The absence of cars has contributed to the island’s undeniable tranquility, attracting creative people from all over the world
At first glance, Hydra is no different from its neighbors. Like other islands in the Aegean Sea, it is distinguished by its white streets, its air scented with jasmine, and its stunning view of the sparkling blue waters that surround it.
What distinguishes Hydra from others is its preferred means of transportation. Local residents resisted the noise of the trumpets and adopted the rhythmic sound of the horses’ hooves.
Here cars are not only absent; They are deliberately kept away. Local legislation prohibits the circulation of motor vehicles (except fire trucks, garbage trucks and ambulances).
The Greek island’s 2,500 residents travel on mules, donkeys and miniature horses.
Upon exiting the ferry and arriving at Hydra Harbour, the heart of the island, visitors are greeted by small horses that gracefully stroll through the cobblestone streets, giving them an idea of the peaceful rhythm of the island.
When hiking along the picturesque Hydra Trails, it is common to see locals going about their daily errands accompanied by their four-legged companions.
From Kaminha, a sleepy village on the south coast decorated with traditional stone houses, to Mandraki on the west coast of the island, known for its crystal clear waters and relaxing aura, the island is intertwined with their presence.
“Hydra is an island that takes us back,” says Harriet Jarman, owner of Harriet’s Hydra Horses, a riding company.
“All transportation on this island is by horses or mules. Since there are no cars, life is a bit quieter.”
No cars? No problem
Jarman’s association with Hydra began 24 years ago when her mother took her on vacation to the island, leading to the life-changing decision to make Hydra her permanent residence.
A decade later, during the Greek economic crisis, Jarman was pressured to sell her pet horse, Chloe.
Determined to keep her beloved companion, she decided to start her own horse riding company, a business that allowed her to not only support Chloe, but also share her love of the island’s landscape.
“I was tired of hearing everyone tell me to sell it because it’s expensive to keep a horse,” he recalls. “And I thought, well, I’ll show people the reasons why I want to stay on the island.”
The company now has 12 horses with guided tours of the island’s trails, led by experienced riders.
These tours take us to the stunning monasteries and beaches of Hydra. Riders can also go for a refreshing swim with the horses.
A heritage engraved in footprints
The decision to adopt traditional horse-drawn means of transportation pays tribute to the island’s rich heritage and commitment to sustainable living.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Hydra flourished as a bustling maritime centre. But with the advent of the 20th century, which brought motorized transportation to the rest of Greece, the island’s narrow, steep streets and rocky terrain made travel by car impractical.
Therefore, residents stuck to equestrian transportation, which allowed them to travel across the rugged landscape more efficiently.
Over time, this reliance on donkeys and horses became ingrained in the Hydra culture and way of life.
Donkeys and mules became an integral part of the island’s identity, and were used to transport goods, building materials and even people across the island – a tradition that continues to this day.
“Everyone here lives off your back,” Jarman says. “They are our cars and our hands, transporting everything from building materials and furniture to luggage and shopping.”
An artistic paradise
The absence of cars has contributed to the island’s undeniable tranquility, attracting creative people from all over the world, including the famous Italian actress Sophia Loren, who fell in love with Hydra while filming the film “The Legend of the Naked Statue” in 1957.
“Hydra offers amazing colors, beautiful lighting and a unique atmosphere that has inspired many people,” says Elena Futsi, jewelry designer and Hydra native.
Renowned for her work that combines traditional craftsmanship with a modern aesthetic, she draws inspiration from her Greek heritage, as well as nature and architecture.
Although born in Athens, Photsi spent his summers and holidays at Hydra, when he visited his father. He says the absence of cars makes it a magical place to work and has inspired his projects since the beginning of his career.
“I was inspired by the sun, rocks and wave patterns,” says Futsi. “The natural beauty and uniqueness of the island greatly influenced my creative process.”
In 2003, she was invited to participate in a competition to redesign the International Olympic Committee’s Summer Olympics medal.
After receiving the invitation, Futsi went to his home in Hydra. The island, with its indescribable charm, served as a muse, instigating a creative journey that would see Footsie win the competition and add his name to the annals of the world’s most famous sporting events.
Many famous artists have visited or lived in Hydra. The island’s magnetic charm attracted painters Bryce Marden, Alexis Verokas, Panagiotis Titsis, Nikos Hadjikyriakou-Gikas, and John Craxton to its shores, as well as writer Henry Miller, who found inspiration in its serene landscapes.
Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen discovered Hydra in the 1960s and made it his home for several years. His time at Hydra was immortalized in his song “Bird on the Wire”, which he wrote partly while living there.
“Hydra is a paradise. It is a magical place to work, and it is a blessing to be able to come here as an artist, as many others have done before me and will continue to do,” Futsi highlights.
“Hardcore alcohol maven. Hipster-friendly analyst. Introvert. Devoted social media advocate.”