Hydra Calling

Hydra Calling
This article appeared in Travel &B Leisure from 2007 was written by  Gregory A. Maniatis. It got us to travel there. He had us at Marlboro Lights.
Her radiant eyes retreated behind a fearsome squint, her lips were
swallowed by a frown. This was not the look of joy I was expecting
from my fiancée. I'd pulled a hundred strings to secure a room at
Elounda Beach, the famed resort that draws rock stars and Arab
potentates to its primly manicured bay on Crete. But now she brooded
on the Versace-clad bed while I smoked Marlboro Lights, two at a time,
on the terrace. Waving her hand dismissively at our private pool, she
finally said: "I want to go back to Hydra."
Hydra is for those who yearn for a place where nothing much happens,
but also one that seems to have a lock on timeless truths. On a
typical day in summer, the early-evening parade on Hydra's quay is
dominated by day-trippers. Ferries from Piraeus disgorge tourists,
sleek Ferretti yachts sway gently on the water, and fishing boats bob
defiantly beside them. But by nightfall, Hydra is left to its
residents, Athenian weekenders, jet-setters (Joan Collins owns a house
here; Prince Charles is a frequent visitor), and those with a yen for
something other than classical ruins and lemming-packed beaches. These
faithful take drawing classes at the School of Fine Arts or the Hotel
Leto, hop water taxis to isolated beaches, and seek moments of
solitude in any of the island's dozens of jewel-box churches.
Forty years ago, when Sophia Loren came to film Boy on a Dolphin and
Leonard Cohen arrived to find his muse disguised as a lotus fruit,
Hydra had its chance to become another Mykonos, the epicenter of
Europe's summering elite. It had already been nicknamed the Greek
St.-Tropez; it would soon attract A-listers like Brando and Onassis,
while the avant-garde—Allen Ginsberg, David Bowie, penniless
paint-slingers, self-styled philosophers—would flock to the little
$1,500 sugar-cube house Cohen had bought with an inheritance.
By day, the expatriates would scramble up above the port town into the
hills to the monastery of Profitis Ilias or the convent of Agia
Eupraxia. There they might sit beneath a cypress tree to sketch the
dreaming town below—with its sunburnt palette of ochers, grays,
crimsons, and whites—or fix their gaze across the milky-blue Saronic
Gulf to the Peloponnese. In the evening they would meander through
Hydra's honeycomb of cobbled lanes—slippery from centuries of use—to
convene at tavernas and cafés in the port. They feasted on the
swordfish and lobsters the fishermen had just brought back in their
pastel skiffs, drank heavily, smoked pot or unfiltered Karelia
cigarettes, and wove sophisticated conversations about poetry and art
and who was sleeping with whom. Hydra became a haven, as much a place
for pilgrims of the spirit as for tourists. And for a while, it seemed
as if this redoubt would be overrun.
It never was. The island has stayed true to itself: an idyll that
spurned the quickening pace of life dictated by modernity and Mammon.
Cars and bicycles were banned; donkeys still provide the only
locomotion up its whitewashed alleys. The strictest building codes in
Greece have kept the town of Hydra looking mostly as it did in 1825,
when William Townshend Washington, George's nephew, ranked it among
the four places that had "struck forcibly upon [his] imagination"
during his world travels. Even Richard Branson, who owns one of
Hydra's 18th-century Venetian mansions, was unable in the late
nineties to persuade the islanders to let him build a $30 million
luxury resort there.
My fiancée and I were later married on Hydra, where the materialism of
modernity is kept in check by a sense of history and a respect for
nature. When we saw a train of 20 donkeys trudging their way to our
hilltop reception bearing champagne glasses, ovens, and pots of
hydrangeas, we knew the balance had been preserved.
—Gregory A. Maniatis

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