Peek into Leonard Cohen’s Greek island retreat on a trip to charming Hydra, where the only mode of transport is DONKEY
- Leonard Cohen spent six years on Hydra – one of the lesser known Greek islands
- It is a two-hour ferry ride from Athens and has a population of just 3,500 people
- Over the years many have fallen for Hydra but it remains a well-kept secret
Unlike Elvis’s Graceland and The Beatles’ Liverpool, Hydra is not a shrine to Leonard Cohen.
The Canadian ‘prophet of doom’ singer lived here – on and off – for six years with his Norwegian girlfriend Marianne, but there is no Cohen trail or plaques commemorating his favourite bars or the charming hilltop house still owned by his family.
Instead, this beautiful, rugged mountainous island (pop 3,500) goes about its harmonious business. The only mode of transport is by donkey.
Fishing boats moored in the harbour in Hydra Town with the island’s hills behind
On the quayside a platoon of asses await incoming tourists and take them to small hotels tucked hither and thither.
Fortress walls, canons and multi-coloured stone houses creep up the hills on each side of Hydra harbour, while fishing boats bob in the bay.
Leonard Cohen lived on Hydra for six years
‘Building is allowed only on the site of an old house, so nothing will ever change very much,’ says Hilda, my hostess at the Phaedra Hotel. I take a stroll to Kiafa, the oldest township on the island, high above the harbour with views of the neighbouring Peloponnese across the Aegean.
Later, I stop for supper at the Techne Restaurant & Social, where I get into conversation with Horst, a middle-aged German who has just returned from his evening ritual – swimming naked below the nearby cliffs. Like Cohen and countless others he has fallen under Hydra’s spell. Those include Sophia Loren, who first came here in 1956 to film Boy On A Dolphin.
She played a Hydriot sponge diver at a time when the island’s economy depended on the sponge industry. Loren looked good in the movie; Hydra looked sensational – and the likes of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Cohen were on their way. You can reach Hydra from Athens on a two-hour ferry. Once there, it seems a million miles away from the Greek capital – and that’s half its charm.