If you must pick one island near Athens to visit, our vote is for Hydra, 50 mi/80 km south of Athens. It has style—gracious centuries-old stone houses climb the hills surrounding a lovely boat-filled harbor. And it offers peace and quiet—it is easily accessible by ferry, and neither cars nor the obnoxious motorcycles so ubiquitous to Athens are allowed. Transportation options are limited to donkeys and small boats, but the most pleasant way to explore the island is on foot.
Outdoor cafes, shops and art galleries encircle the harbor of the town of Hydra, which is on the north side of the island. You can admire the brightly painted boats or just sit in the shade, relax and drink coffee. If you stroll around the northeast side of the waterfront, you'll come to the remains of a fortress, offering splendid views out to sea. On the opposite side of the harbor, several windmills perch above a cafe that hangs off a rocky ledge. Below the cafe is a roped-off swimming area with good snorkeling, but no beach.
You can also visit Panagia Church, which has a peaceful courtyard, or follow one of the narrow streets up the hillside. En route, you'll be treated to a glimpse of how the island's upscale residents live, as well as to splendid views of the town. During the 1960s, Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen bought a house there, and celebrities such as British actress Joan Collins and Italian designer Valentino are also regular visitors. To explore more of the island, we suggest hiring a donkey or a small motorboat. It's well worth it. Accommodations can be found in old mansions that have been transformed into cozy, romantic inns and boutique hotels.
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