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65km (35 nautical miles) S of Piraeus

Hydra is one of a handful of places in Greece that seemingly can't be spoiled. Seafaring merchant families built proud mansions of honey-colored stone on Hydra in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, artists and writers began arriving in the 1960s, and in their wake came the rich and famous and the simply rich. They keep a low profile, however, and with the absence of cars (transport is by foot or mule), Hydra seems wonderfully removed from the modern world. Today, there are often more day-trippers here than "beautiful people," although when elegant Athenians flee their stuffy apartments for their Hydriote hideaway each summer, the harborfront turns into an impromptu fashion show. If you can, arrive in the evening, when most of the day visitors have left, and rejoice in the cool of the evening. Whatever you do, be sure to be on the deck of your ship as you arrive, so you can see Hydra's bleak and steep hills suddenly reveal its perfect horseshoe harbor overlooked by the 18th-century clock tower of the Church of the Dormition. This truly is a place where arrival is half the fun. But the best is yet to be when you step ashore.

Let's start with the cars—or, more precisely, their absence. With the exception of a handful of municipal vehicles, there are no cars on Hydra. You'll probably encounter at least one form of local transportation: the donkey. The captains’ lasting legacy, their handsome stone archontika (mansions) overlooking the harbor, still give Hydra town its distinctive character. (You won't be surprised to learn that the island has been declared a national treasure by the Greek government and the Council of Europe.) The curved, picturesque harbor and these worldly houses overlooking the blue waters (many housing bars and expensive shops), are especially striking because they’re enclosed by barren gray and brown mountainsides. The only places on Hydra that are habitable, in fact, are Hydra Town and some small collections of pretty seaside houses at neighboring Kamini and Vuchos, making the island seem even more like a privileged getaway. You'll probably find Hydra town so charming that you'll forgive its one serious flaw: no top-notch beach. Do as the Hydriots do, and swim from the rocks at Spilia and Hydronetta, just beyond the main harbor, or hop on one of the caiques that ply from Hydra town to the relatively quiet island beaches.