"I only spent a hot minute in Hydra, but I quickly dreamed of a month": Kate Lough visits a legendary mansion, and its nonagenarian owner, on the storied Greek island, savouring its much-lauded light, Hydriot architecture and tales of the Golden Age - when Sixties icons flocked to its shores. 




The lemon trees were in flower. Their soft petals carpeting the ground below and liberating their magnificent scent as you crushed them underfoot or rubbed them between thumb and forefinger. We'd arrived in Hydra on the last ferry from Athens, on an unusually hot Friday in spring. A few marble steps back from the port, my friend Nausika felt her way through the darkness back to the Hotel Miranda.

Now a hotelier herself on Milos, Nausika has been visiting the small Saronic island since her teens. In more recent decades, her family used to share Easter lunches of lamb with Miranda, the hotel’s nonagenarian matriarch and founder — and something of a Hydra legend. Housed in a mansion built for a sea captain in 1810, and an especially fine example of Hydriot architecture, the “Miranda” is preserved to a fault.

More time capsule than hotel, it is no stretch to imagine its illustrious guests passing through since it opened in the 60s. “I came to Hydra in 1961, at the time the island started waking up,” remembers Miranda. “Sofia Loren and Antony Perkins had just left, leaving behind memories which travelled the world.” She had come with her father for the weekend, and both “fell in love — from first sight” and decided to buy the house.

“It was the Golden Age of Hydra, when many personalities - artists, filmmakers, musicians - including Leonard Cohen - came from all over the world and I was lucky enough to meet them,” she reminisces. In 1976, Miranda dusted off the house’s ground floor store rooms and recast them as Hydra’s first arts and exhibition space, calling on the talent of the School of Fine Arts. Ever since, the “Miranda” has been a magnet and a hub for artists and those with an artistic sensibility - a quick glance at guests in the jasmine-scented garden attests to this.



As the island’s much-lauded light gave life to my bedroom the next morning, I was introduced to the various 19th century characters of my room: original and ornate ceiling frescoes by a Venetian painter; a marble-topped antique dresser and a cavernous wardrobe fit for naval uniforms. Throwing open my French doors, I saw Hydra’s Chora for the first time. Rising ampitheatrically from the harbour, enveloping the Miranda on all sides, I spotted the primrose yellow Lazarus mansion dominating the steep hillside, while a clatter of hooves announced a trio of donkeys slouching down a cobbled street to my right — a hirsute reminder that Hydra is still car-free.

March was taking its final few breaths, before April swooped in with its promise of an early summer. The sun was brilliant and blue, but the crowds were few — the sweet spot on Hydra before its modern muses descend from Athens every weekend for exhibitions and soirees. After homemade marmalade and spanakopita in the Miranda’s much-loved courtyard, shaded by lemon trees, we set off. Passing by the iconic Pirate Bar, Spilia and Sunset — the latter two yet to shrug off their winter hibernation — we hugged the footpath towards Avlaki, where bathers were starting to arrange themselves on the stone deck to bake in the spring sun.


We stopped just shy of the tiny port of Kamini, where whitewashed houses with petrol blue shutters peer over the water’s edge. We chose our rocks to perch on, salt-crusted silver ladders easing us in and out of the water that was still like oil. Later, we settled into Nausika’s favourite taverna, Pefkaki. Where a fat black cat snoozed on a chair under a blackboard chalked up with specials, and the water taxi dropped off a series of new arrivals, each beaming at their good fortune to have found such a spot. It was the Greek taverna as it should be. Simple and unfussed. Idyllic views that reached across to the Peloponnese. Tall glasses of ouzo that clouded over when poured onto ice. Jostling for space on the table with plates of grilled sardines and chickpea salad.

On my second morning, I woke up at the Miranda to find the clocks had sprung forward. It seemed irrelevant in a place where time seems instead to creep backwards. Smiling family albums in the hallway whispered of a heyday gone by, and piles of time-worn books flirted with their well-thumbed pages. In town, sunbleached posters announced screenings of Boy on a Dolphin, while a butter yellow apothecary revealed wooden shelves lined with ceramic jars of old tinctures.



I only spent a hot minute in Hydra, but I quickly dreamed of a month. Out of season. I would take a little house near Kamini, writing all day with the windows flung open. Pausing to dip in the sea just below, and mop up glugs of olive oil with hunks of bread. Every now and again, wandering into town for a jolt of life - and to visit Miranda, of course, and hear more about her new book. “I am writing about my friends, as I do not want them to be forgotten,” she tells me. “It was a fantastic time; I made my best friends in the hotel and this was my best profit.”


Kate Lough is a UK-based writer and editor | Follow Kate on Instagram: @kateloughstudio

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