Hydra is one of the Greek Saronic Gulf Islands, located 65 kilometres south of the mainland port of Piraeus and just 20 kilometres off the Peloponnesian coast. One of the island's most appealing features is its traffic-free tranquility - even bicycles are banned here and the only motorised vehicle you'll come across is the occasional rubbish truck. The horseshoe-shaped harbour is one of the most picturesque in the whole of Greece and provides the gateway to the island's beautiful port town with its imposing stone mansions adorning the rocky hillsides behind the waterfront.
Hollywood put Hydra on the map in the 1960s when the island was used as the location for a number of films including A Boy and a Dolphin starring silver screen siren Sophia Loren. Artists, writers and Bohemian types began arriving here in droves followed by vast numbers of wealthy Athenian weekenders and island-hopping foreigners who transformed the island into one of the most exclusive (and expensive) holiday spots in Greece .
The island is served by daily ferries to and from Piraeus (three and a half hours) and frequent Flying Dolphins which normally go via Poros making a total journey time of one and a half hours.
The whole island has been declared a national monument and comes under the protection of both the Greek government and the EU. Strict controls on the construction of new properties and the renovation of old ones have enabled Hydra Town to retain much of the old-world elegance and grandeur of its glory days as a major maritime power. Turn a blind eye to the ATMs, Internet cafes and chic boutiques and you'll be transported back in time to the late 17th century when the islanders' shipbuilding and trading skills earned them great riches. Wealthy sea captains spared no expense when it came to building their great mansions, many of which still stand proudly as a reminder of Hydra's hey day. Some of these houses have been beautifully restored and turned into classy hotels and restaurants to cater for the holiday hordes that descend on the island in high season and every weekend throughout the year.
Athenians regard Hydra as a hallowed haven after the smog-filled, traffic congested streets of the Greek capital. When you get off the boat here you'll be approached by muleteers offering to transport your luggage (and possibly you!) to your hotel.
The only way to explore the island is by donkey, in a water taxi or on foot. Don a pair of sturdy shoes, pack a picnic and a large water bottle and you'll be able to find some wonderful walking trails to secluded spots which feel a million miles away from the frantic waterfront of the port.
Water taxis will take you to quiet beaches, tiny islets and waterfront restaurants in lovely settings. Arrange a time to be picked up - but don't pay the boatman until he comes back for you! In the summer months you'll be able to enjoy a lively nightlife in Hydra Town and two impressive festivals that attract visitors from far and wide. The Miaoulia festival in later June is a huge celebration in honour of Admiral Miaoulis, one of the great heroes of the Greek War of Independence. In July the town hosts the International Puppet Theatre Festival which brings highly skilled puppeteers from all over the world to entertain children and adults alike.