Deck the halls with boughs of wisteria

If the bleak British winter fills you with dread, take off for a Mediterranean island and have yourself a mellow little Christmas

Sure, Santorini shuts down as certainly in winter as Skegness, but the Greek island is a great deal warmer, prettier and cheaper. All across the Mediterranean, the next few months are ideal for winter travellers who want a few degrees more heat and a little more light. The Independent Traveller recommends these three hibernation hideaways.

Sure, Santorini shuts down as certainly in winter as Skegness, but the Greek island is a great deal warmer, prettier and cheaper. All across the Mediterranean, the next few months are ideal for winter travellers who want a few degrees more heat and a little more light. The Independent Traveller recommends these three hibernation hideaways.

Menorca

The tourist office cannot be accused of overselling the wintry delights of Menorca. It warns of a "dry, cold northerly Tramuntana wind which can lash the island, often reaching speeds of as much as 100km per hour." But if you manage to avoid the breeze, there is much to be said for the second-largest of Spain's Balearic Islands.

Half the time, you may well think that you are in Britain. Partly this is because of the landscape; Menorca is the same size as the Isle of Wight, and boasts comfortably undulating hills with fields full of cheery-looking cows. It also resembles northern England - this is the dry-stone wall capital of the Med. And, indeed, the British once owned Menorca, on a kind of long-term timeshare with the Spanish and French in the 18th century.

It is quite possible to walk, luggage permitting, from the cute and underemployed airport into Menorca's capital, Maó, venue for the greatest harbour in the Mediterranean. The spectacular mêlée of land, sea and city is made more alluring by a series of excellent, good-value bars and restaurants strung along the shore.

The matching city at the other end of the island, Ciutadella, is one of the most graceful and harmonious old towns in Spain, and its fine cafés provide ideal shelter from those winds. In between stands Monte Toro, the highest point on the island. From the convent that tops the peak, 330m above sea level, you see the ensemble - and any approaching storm.

Monarch Airlines (08700 40 50 40) flies from Luton to Menorca on Saturdays and some Mondays during the winter; fares start at £122 return for the airline's Crown Service (a premium economy class).

Many of the island's hotels close down completely for winter. One that doesn't is in the centre of Mao, the Hostal Orsi (00 34 971 36 47 51). I paid £18 per night for a double room with a shower; be warned that it will be closed for the whole of January. To get around the island, car and bicycle rental is cheap and easy, and the hitch-hiking is excellent.

Benidorm

You might not find it beautiful, but you will certainly find Europe's mightiest beach resort an excellent-value base for exploring a much-underrated part of Spain. Benidorm is close to plenty of pretty towns and fishing ports that are mellowing nicely after another high-performance summer. The Costa Blanca Express, the name adopted by trains along the coastal line, provides transport both cheaper and faster than most of that in Britain.

The deal of the winter is from Airtours (0800 028 8001, or through travel agents): a six-week stay at the Sunsea III apartments in Benidorm for £224, including flights from Luton to Alicante and transfers. That's just £5.33 per day. Or, if you prefer all your meals and drinks to be included, the same company is selling five weeks all-inclusive at the Monika Holidays Aparthotel, for a price of £17.25 a day.

Santorini

"There came a sound, as if from within the earth/Zeus's hollow thunder boomed, awful to hear." Euripides' description of the explosion that ripped Santorini apart sounds even worse than predictions for this weekend's weather in Britain .

That was three and a half millennia ago, when the abrasive tectonics of the eastern Mediterranean climaxed in a catastrophic eruption. Santorini was not the Atlantis of myth, but a thriving community was destroyed.

Santorini (also known as Thira) is quieter now. It can still get lively, though, as wintry clouds glower darkly over the wreckage of the western shore.

The blast tore the core from an island that previously boasted the approximate dimensions of the Isle of Wight (a popular size for Mediterranean islands). Even though present-day Santorini comprises a scattering of crumbs only tentatively attached to the rest of the planet, the geological devastation has been successfully overlooked by the present inhabitants. Santorini's main town, Fira, embraces all the values of an idyllic Cycladic settlement: a mix of delicate white cottages on the crest of the caldera, laced with narrow lanes that resonate with church bells. In summer, torrents of tourists swirl through the town, but in midwinter your only company is likely to be a cacophony of funny little cats.

Olympic Airways (0870 606 0460) sells scheduled flights via Athens to Santorini. From London, the fare is £266.10 return for travel from 16 January; from Manchester, the fare is £257.80, but you have to overnight in Athens on the outbound journey. Alternatively, easyJet (0870 6 000 000, www.easyJet.com) has fares as low as £70 return from Luton to Athens. A direct bus from Athens airport goes to Piraeus, from where you can board a ferry direct to Santorini; check www.greekislandhopping.com for times. The website is run by Frewin Poffley, author of 'Greek Island Hopping', the essential survey of all ferry service, and also provides pithy descriptions of Santorini and many other islands.

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