HYDRA: The Greek Island where cars are banned and time stands still

Hydra is indeed a picturesque Greek island known for its unique charm and timeless appeal. It is part of the Saronic Islands in the Aegean Sea and is famous for several characteristics that set it apart from other Greek destinations.

One of the most distinctive features of Hydra is the absence of cars. Unlike many other places where motorized vehicles are common, Hydra has a strict ban on cars, motorcycles, and even bicycles. Instead, donkeys and mules are used for transportation on the island, giving it a peaceful and traditional atmosphere. This ban on cars contributes significantly to the island's relaxed and serene environment.

The Greek Island is home to approximately 2,500 residents who rely on mules, donkeys, and small horses for transportation. When disembarking from the ferry onto Hydra Port, the island's central hub, visitors are greeted by small horses gracefully navigating the cobblestone streets, offering them a glimpse into the island's unhurried way of life. As you meander through the charming pathways of Hydra, it's a common sight to observe locals going about their daily routines, accompanied by their four-legged companions.

Whether you find yourself in Kaminia, a peaceful village along the southern coast adorned with traditional stone houses, or in Mandraki on the western shores of the island, known for its pristine waters and relaxed atmosphere, the presence of these animals is woven into the fabric of the island. The choice to embrace the use of traditional horse-drawn transportation, known as "cáiques," is a tribute to Hydra's rich heritage and its dedication to sustainable living.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Hydra experienced a period of prosperity as a bustling maritime center. However, with the advent of the 20th century came the introduction of motorized transportation in other parts of Greece. Unfortunately, Hydra's narrow and steep streets, combined with its rocky terrain, rendered cars impractical for navigation.

Consequently, the island's inhabitants continued to rely on equine transportation, as it proved to be a more efficient means of traversing the challenging landscape. Over time, this dependence on hooved animals became deeply ingrained in Hydra's culture and way of life.

Donkeys and mules assumed a crucial role in the island's identity, serving as essential means of transporting goods, construction materials, and even people throughout Hydra. This tradition endures to the present day.

The architecture of Hydra is also noteworthy. The island boasts a collection of well-preserved 18th-century stone mansions and narrow, winding cobblestone streets that create a timeless atmosphere. Many artists and writers have been inspired by the island's beauty, including famous figures like Leonard Cohen and Henry Miller.

Hydra's waterfront area is a bustling hub with restaurants, cafes, and shops, making it a popular destination for visitors. The harbor is often filled with sailboats and yachts, adding to the island's charm.

While there are no major historical sites or ancient ruins on Hydra, the island's natural beauty and tranquil ambiance make it a perfect place for relaxation and exploration. Visitors can enjoy hiking, swimming in crystal-clear waters, and exploring the local culture and art scene. Hydra also hosts various cultural events and festivals throughout the year.

The absence of cars has contributed to the island’s undeniable tranquility, drawing in creatives from all over, including renowned Italian actress Sophia Loren, who fell in love with Hydra while filming “Boy on a Dolphin” in 1957.

“Hydra offers wonderful colors, beautiful light and a unique atmosphere that has inspired many people,” says jewelry designer and Hydra native, Elena Votsi.

Known for her work that blends traditional craftsmanship with modern aesthetics, Votsi draws inspiration from her Greek heritage as well as nature and geometry.

Although born in Athens, Votsi says she spent summers and holidays on Hydra, visiting her father. She says the absence of cars makes it a magical place to work and has inspired her designs since the beginning of her career.

“The sun, rocks and patterns of the waves inspired me. The island’s natural beauty and uniqueness have had a significant influence on my creative process,” Votsi said.

In 2003, she was invited to partake in a competition to redesign the Summer Olympic Games medal for the International Olympic Committee.

Upon receiving the invitation to compete, Votsi headed to her home in Hydra. The island, with its ineffable charm, played muse, instigating a creative journey that would lead to Votsi winning the contest and adding her name in the records of the world’s most celebrated sporting events .

Many famous artists have visited or lived on Hydra. The island’s magnetic charm has drawn painters Brice Marden, Alexis Veroucas, Panagiotis Tetsis, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, John Craxton, as well as author Henry Miller to its shores, each finding inspiration amid its tranquil landscapes.

Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen discovered Hydra in the 1960s and made it his home for several years. His time on Hydra is immortalized in his song “Bird on the Wire,” which he partially wrote while living there. “Hydra is a paradise. It’s a magical place to work and a blessing that I can come here as an artist, as so many others have done before me and will continue to do,” Votsi said. In summary, Hydra is a Greek island where cars are banned, contributing to a sense of calm and timelessness. Its unique transportation methods, traditional architecture, and serene environment make it a beloved destination for those seeking a tranquil getaway in the Greek islands.