Sure, Greece shines in summer. But come out of season and you’ll discover a new charm to its big-name islands and off-the-radar favourites
Most Greek islands shut up shop from October to April — hotel doors close, beach bars are dismantled and only a handful of tavernas remain open to feed the small local population. But some islands really come into their own after the summer heat and crowds simmer down. The largest, including Crete, Corfu and Andros, are not solely reliant on tourism. Their valleys and hills are full of sheep, farms and sleepy villages, while seaside towns thrum with students, live music, and café life all year round. There are plenty of smaller islands whose charms also run deeper than dazzling coastlines — from unsung archaeological sites to arts festivals, food markets and extraordinary architecture. And, while accommodation options are limited, off-peak prices can be half what they are in high summer. Greek winters tend to be mild, although winds can be fierce — so fierce that ferries are occasionally suspended and you might get stranded on islands without an airport. But really, the prospect of an extended stay is just another good reason to explore these enchanting isles off season.
Only about an hour’s ferry ride from Athens, Aegina is sometimes dubbed “the commuter island” by locals. That doesn’t make this lively, unpretentious island any less charming. The harbour is a pretty picture of bobbing boats, fish tavernas (Skotadis is the standout), and fine-boned mansions in varying degrees of disrepair. Uncover unexpected treasure hidden among the weekender clichés: time-warp kafenia (cafés) clustered around the fish market, a plateau of ancient olive trees protected by a ridge of stony hills, Byzantine chapels camouflaged in acres of blush-pink pistachios, the island’s most famous export. The striking archaeological sites of Aphaia and Kolona are bizarrely underrated; outside July and August, you can often enjoy the ruins in meditative solitude. Aegina’s beaches aren’t brilliant — which is exactly why it’s an excellent off-peak destination — but there are rocky inlets where you can plunge into the luminous sea without freezing half to death, even in mid-winter.
Where to stay Nikolaou Residence, the former home of Greek painter Nikos Nikolaou, is now a three-suite guesthouse full of art, antiques, and class on a peaceful stretch of seafront.
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