At first glance, Hydra appears to be no different from its neighbours. It features white-washed streets, a jasmine-scented atmosphere. And stunning views of the glistening blue waters around it, just like other islands in the Aegean Sea.
Hydra is unique due to its preferred form of transportation. Locals have chosen to embrace the rhythmic sound of horse hooves rather than the cacophony of honking horns.
Cars are not only missing from this area; they are being kept out on purpose. Local law forbids the usage of motorised vehicles, with the exception of ambulances, fire engines, and garbage trucks.
The 2,500 inhabitants of the Greek island commute using mules, donkeys, and miniature horses.
Visitors are greeted by tiny horses gently navigating their way through the cobblestone streets. As they get off the ferry and onto Hydra Port, the island’s hub, to get a feel for the relaxed pace of the place.
It’s usual to see locals going about their daily business. While joined by their canine pals as you stroll around Hydra’s charming paths.
The island is permeated by their presence, from Mandraki on the island’s western coasts. Famed for its beautiful seas and laid-back vibe, to Kaminia. A peaceful village on the southern shoreline ornamented with traditional stone cottages.
According to Harriet Jarman, owner of the horseback riding business Harriet’s Hydra Horses. “Hydra is an island that really takes you back in time.”
No Vehicles? No Problems
When Jarman’s mother brought her to Hydra 24 years ago for a holiday, it was the beginning of a life-altering decision to make Hydra their permanent home.
Ten years later, during the Greek financial crisis, Jarman was forced to sell her beloved mare Chloe.
She made the decision to start her horse-tour company because she was determined to maintain Chloe. Through this business, she was able to express her passion for the island’s natural beauty while simultaneously providing financial support for Chloe.
She says, “I got tired of everybody advising me to sell her (Chloe) because it’s expensive to keep a horse. I reasoned, “Okay, I’ll demonstrate why I want to remain on the island myself.”
The organisation now boasts a team of 12 horses, and skilled equestrians provide guided trips around the island’s trails.
These excursions visit Hydra’s numerous charming monasteries and lovely beaches. Alongside the horses, riders can also cool down in the water.
A Legacy Depicted In Hoofprints
The choice to use “cáiques,” or traditional horse-drawn transportation, honours the island’s rich past and dedication to sustainable living.
Hydra prospered as a busy marine centre in the 18th and 19th centuries. But as the 20th century began and motorised transportation spread throughout Greece, the island’s winding, steep streets and rugged topography made driving a car impractical.
Residents resorted to equine transportation because it could move through the rough terrain more effectively.
This reliance on hooves became part of Hydra’s culture and way of life over time.
The usage of donkeys and mules to move goods, construction materials, and even people. About the island became a vital aspect of the island’s identity. It is still practised today.
“Everyone around here lives off their backs,” claims Jarman. They transport everything from building supplies and furniture to luggage and shopping, serving as our cars and hands.
A Haven For Artists
Due to the island’s apparent peace and lack of automobiles, it has attracted artists from all over the world, including famed Italian actress Sophia Loren, who fell in love with Hydra while filming “Boy on a Dolphin” in 1957.
“Hydra offers wonderful colours, beautiful light, and a unique atmosphere that has inspired many people,” says jewellery designer and native Hydrite Elena Votsi.
Votsi is renowned for her work that combines traditional craftsmanship with contemporary aesthetics. She finds inspiration in geometry, nature, and her Greek roots.
Votsi claims that although being born in Athens, she spent her summers and holidays with her father on Hydra. Since the beginning of her career, she claims that the absence of cars has made it a magical location to work and served as inspiration for her works.
“I was inspired by the light, the rocks, and the wave patterns. My creative approach has been greatly influenced by the island’s natural beauty and distinctiveness, Votsi stated.
She received an invitation to participate in a design contest for the International Olympic Committee’s Summer Olympic Games medal in 2003.
Votsi went to her house in Hydra after getting the go-ahead to compete. The island, with its undeniable allure, served as Votsi’s muse, inspiring a creative voyage that resulted in her victory and added her name to the annals of the most prestigious sports events in history.
In the 1960s, Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen found Hydra and lived there for a while. His song “Bird on the Wire,” which he largely penned while residing there, is a tribute to his time spent on Hydra.
“The utopia of Hydra. It’s a blessing that I can come here and work as an artist, as so many others have done before me and will do in the future, said Votsi.