Did you know that a donkey’s bray carries for miles? Hee-haw, hee-yaw, hee-yaaaaaawwww. One of the Greek Saronic Islands, Hydra is 37 miles from Athens by ferry and doesn’t have any noisy cars. There aren’t any cars, period. Donkeys move items, not people, around the port village of Hydra town. (Okay, so there is a garbage truck.) But otherwise, everyone has to “hoof it” themself, the brays providing pleasant background music to the island’s best-kept secret. At nineteen square miles, partly denuded and largely uninhabited, Hydra is a hiker’s paradise. Covered with marked trails, one can traverse it end to end, or to selected sites.
The walk to the Profitis Ilias Monastery begins at the end of town via a wide and tree-protected stone path that narrows and steepens as it switchbacks and climbs some 1,500 feet. The last hundred yards are steps up to the top.
Once there, meander the pristine grounds with classic white-wash buildings and mosaic art. There’s a large patio with a stone wall that begs visitors to sit on it while absorbing the serene environment. Picnic on the grounds, from which you’ll still hear the distant donkey serenade from town, and soak in the 360-degree views of the Aegean Sea. The highest point is Mount Ere at a 1,900-foot elevation. Visible from the monastery, it’s accessible by trail from there or via a direct one from town.
No longer fully active, there is a caretaker priest assigned to the monastery, and you can schedule a tour of the chapel’s interior. The property itself is actually quite extensive, but most of it is closed to the public. The Greek Orthodox priest travels to and from town via a donkey. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and encounter him en route as well.
Be sure to carry water, and note that the early phase of this hike is easy, but the last section climbs quickly. The path is stone-paved and the steps were recently rebuilt, so it’s not gravel and slippery. However, it’s not disabled-friendly.
Know Before You Go
Hydra Island is accessible by ferry from Piraeus and is the third stop after Aegina and Poros. It's been home to artists and musicians, most famously Leonard Cohen. There are numerous small independent hotels and restaurants, but no big chains. It's an easy island to overlook, but worth the stop.