Wednesday, August 28, 2019

On Leonard Cohen's Hydra Island

'Oh like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in the midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.'
--Leonard Cohen

Hydra - Leonard Cohen's home for a decade

We've just returned from Hydra (E-drah) island. It is the one getting a lot of attention these days thanks to this year's documentary, 'Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love'

Several of you have written us about
Nick Broomsfield's film that tells the story of Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist who spent a decade living on this island in the Saronic Gulf, just off the coast of the Peloponnese. Marianne Ihlen, the ex-wife of Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen, (who also lived on Hydra back then) was Cohen's 'muse' and girlfriend during his time on the island.

Cohen died in 2016 at the age of 85, many long years after his time on Hydra. But still, if you've read his poetry or heard his music or watched the recent film, you can't help but think of this wordsmith when you visit Hydra. 

A home in Hydra

It takes only one visit to understand why Cohen's creative juices flowed while living here. And after several visits, your own creative juices seem to come to life as well. Even a short stay will refresh your senses.

If ever we were to live on a Greek island, we both say, Hydra would likely be the place. While it swells with tourists each summer, it remains for most of the year, a small charming place where you could lose yourself to your imagination, take an afternoon nap without apology or spend an hour or more at a harborside taverna sipping an icy Aperol Spritz. 

The road around Hydra - two- and four-footed traffic only

Even though you can buy trendy fashions at small boutiques and pricey baubles in tiny jewelry stores during the frenzied summer months, it still feels different; like you've stepped back in time on this island. Perhaps so, because Hydra doesn't allow motorized vehicles other than the small garbage truck that makes its rounds each day.  

Suitcases carried to the hotel and guests walked ahead

Horses, donkeys, and mules stand at harborside to take you or your suitcases where you need to go.  Human-powered hand carts are also available.  And generally you walk (or ride a horse or donkey) to where you need to go.  That part of the island is probably much like it was when Cohen began living there.

The port town where the majority of restaurants and tourist accommodations are clustered along narrow whitewashed pathways, is the largest one on the island. The last census - in 2011 - tallied 1,900 living in it and less than a few dozen residents in the nearby villages .  So there might be a few hundred more now, certainly not a place that is over-populated or 'over-touristed'.

Back in September of 1960, when Cohen was 26 years old, he purchased a three-story white washed home for $1,500US using a bequest of his recently deceased grandmother. The building had no electricity, plumbing or running water. He liked it that way.  In fact the story behind his famous, 'Bird on the Wire' is that he was inspired to write it as he watched his island being transformed with electric wires. He wasn't pleased, but one day he noticed a bird on the wire. . .

One of the yachts visiting Hydra during our stay

He'd likely be blown away now as he watched the summertime ferries disgorge hundreds of tourists each day. He'd also likely gasp at the size and number of yachts that moor each night in the tiny harbor. He'd probably be stunned at the many shops along the harbor catering to those visitors these days.

Fishing boat's arrival Sunday morning brought shoppers and cats

In the fall the boutiques, restaurants and accommodations begin shutting down for the season. There's always a few accommodations and restaurants that stay open year round, but  there are decidedly fewer options for travelers than during the warm weather months. 

A blustery wind and rain storm welcomed us to the island last November; the place so empty, it seemed our own private island. Hotel and restaurant choices were few. Another gusty, chilly wind greeted us in March just as the island was waking to 'the (tourist) season'.

Hydrofoil from Athens stops several times daily in Hydra in summer

Last week the place was teeming with ferries and yachts in the harbor and the town pulsating with visitors. The contrasts between seasons are vivid and each had its own special charm.
Overlooking an island village

With the summer wind much more welcoming (meaning, less fierce!) than the wind on our previous trips, we set off on foot to visit the nearby villages and were gobsmacked by the vast beauty the island has to offer

We understand why Cohen was inspired to write:

Days of Kindness

Greece is a good place
To look at the moon, isn't it
You can read by moonlight
You can read on the terrace
You can see a face
As you saw it when you were young
There was good light then
Oil lamps and candles
And those little flames
That floated on a cork in olive oil

(Those little floating corks in olive oil are still used in Greece!)

Off to another village in what seems another world - Hydra

That is it for this week. We thank you for your time with us and hope that if your travel plans ever bring you to Greece, that you include a night or two on Hydra. It's magic!

For those seeking information about Hydra (getting there, places to stay, etc.) visit: 
Hydra Direct 

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday


  1. What a great post! I was there last February and loved it. It was peaceful and the weather was perfect for sitting out in the sun with a coffee or a glass of wine. We took long walks along the water with views I don't think I'd tire of. I can't wait to go back!

    1. Oh I understand so completely the coffee and/or wine. Those long walks are spectacular. Hope you make it back soon!! Thanks for stopping by ~

  2. Now I wish we were going to Hydra after our stay on Crete this fall. So many places, so little time. I discovered Aperol Spritzes in Italy last year. If I had to choose between a frozen mai tai and an Aperol Spritz, it would be a tough decision. Maybe I would just choose---both.

    1. You will just have to come back to Greece and I will give you a 'locals' tour. . .and we will stay hydrated with all sorts of fun drinks. . .including Aperol Spritzes!

  3. I visited Hydra many many years ago for a day and l barely recognize it now. As said above, so many places, so little time. I can't believe a house, no matter how crappy for 1500 bucks! I have to check out some of his works as l only know the name.

    1. You have to remember that was back in the 60's . . .we looked at a home just above his that is listed for 950,000 . . .the times they do change! (You've probably heard his "Hallelujah" or "Dance me to the End of Love" songs. They were the two that first had me paying attention to him.) The latter, Dance Me was written about the concentration camps where apparently they had symphonies playing as people entered the gas chambers. His rendition on You Tube will give you goose pimples.

  4. So interesting and your photos are glorious. What a great destination! Thank you for the detailed journey to this island.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Marilyn. Thanks much for stopping by!

  5. Hi Jackie,

    Hydra has been on my bucket list for ages! I am curious to walk through cobblestone streets that are only crossed by pedestrians, donkeys, horses, mules, and maybe the occasional chicken! Like you, I appreciate small, quiet, charming locales, where one can easily form friendships, listen to the early morning tide, sip on an Elliniko - always accompanied by a sweet koulouraki - in a seaside cafe, lazily lingering in the sights, sounds and scents of such a magical land!

    I have been a fan of Leonard Cohen's for a very long time, and when I learned about his romance with the beautiful Norwegian, Marianne, who became his muse, I wanted to know more. Needless to say, when I discovered that they met on Hydra, I was spellbound! After reading about the documentary, here, I can't wait to track it down!

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful and whimsical experience about Hydra; I must get myself to this intriguing place!

    Poppy xx

    1. If you do and I am around I will do my best to get over there and see you!! Many hugs, Jackie

  6. Hydra sounds to be a lovely island to visit even if Leonard Cohen hadn't inadvertently made it so famous.

    1. It really is a special one! Thanks for stopping by Carole!!

  7. Hydra looks as if it would be lovely and peaceful outside of the tourist season. The sort of place that might inspire creativity!

    1. I keep thinking that same thing and hope with a few more visits I will be oozing in creativity!

  8. Wow - what a gorgeous place.
    Thanks for linking up at

  9. Never been to Hydra but it looks amazing


  10. Saronic islands are pretty but how come you didn't visit Nafplion and Palamidion castle just yet? It's one of the most picturesque towns in the med.

    1. We have been to Nafplio on many a visit - wrote about it some time ago!

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  12. I love these places that drip with history and places to explore. On our recent trip we went to the far south of South Australia - in the off season - and we loved being there without the crowds even though it was cold. Happy travels.

  13. Looks like a lovely place to visit, especially now knowing the connection to Leonard Cohen. And now I know how to pronounce Hydra!


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