It would take years to sail all of the Greek Islands but each one has such a unique personality, choosing one to fit a particular taste is easy. There are more than 2,000 islands between the coasts of Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Crete but only 170 are inhabited. In ancient times, some of the uninhabited islands were off-limits to mere mortals after dark as it was believed that the Gods came down from the heavens and stayed on islands such as Delos in the Cyclades Island group.
Popular Greek Islands
The busy tourist islands of Mykonos and Santorini, also located in the Cyclades, are popular with travelers looking for shopping and busy main port activity, however many smaller islands, like the island of Hydra (or Idhra) located to the west in the Peloponnese, will attract those more interested in going back in time.
The island has no cars. Residents get around on donkey or by foot. Most restaurants grow their own vegetables, as importing fresh produce is a pricey endeavor. The only way to get to Hydra is by ferry or private boat and it’s a popular destination for sailors looking for a little peace and quiet.
Privately owned and chartered sailboats and motorboats arriving at Hydra are escorted into the anchorage by a self-appointed harbor master named Popeye, a colorful character who carefully guides vessels into the tightly-packed area. In high season, many boats are moored together, end-to-end with the first one to arrive tied to the town quay by the stern with an anchor set from the bow. It’s advised to arrive early but be ready to stay late into the following day while waiting for others to depart and while Popeye assists in untangling the anchor lines that inevitably get crossed in the melee.
For a tiny island its history is renowned. In the 1800s the admiral of the Greek fleet was from Hydra and according to the Greek Waters Pilot, “but for the Hydriot fleet and sailors, the War of Independence would not have been won.” However, following the war the memory faded and the island was ignored until travelers re-discovered its charm in later years and it began attracting artists and writers and those looking for an escape.
Even as its popularity grows, Hydra seems to have paused in the 18th century. Most of the waterfront houses were built between 1770 and 1821 and are now on the list of Europe’s protected monuments. The narrow cobblestone road that leads from the port into Hydra town is a study in architectural history, interspersed with shops selling everything from hand made arts and crafts to jewelry.
A big draw on all the Greek Islands, and Hydra is no exception, is the welcoming, family-friendly tavernas and restaurants that boast homemade Greek dishes. The meals are usually accompanied by the famous Retsina wine, unique to Greece, and then typically finished off with a glass of ouzo while someone who looks like Zorba the Greek entertains the crowd with a traditional dance.