GIVEAWAY: 3 copies of The Witch’s Daughter – PETROGRAD
Talking Location With author Sierra Godfrey – CYCLADES (Santorini)
21st September 2023
#TalkingLocationWith... Sierra Godfrey, author of The Second Chance Hotel – CYCLADES (Santorini).
My new novel, The Second Chance Hotel, is set on a small Greek island called Asteri. Asteri is a Cycladic island situated near somewhere around Naxos in the Aegean Sea. Its main crops are like those of many islands in the region—olives, pistachios, and grapes. Dramatic cliffs plunge into the sea at the edges, leftover from the ancient volcanic blast of nearby islands, creating little slices of sandy heaven that are only accessible via breathtaking switchback goat trails.
Except Asteri doesn’t exist.
The novel follows Amelia and James, who meet on Asteri only to get accidentally married and inherit the hotel they’re staying in in one drunken night. I chose to use a fictional island so I could control the environment. Having lived in Santorini for a few years when I was a kid and visited several other islands, I didn’t want to do an island injustice by not describing it as it currently is. Santorini is one of the most visited islands in the Aegean Sea, and it’s changed incredibly to reflect that over the years.
I never saw Amelia and James’s kind of drama when I lived on Santorini, but there was a slow, warm set of impressions that sank into my soul along the way. Blue skies, black-sand beaches, a dramatic landscape striped with geologic scars, and food specific to this small volcanic island informed my Greece. Night skies so dark (because then there was a lot less light on the island; this might be less true now) that the stars stood brighter, the Milky Way a blurry swath, and slow-moving satellites visible.
There is so much about Santorini that is uniquely incredible—not the least of which because it’s a slumbering volcano with a history. That much is obvious, because the island consists of crescent-shaped pieces curled around its caldera. Over 3,000 years ago, it erupted in a blast that was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth, smothering the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri, which you can visit on Santorini, in a layer of pumice—but there was little evidence of bodies, suggesting people had advance warning.
There hasn’t been any activity from the volcano since 1956, when a significant 7.5 earthquake struck. You can take a boat to Nea Kameni, the crater in the middle, and smell the steam and carbon dioxide for yourself. The main towns, Fira, Imerovigli, and Oia crust the broken rim.
Apart from touring ancient civilization sites, Santorini offers exceptional food. The island’s tomatoes are considered especially delicious from growing in volcanic soil. Island-grown fava beans, white eggplants, pistachios, and grapes are not to be missed. Enjoy the very dry white wine made from Assyritiko grapes, or the sweet vinsanto wines made from grapes that sit in the hot Aegean sun until they’re almost raisins before harvest.
Early readers have told me that The Second Chance Hotel makes them badly want to travel to Greece. If you do and visit Santorini, the best time to avoid crowds is early May and late October. Stay at the Boathouse on Kamari Beach with its excellent Blue Moon Bar, their famous pool bar, where my family friends, owners Spyros and Diane will make your stay incredible. Note, too, that the Boathouse is a lot less expensive (around 160 Euro for a sea view) than staying in Oia (which can be 500 Euro a night). Santorini is a small island—just seven miles wide by twelve miles long—and you can easily visit Oia for a lazy afternoon in a café or watch the sunset, which is especially spectacular there. It can be extremely crowded around sunset, and parking is limited, so plan ahead.
Other excellent things to do include hiking out to Skaros Rock near Imerovigli. Skaros Rock is an ancient Venetian fortress that affords gorgeous views of the caldera. Or get a 360 view of the island with a from Profitis Ilias monastery near Pyrgos. Fun fact: that there are more churches than homes on the island—this was true when I was a kid, and it’s still true now.
While I’ve focused on Santorini here, there are unique gifts from each island, and if you visit any part of Greece, I hope its simple magic captures you the way it did Amelia and James. The foundations of Asteri are very much baked from the acidic soil of Santorini—as are, I suspect, many of the hearts of people who have visited, loved, and lived the Aegean islands.
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