Estonia, Goa, Ireland, Jamaica, Morocco, Peru, Scotland, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. With his partner Zoe Ross, he also runs the online image library www.sargasso-travelimages.com