An architectural guide to Rome. Talking to Stephen Harby
Novel set on Elba – Emylia Hall talks about setting
19th July 2017
The Thousand Lights Hotel by Emylia Hall, novel set on Elba.
Every year on July 14 the Legend of Innamorata is celebrated in Capoliveril, lights, drums and festivities line the processional route. The festival is said to date back to the 1500s and tells of the ill-fated love between Lorenzo and Maria…
Wonderful to see publication of this novel to coincide with the annual Innamorate festival that takes place every year on Elba.
Kit has grown up with her mother in England (now living in Bristol), having never known her Italian father. She has learned to bite her tongue about her Italian heritage, and soon it is too late to find out more when her mother passes away, leaving Kit, in her late 20s, with only a name to go on. But it is an unusual name, and without difficulty she tracks her biological farther to a beautiful hotel – The Thousand Lights Hotel – on Elba.
The author is very good at going through the what-ifs of making contact, even HOW to make contact. Would it be a brave thing to do? Or foolish? The uncertainties of descending on her father out of the blue could have colossal consequences for both her and any family he might have. Her mother had one very scant version of events, her father would undoubtedly have another. How do you go on to handle such a situation, do you let sleeping dogs lie or do you stir up the hornet’s nest?
Kit chooses to go to Elba and as an experienced travel writer can appear at her father’s hotel with a convincing cover, giving her ample to time to assess the situation before potentially diving in. She is picked up on her way to the hotel by the handsome Oliviero, who happens to be the chef at the hotel (there is some delicious-sounding food served up at the hotel). Her father, Valentino, and Oliviero seem particularly close and her suspicions about their family ties grow. To find out how she handles the situation and what the consequences are for her, you will need to buy the book….
The story, as it unfolds is one of tentative discovery and how major loss and difficult histories can converge to form new and perhaps unexpected outcomes. It is poignant, it feels real. The gentle exploration of familial ties is all set against the beautifully perched Thousand Lights Hotel, which overlooks the lustrous Mediterranean. Elba is beautifully rendered, you will want to visit after reading this novel.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
The island of Elba makes a wonderful backdrop and over to Emylia who shares her research of setting for our #TalkingLocationWith…. feature
Elba for the first time
I can remember the moment that I decided it had to be Elba. It was a rainy Saturday morning in the spring of 2003, and I was in our London flat. My boyfriend and I were planning a summer holiday, and he didn’t mind where we went. The perfect brief… anywhere! Lengthy university breaks were recent enough to be missed with an ache – we were still getting used to having to eke out our precious days of annual leave – so the responsibility for the trip was great, and I thrilled to it. I was a fan of the film Stealing Beauty, and had the sultry soundtrack playing in my head. I loved the Florence of E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, and the splendid hilltop villa in Branagh & Thompson’s Much Ado About Nothing. I decided then that it had to be Italy, and it had to be Tuscany. I wanted us to be part of this sensuous landscape – it looked a grand place to be in love. Armed with the Internet and a few books, I read about the charms of Lucca and Siena and Firenze, of vineyard hotels and hilltop villages. And then I came across an entry for a hotel in the Budget Gems section of a guidebook. It read, ‘everything an island retreat should be. Enjoy expansive views over the owner’s vines and olives to the wooded headland of Sant’Andrea.’ With those few words, I was immediately enchanted. This is the place, I said to Bobby. Knowing nothing more about Elba, our holiday was settled.
We spent the first night in an unremarkable hotel by the river in Pisa, after eating an unremarkable pizza in an all too-touristy restaurant. We slept with the windows wide open to the night, and in came the mosquitoes. Great swarms of them, with their ‘small, high, hateful bugle in my ear’ (if you don’t know D.H. Lawrence’s poem The Mosquito, it’s an angry little delight). They hung out beneath the high ceilings, madly out of reach of rolled-up magazines or the underside of flip-flops. By the morning I was covered in bites that were already turning to fierce welts; Bobby didn’t have a single one. At breakfast the coffee was poor (how was that possible, I thought, in Italy?), the spread less than abundant. I was itching and cranky, and none of it was quite what I’d envisaged; too much reality for a holiday born of romantic ideals.
We took the train down the coast, past colourful Livorno, and the pine-forests of Cecina. At Campiglia Marittima we changed to a bus, a stifling, rickety thing. It took us all the way to Piombino, the vast ferry port that would be our gateway to Elba. Here we joined the flocks of other foot passengers, scurrying across the tarmac to jump aboard one of the many departing ships; we were suddenly full of urgency, despite the fact that the crossings ran every thirty minutes. High on the deck we drank Gin & Tonics, and let ourselves be scorched by the sun, whipped by the sea breeze. Elba lies just six miles from the mainland and as the ferry left the industrial port in its wake, the island was already in view; wooded, rising, close enough to touch. As we drew nearer we glimpsed hidden coves, caramel-coloured cliffs, dense forests running to the shore. It looked a paradise. And as the dignified and historic Portoferraio came into our sights, we felt we were – in every sense – arriving.
To reach tiny Sant’Andrea on the North side of Elba we had to take another bus. The driver swung us into the turns and past the sheer drops with all the nonchalance of someone who does it all day every day. We gasped, and held on tight. Saw flashes of brilliant blue water. Ancient villages strung out across the mountainside. There were no buttons to press, and our Italian was as shaky as our geography; how would we know when to get off? Through dumb luck we saw the sign for the hamlet of La Zanca, and skidded down the aisle to alight there. As the bus rumbled away, the two of us stood at the side of the road. Densely forested hillsides ran behind us. The route ahead of us was a zigzag, slanting steeply, and shimmering with mirage. Beyond lay the sea, an implausible blue. We began to walk. The verges crackled with the song of cicadas, wild strawberries shone like jewels. Tall, jagged Prickly Pears loomed above us, lizards skittered. There were parasol-like palm trees and rampant bougainvillea. Sweet and potent oleanders. In this corner of the island houses seemed to be nestled, tucked, perched; a red-tiled rooftop appearing below your feet as you rounded a bend, or catching your eye from a faraway mountainside. This was Elba and it felt exotic. Lush. Hot as an oven. By the time we walked the mile to our little hotel, we were sweating and delighted, drunk on our decision to come.
Of all my arrivals in any place at any time, that day remains one of the most memorable. We already loved Elba, before we’d even spent a night there. Over the following week the dream of the island retreat – read about so briefly on that rainy London day – was true, and it was ours in Technicolour. Two more trips and a novel later, and I love Elba still. Here I think of Hemingway’s line when writing about the Spain he adores and the desire to set it all down, ‘if I could have made this enough of a book it would have had everything in it’. The Thousand Lights Hotel can’t possibly hold all that matters to me about Elba, but I hope it has enough to take you there, and make you want to stay awhile.
Thank you to Emylia for the wonderful insights into travelling on Elba. On this link she talks to “My Reading Corner” about her food research and here about her favourite ever hotels in fiction with ‘FromFirstPageToLast’.
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