By Jackie Humphries Smith
THE SUNRISE OVER THE MOUNTAINS HIGHLIGHTS THE FISHING BOATS BEEING MOORED
and readied to display the day’s catch. The village cats are already gathered near those boats at water’s edge when the measured clip-clop of hooves on the cobblestones breaks the morning’s silence. The arrival of the horses at the harbor continues a tradition begun decades ago on this Greek Island in the Aegean Sea.
Hydra seems to cast its magic spell on visitors from the moment they enter the crescent-shaped harbor. Whether arriving by passenger ferry, shuttle, water taxi, sailboat or mega-yacht, this busy working harbor is so picture-perfect that it can take one’s breath away. During high season’s tourist crush, the harbor seems to gyrate with watercraft arriving and departing at a dizzying pace.
By late autumn, when the weather can be harsh and visitors are few, when ferry schedules are reduced, and pleasure boats moored, the harbor seems to be easing itself into a winter’s hibernation. Encircling the harbor, Hydra Town, is a blend of quaint and cosmopolitan; a place where the island’s population is concentrated, and commercial activity takes place.
Small streets that lead from the harbor – many of which are no more than walkways — are home to tiny storefronts, eateries, and bars. Often while walking those twisting and turning, uneven and worn inclines and steps that make up the narrow passageways one must step into doorways to make room for the passing pack animals and their handlers.
The wide cobblestoned harbor itself is lined with small hotels and guest houses, grocery stores and banks, art galleries, upscale clothing and jewelry stores and numerous bars and restaurants.
BEYOND THE HARBOR
The island’s mild temperatures in the spring and fall, make them the best times to explore the island on foot. Set forth on a leisurely stroll on a paved pathway along the sea to reach a handful of small enclaves scattered about the coastline. Take a break at a taverna or hotel café along the way but be prepared to stay a few hours as the views are mesmerizing.
There are several monasteries tucked away high up on the hillsides and pathways leading to them for the more serious hikers. For those not wanting to walk, there are pack horse trips, and charter boat trips to beaches on the island. Or simply hop a water taxi for a quick outing.
One of the most difficult decisions a visitor must make is from where to watch a sunset. Any number of locations – all walking distance from the harbor — are spectacular viewing points. As night arrives, it is time to sit under the stars at one of the many harbourside tavernas, sip a beverage and watch the evening traditions, as timeless as those of the morning.
A few cats remain at the water’s edge, eager for the return of those fishing boats. At their appointed spot, a few horses and their owners stand at the ready to transport people and parcels, just as they have done for decades ago on this Greek island in the Aegean Sea.
GETTING TO HYDRA
Hydra is part of the Saronic chain of islands off the east coast of the Peloponnese in the Aegean Sea. From Athens: High speed ferries from Piraeus, arrive and depart several times a day, travel time is under two hours. From the Peloponnese, a shuttle water taxi from Metoxi, (Metochi) takes 25 minutes.
Getting around the island is either done on foot, by equine transport or by taking one of the many small shuttle taxis available in the harbor. Persons with mobility issues should inquire about ease of access when booking an accommodation.
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