Hydra - The Pearl of the Aegean Sea
Having missed our last dolphin ferry ride at the Piraeus Port in Athens, we are relieved to spot Hydra in the distance. Shaped like an amphitheater, it is the most beautiful natural harbor in the Aegean Sea.
The word 'Hydra' derives from the Greek word Ύδρα' for water. Standing at the prow of our ferry we catch our first glimpse of the pretty villages nestled in the hills. White villas dot the lower slopes all the way to the pebbly shores. Red and pink bougainvillea blaze against the green hills. Windmills stand sentinels. Canons line parapets and cypress trees stand tall. Boats bob gently on the still waters of the harbor. Hydra emerges under the rays of the setting sun.
A statue of Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, naval commander during the Greek wars, stands tall and proud, his eyes eternally scanning the distant waters for enemy boats. Passengers make their way towards the exit just as the ferry touches the shore. We are welcomed by the cheerful sights and sounds of Hydra. People sit in restaurants enjoying drinks. Shopkeepers stand outside their shops greeting the new visitors with cheerful smiles. Cats bask lazily on harbor walls, napping on window sills or simply wandering around curiously staring at the new arrivals. Donkeys stand by the harbor enjoying a break after the day’s work.
Hydra Island is a national monument. It is wheel free. There are no cars or bikes on the island. Donkeys are used to carry things. The air is fresh and crisp. A gentle breeze blows across the waters. We savor the sight of quaint little boutiques and restaurants lining the port. On the way we stop to buy gelato. We walk past old men sitting under trees and people eating in tavernas. We notice more canons. A little yellow kitten chases us playfully. Pulling along our carry-ons, we walk up the narrow paved street to our hotel.
At the hotel we are welcomed by the fragrance of lavender and geranium. Our smiling hostess comes out to greet us. The hotel was once a summer home of the advisor to the Russian Tsar. It’s a beautiful place with its white high ceilings and French windows. We eat dinner at a local taverna. Family pictures decorate the walls. The atmosphere is homely. The food is delicious and the service efficient and warm. We taste various local dishes of aubergine, yogurt, tomatoes, warm bread and cheese. Hydra has many tavernas serving wonderful food.
The next morning, we enjoy breakfast in a sunny room with bright yellow floors overlooking a little courtyard with lemon and orange trees. Soft classical music plays in the background. We smell fresh coffee. We love the warm bread and cheese pies baked by Maria.
We visit the Greek Orthodox church - a hidden gem on the island. Little silver ships and sea dragons hang from the heavy crystal chandeliers probably to bless the sailors at sea. Biblical paintings adorn the high ceilings and walls. Due to the romantic nature of the island, it is said couples who visit end up getting married here!
We walk on windswept paths along high cliffs overlooking the sapphire blue sea to the neighboring villages of Avlaki, Kamini, Vlychos and Plakes. We come across young boys and girls cliff jumping into the sea. We meet cats of all colors. Hydra should be named 'Cat Island'. We see donkeys carrying fruits and flowers. Men riding donkeys wave and sing. One man points at the flower in my hair I had picked up earlier from the path. It must have fallen from his bag. He laughs and breaks into a huge smile.
We walk through Avlaki, a little village of whitewashed homes and blue doors. In Vlychos we eat lunch at the seaside taverna. We sit in the shade of the vine terrace. The Blue vases filled with wild flowers stand out against the white tables and chairs. The simple Greek lunch of aubergine and fresh pasta is perfect. On our way to Plakes we see wild horses. It is a nice village to stop for drinks before heading back to Hydra port. We enjoy delicious fresh juice. Orange juice is a common drink in Hydra because oranges grow in abundance on the island. All tavernas and homes have their own orange trees.
One must never miss the sunset on a Greek island. Sunsets are spectacular.
We eat dinner while watching the sun set at the 'Sunset Restaurant'. We agree that this restaurant has one of the most beautiful views in the world. As the sun goes down we remember the beautiful sunset of Oia, Santorini.
Hydra island is a World Heritage site where nature thrives unspoiled and pollution is kept at bay. Wild flowers bloom and orange trees grow in abundance. Wild horses, donkeys and cats coexist happily alongside its inhabitants. Dolphins and seals come to play in its waters without fear. Visitors experience kindness, generosity and hospitality. Hydra made us feel at home. It gives visitors a sense of belonging. It must be the simple generosity and kindness of its people.
We were met warmly wherever we went. Hydra will stay with us long after we leave.
Text by NILOFAR BAWA