Hydra is a different Greek island. So many islands so little time: this is the conundrum we face after the decision is made – “let’s do the Greek islands this year….” – this is the point where most foreigners and would be charterers, entranced by the beautiful pictures of white windmills and churches with blue roofs are sub-consciously thinking: gotta do Mykonos and Santorini, and yes, these two icons of the Aegean are famous and beautiful in their own way. Populated in the summer by tourists and heavy-duty party animals, and better accessed by ferry from Piraeus, especially in July and August when the wind blows. Personally I prefer the less trodden path and the less trodden months.
We tend to forget the other Greek islands. In this case and more specifically the islands of the Saronic Gulf that are close to Piraeus (the port of Athens) and where the Greeks go for their holidays and long weekends. This blog is inspired by an article in the NYT about the literary and artistic background of Hydra, one of the very special islands in the Saronic, just South of Athens. My blog is less about the historic and literary aspects and more about the fact that there are some really, really nice places to visit that can be accessed either by fast ferry or on a nice leisurely cruise on a private yacht. These islands include Aegina, Poros, Hydra, Spetses, Nafplion and Monemvasia. However, I am specifically targeting Hydra today.
Hydra is a DIFFERENT Greek island. Actually, you could say this about all the islands, each has it’s own unique personality, but Hydra really is different. The main difference being that only 1900 people live here. Second, no vehicles with internal combustion engines are allowed on the island making it an incredibly quiet oasis. Outside the port area it’s actually pretty wild and transportation is definitely two-legged or four-legged.
It has long been a haven for writers and artists and green-peace types who make the island their second home. Henry Miller, in his novel The Colossus of Maroussi wrote about Hydra, and is, even today, revered by the locals. Even today with the influx of of art stars and yachting billionaires, its unspoiled charm remains intact. Miller wrote: ” Hydra rises out of the sea like a huge loaf of petrified bread…”
Hydra is best described as being an intimate place but there is still something monastic and intensely private about it. You can wander around the harbor and sit at the Pirate Bar, drink Ouzo and watch the grizzled fishermen and ogle the international crowd stepping off their mega-yachts as if in an alternate reality or a parallel universe. Sunset fills the evening with large, well-heeled British, French and Italian families who are probably not even aware of the writers and artists who preceded them in this amazing little place.
The lack of noise and motorized vehicles makes one intensely aware of the slightest little sounds that many of us “civilized” city dwellers have forgotten, cocks crowing, dogs barking, creaking ropes from the moored boats in the harbor and even the luxury of a low-toned private conversation with a friend.
Hydra is accessible from Piraeus by the daily high-speed ferry in 1 1/2 to 2 hours and by normal ferry in three hours. It is infinitely more interesting however, to charter a motor or sailing yacht in Athens and take a week or 10 days exploring the Saronic Gulf islands of Aegina, Poros, Spetses and Hydra. Throw in Nafplion and Monemvasia for good measure.
This itinerary is a very good one in the summer months to avoid the high winds that are more prevalent in the Cylades islands. This route is more protected because the wind is blocked by the Peloponnese mountains. So we always call it “Plan B” for charter yachts whose first choice would have been Mykonos and the Cyclades islands but unable to do so because of weather.
These islands, however, should not be PLAN B for anyone. They are unique, intensely Greek and should not me missed. When you think “let’s do Greece this summer”, please take a long hard look at the Saronic Gulf islands including Hydra ( named after the mythological multi-headed sea serpent that could not be vanquished). You won’t regret it. Just as a 101 refresher course on the different groups of Greek islands to choose from see the following summary:
2. The Saronic (Sah-ron-ik) Gulf and Peloponnese Islands that include Aegina, Poros, Spetses and Hydra.
3. The Ionian (Eye-ohn-yan) Group of Islands, on the West coast of the Greek mainland that include Corfu and Cephalonia (home of “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” fame).
4. The Dodecanese (Doh-dek-ahn-ease) Group, is in the far Eastern waters of the Greek Archipielago that border with Turkey. These include Samos, Kos, Kalimnos, Symi and Rhodes. Cruising these waters can give you a wonderful experience of both Greek and Turkish cultures and foods and include a visit to Ephesus, famous for its ancient Biblical history, architecture and monuments.
5. The Sporades (Spor-ah-des) Group, North of Athens are quite different and very green and agricultural. Generally calmer waters and less wind, a favorite for fair weather sailors, but quite a journey Northwards.
6. You can also add the island of Crete to these Groups, Crete is a unique place and a bit off the beaten track and should be a “stand-alone” destination.
When you fly into Athens, you can start your yacht charter at the Port closest to Athens which is Piraeus, Alimos or Lavrion. From Athens area marinas, you have three choices: East to the Cyclades, South to the Saronic and the islands of Aegina, Poros, Hydra and Spetses OR West, through the Corinth canal to the Gulf of Corinth and to the Ionian islands of Cephalonia and Corfu. This latter is a longer trip more suitable for 2 week charters.
If you choose the Dodecanese, you should fly on a local airline (Aegean Air is very good) to either Samos ,Rhodes or Kos and pick up your yacht in either location. In June July and August which are “Meltemi” wind months, the Meltemi blows from the NorthWest, It’s better to fly in to Samos, pick up the yacht there, and travel SouthEast with the wind behind you making for a smoother ride and a more pleasant trip.
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