National Geographic Traveller (UK)

06 Artist residency

Just two hours from Athens by boat, car-free Hydra has long been known as an island of artists, with galleries, studios and cultural festivals creating a spirited atmosphere


Gliding into Hydra’s harbour, tiers of stone houses glitter in the soft sunlight, rising up imposing rocky mountains. This car-free island in the Saronic Gulf attracts visitors with its lively port and sense of utter timelessne­ss — there are no billboards or scooters here, and the influence of technology feels very far away. Made famous by singersong­writer Leonard Cohen, who wrote music here when he lived on the island in the 1960s, Hydra has also long been a magnet and inspiratio­n for artists, from painters such as Panayiotis Tetsis, Nikos Hadjikyria­kos-Ghikas and Brice Marden to writers Henry Miller, Charmian Clift and Lord Byron. Its cultural scene shines brightest in summer, when sun-seekers descend, along with occasional celebritie­s such as Meghan Markle and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

A visit to Hydra is an immersion in the best of Greek life and art. Start your exploratio­ns by strolling beyond the cannons on the point to reach the DESTE Foundation, where an annual installati­on of art world stars fills a former slaughterh­ouse on the seafront. Previous highlights have included massive, spinning animatroni­cs by sculptor Jeff Koons and a giant hand by New York artist Kara Walker, made of sugar.

Head over to the port to find the grand Historical Archives Museum for temporary exhibition­s and displays about Hydra’s storied naval history. The island played a central role in Greece’s War of Independen­ce in the 1820s — a legacy that’s celebrated during June’s Miaoulia Festival, which involves days of dance, music and fireworks, culminatin­g in a staged naval battle and boat burning in the harbour.

Visit the inspiring former home and studio of Panayiotis Tetsis (1925-2016), high above the port and open year-round, to learn about one of Greece’s most celebrated postimpres­sionist painters, famous for his marine landscapes. Visitors will find paints still dotted around his pigmentenc­rusted tabletop. Downstairs, his family’s pantopoleí­o (grocery store) contains original tins and products behind a vintage counter.

For a change of scene, take a walk along Hydra’s marble lanes and onto its rustic coastal trails, which lead to myriad craggy coves with deep cerulean waters. Settle down and enjoy the views over a coffee or cocktail at Hydronetta beach bar before strolling a mile down the northwest coast for a leisurely seafood taverna lunch at Marina in the beachside hamlet of Vlychos, or the Four Seasons — no relation to the large hotel chain — at Plakes Beach for sunbeds and iced cappuccino­s. fourseason­

For keen hikers, one of the island’s best trips is the heady two-hour trek up Hydra’s highest mountain, Eros. The path leads through a pine forest to Prophet Elias Monastery, which was founded by 13 monks who travelled from Mount Athos in 1813. Monks usually greet passers-by and the terraces of the monastery provide sweeping views from the Saronic Gulf over to the Cyclades.

Those who’d rather spend their days on flatter ground should head to The Pirate Bar for coffee or fresh juices in Hydra’s harbour, before checking out the boutique shops dotted around the town.

As night draws in across the quiet mountains, grab a patio table for a seafront sunset and food at elegant Techne, near the Boy on a Dolphin statue, which commemorat­es the

1957 film of the same name that was shot here in Hydra and starred legendary Academy Award-winning Italian actress Sophia Loren (who fell in love with the island). For a more off-the-beaten-path meal, wind through the narrow lanes to the back of town, where low-key Giasemi pairs traditiona­l recipes and grilled meats with simple barrel wine. Night owls can continue onto the port’s people-lined plateia (square) for cocktails at 1821 HYDRA and Amalour. technehydr­­ra

For somewhere to stay, try the new Keresbino hotel (doubles from £150, room only) deep in the heart of Hydra town. Painstakin­gly renovated to preserve its 18th-century architectu­re, its rooms feel pared back and comfortabl­e with wood-beamed ceilings and exposed stone walls.

The public spaces, which include a secluded garden and the chance to see traditiona­l fourni (ovens), are due to start hosting art workshops and cultural events later this year. keresbinoh­

 ?? ?? Below: Lazaros Koundourio­tis Historical Mansion; the Boy on a Dolphin statue by George Xenoulis
Below: Lazaros Koundourio­tis Historical Mansion; the Boy on a Dolphin statue by George Xenoulis
 ?? ?? Lunch at the Four Seasons on Plaka Beach
Lunch at the Four Seasons on Plaka Beach
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