Travel Why Santorini is at its best in winter

Why Santorini is at its best in winter

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“It’s time for islands like ours to find a more sustainable model,” says Daniel Kerzner, the visionary hotelier who owns Santorini Sky. Set on a steep slope with panoramic views in the island’s former capital, Pyrgos, Santorini Sky is one of the island’s first luxury properties to stay open during the winter months.

“It’s generally sunny here and there are tavernas and shops, and most of the archeological sites are open. What’s more, flights are less expensive and accommodation more affordable, so it’s a win-win,” Kerzner says.

But is there anything to do on an overtouristed Greek island when the crowds have gone home? After breakfast the following morning at Omoo, a cosy coffee shop with homemade pastries, Ethiopian brews and books lining the walls, I set off to find out.

First stop was a pottery lesson with Andreas Makaris at his Earth and Water Studio in Megalochori. Waving a festive tumbler of raki above a white beard spattered with globs of clay, the award-winning fourth-generation ceramicist enthused about the island out of season.

“Santorini returns to real island life in winter,” he said as he coaxed my fingers to form shapes out of the clay spinning on his potter’s wheel. “We meet up without neighbours in tavernas; we dance to live music; we have fun,” he said.

Over lunch in Lava, an old-style taverna with caned chairs and wobbly tables overlooking an ash-coloured beach, Ioannis Rigos lifted the lids on a line of vats filled with the food he’d cooked that morning: a feast of wild greens and rice-stuffed mussels.

As I basked in the warm fug of a wood-burning stove, watching a dozen people sunbathing or swimming on the beach below (the mercury remains firmly in the late teens and early twenties), Lava’s owner told me that he’d opened his first taverna on this stretch of coast way back in the Eighties.

“That’s why I like working in winter – it’s like back then when there were so few tourists and the island was still very traditional,” he said.

Over the following days I heard the same story in other island tavernas that stay open all year round: at Metaxi Mas, one of the islands best ouzeries where I’d had a rushed meal at a jostled table over the summer, I was received with welcoming smiles and joined a Greek Australian couple, who told me they wouldn’t visit at any other time. Surprisingly, there was still some nightlife to enjoy; clubs in Fira open on weekends and meze tavernas like Cava Alta hold live music sessions twice a week.

On my final night I lounged in a jetted hot tub on the terrace of my villa. Glass of prosecco in hand, I watched the sun descending in a scarlet flame over the distant peaks of Crete’s snow-dusted Mount Psiloriti opposite. Christmas lights flickered and blinked in the valley far below. Santorini without the crowds, dust and heat? It’s even more magical.

Getting there

Fly from London Gatwick to Athens (from £140; easyjet.com), then fly 45 minutes from Athens to Santorini  (from £35; aegeanair.com). Cars can be hired from Hertz (from £23 a day; hertz.gr).

Where to stay

Self catering villas at Santorini Sky (santorinisky.com) cost from £430 per night including access to an all day snack bar.

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