Today South London, Tomorrow South London – shirk, rest and play south of the river
Talking Location With… author Hannah Fielding. Santorini, Greece
23rd January 2018
#TalkingLocationWith… author Hannah Fielding. SANTORINI, the inspiration for the setting in her new book, Aphrodite’s Tears.
Aphrodite’s Tears is the #TFBookClub read for March and April 2018!
Writing romance novels set in beautiful and fascinating places around the world gives me the perfect excuse to indulge in one of my great passions in life: travelling. Much of the story in my latest novel, Aphrodite’s Tears, is set on a privately owned island called Helios. It’s a fictional island, an amalgamation of several of the Greek islands. But a real-life island also features prominently in the book, and it was to here that I travelled while writing to immerse myself in the culture, history and legends of the Greek islanders.
The island of Santorini is about 120 miles off the Greek mainland, in the Aegean Sea, and it has a population of around 15,000 people. Like Helios, it’s a volcanic island; here the Minoan eruption occurred more than 3,000 years ago, one of most catastrophic eruptions in the Earth’s history, which decimated surrounding islands. Today, the island is a peaceful place, however – and a beautiful one, since the caldera the eruption created (a crater made when a volcano collapses upon itself) has become a lagoon with the most beautifully blue water.
I stayed in the village of Oia, on the northwest coast of the island. The buildings cling to the steep slope leading down to lagoon, nested together with only a little room for narrow passages between. They are painted a dazzling white, often with cerulean-blue paintwork, on gates, shutters and doors, to match the blue domed roofs.
From up here, it is all about the views – so much sea and sky. Sunsets here are nothing short of spectacular. You just can’t tear your eyes from the sky, which is daubed in such vivid colours, like an artwork, caught by the water and the white houses. It’s wonderfully romantic – but don’t expect to watch the spectacle alone: many people file, in reverence, each evening to the Sunset Serenade point on high to see the show.
When I wasn’t gazing at the view, I spent my time on Oia exploring little streets, browsing in shops, and visiting places dedicated to the local history and culture, like the art galleries and the Naval Maritime Museum (some beautiful ship figureheads there). I also talked to local people, about their customs and their history; they are wonderfully warm and hospitable, and passionate about their heritage.
I took a trip one day to Akrotiri, a site of great archaeological interest. Akrotiri was a settlement on the island that was buried in volcanic ash during the Minoan eruption. Like Pompeii, the ruins are very well preserved – you can see so much of the original buildings. Unlike Pompeii, thankfully, no human remains were recovered; it seems Akrotiri was evacuated in time. It’s a really awe-inspiring site that connects you to an ancient and fascinating history – and for those, like me, who love mythology, there is an added thrill: it is believed that Akrotiri inspired Plato’s story of a lost city called Atlantis.
Each evening, after a long day exploring, I visited local restaurants, like the wonderful waterfront Ammoudi Tavern in Oia. There, I sampled traditional dishes, like Tomatokeftdes, tomato fritters made with Santorini tomatoes, and Brantada, coated cod, along with the Santorini wine, made from the Assyrtiko grape that grows on the island. Delicious – and these dining experience gave me a real flavour of the island.
My visit to Santorini coincided with the annual Ifestia Festival, which is when the islanders commemorate the Minoan eruption with an explosive firework display. I watched from the terrace of a tavern, and then was delighted to find I had a front-row seat as the Greek waiting staff broke into an impromptu song and dance. I love the Greeks’ sheer joie de vivre, and nowhere is this more evident than in the traditional dances and songs that both the men and women perform. There is such passion and exuberance, it is impossible to watch and not yearn to join in!
My time on Santorini was full of warmth, sunshine and wonder, and it gave me so many ideas for my novel. As Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta said, ‘Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.’ That is why, just as I will never stop writing, because it is who I am, I will never stop travelling – and I can’t wait to see what story awaits me at my next destination.
Thank you so much to Hannah for such a wonderful insight into Santorini, the inspiration for the setting in her new novel, Aphrodite’s Tears, set on fictional Helios.
Aphrodite’s Tears by Hannah Fielding is published on 23rd January 2018 (London Wall Publishing £7.99)
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