The preferred weekend destination of Greek shipping scions and European old money, car-free Spetses has a refined air and lots of smart hotels and restaurants.
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Destination guide for Hydra
Hydra, Greek Islands, Greece
Quietly glamorous and blissfully tranquil, Hydra is the only Greek island where cars and motorbikes are banned. So the only way to access the cobbled lanes, rugged hills and rocky coves is by foot, truculent donkey or boat.
Swanky yachts and colourful fishing boats sway in the harbour, surrounded by stone mansions built by wealthy mariners centuries ago. Well-heeled Athenians sip iced coffee at the harbour cafés, while aspiring artists spend their summers at the Fine Art School.
Art is everywhere in this bohemian sanctuary – even the local naval academy and slaughterhouse are converted into galleries during the summer.
Hydra’s main town extends up the steep hills surrounding the harbour. This is where most hotels, shops, museums, and travel agencies are located.
To the east is the small bay of Mandraki, with a sandy beach, hotel, and watersports.
To the west is Kamini, a fishing port with a few tavernas. Beyond are the remote beaches of Vlichos, Bisti and Ayios Nikolaos.
The rugged interior is scarcely populated apart from a handful of shepherds and monasteries.
Food & Drink
Hydra is a very barren and waterless island that does not produce anything and there is no local meat or fishing – food is delicious, but ingredients come from the Peloponnese or Athens.
What to try
Amygdalota (almond cookies flavoured with rose water and dusted with icing sugar) are a local speciality. Buy them from the Tsangaris bakery, opposite the food market near the port.
Also see our round-up of traditional Greek foods to try in Greece for some culinary delights you will no doubt come across while you’re there.
When to go
Springtime is perfect for exploring Hydra’s glorious, craggy walking trails. June and September are blissfully calm and warm.
August is the busiest month, and the island heaves with high-class Athenians every weekend throughout the summer.
It’s cold and bleak between November and March, when most hotels and restaurants are closed.
Getting there and away
There’s no airport on Hydra. High-speed catamarans and ‘flying dolphins’ (2hrs) depart from Piraeus, the main port for Athens. To book tickets, contact Hellenic Seaways.
Cars and motorbikes are banned on Hydra. The only way to get around is on foot, by boat or on a donkey (useful for carrying heavy luggage).
Water taxis, which ferry passengers to and from the island’s beaches, are lined up along the eastern side of the harbour.
Where to eat or drink
From old-time tavernas hidden in the back alleys to upscale Italian and modern Greek eateries, Hydra caters for its well-heeled and well-travelled devotees. There is only one town in Hydra, and the eating places are all concentrated on and behind the waterfront.
For a classic beach taverna though, try the taverna at Vlychos beach (see experience recommendations).
Where to shop
The waterfront is awash with chic boutiques selling chic sandals, baskets, and beachwear. But do venture into the backstreets for more recherche souvenirs.
If you can’t afford the pieces on show at the annual Hydra School Projects exhibition, pick up statement jewellery by local designer Elena Votsi, who has a shop on the harbourfront.
Other guides relevant to this destination
Sparkling seas, sugar-cube villages, cliff-hanging hamlets, ancient temples, delicious Mediterranean food and mesmerising sunsets – the Greek Islands offer so much. Just ask Shirley Valentine.
Antiquities galore, contemporary culture, scintillating nightlife and fantastic food: there’s something for everyone in Greece’s cosmopolitan capital that’s continuously reinventing itself.