Athens has been awarded the title of the Unesco World Book Capital for 2018, and visitors can enjoy an array of literary events that are taking place in the city throughout the year. But there are plenty of destinations outside the Greek capital to satisfy any book lover. Let’s take a short journey around some famous Greek locations that have served as the setting for a number of international bestsellers.
Nature and humour in Corfu
The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell – particularly the first book, My Family and Other Animals – is an ode to the natural world of the island and a humorous autobiographical account of the author’s childhood during the 1930s, when he moved with his widowed mother and siblings to Corfu. For decades among the most popular Greek travel destinations, the island has been shaped by a mixture of historical influences which are most noticeable in the elegant Venetian architecture and Italian-style cuisine of Corfu Town.
Life, exclusion and suspense in Crete
Crete is famously the scene of the wonderful philosophical work about life (and the most translated Greek novel ever), Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. But it’s also the setting of Victoria Hislop’s The Island, a magnificent story about Spinalonga Island (the leper colony of the first half of the 20th century), and where part of the action takes place in the delightful psychological thriller The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith. The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has impressive remnants of ancient Minoan history, excellent local wine and a diverse landscape, from countless sandy beaches to sleepy mountain villages and Europe’s longest gorge.
Serial crime in Mykonos
What better setting for a crime novel, rich in intrigue and suspense, than the windswept jetsetter’s paradise of Mykonos? Jeffrey Siger’s Murder in Mykonos is the first in a series of nine crime thrillers set in Greece, widely acclaimed by the genre fans. The island itself is loved by local and international celebrities and partygoers with no budget constrains – and rightly so, as it boasts an unparalleled nightlife and the largest number of world-class beaches among all Greek islands.
A war romance in Kefallonia
Louis de Bernières’ bestseller Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a marvellous love story between an Italian officer and a local girl during the occupation of the Ionian island of Kefallonia in WWII. Together with the subsequent film, the novel firmly placed the island on the tourist map as a first-rate Greek escapade. It’s a tribute to the immaculate natural beauty, spotless beaches and virgin countryside of Kefallonia, where outdoors adventures range from sea kayaking to donkey trekking.
Cloak and dagger in Thessaloniki
The historical thriller Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst is set in wartime Thessaloniki, months before the Nazis invade Greece. In addition to a well-paced and suspenseful plot, the novel is a splendid account of the cosmopolitan and slightly exotic port that Greece’s second city was at the time – buzzing with foreign agents, dodgy diplomats and other shady figures. These days Thessaloniki is an attractive and lively metropolis with numerous Byzantine-era sights, top-notch cocktail bars and excellent tavernas and patisseries.
Soul-searching in Spetses
John Fowles’ postmodern literary masterpiece The Magus is set on a fictional Greek island of Phraxos. However, many locations in this challenging but extremely rewarding novel actually exist on Spetses, where the author spent a couple of years as an English teacher, just like his hero. The picturesque island with the weighty historic heritage is an upmarket short-break destination for Athenians, with plenty of quality options for swimming, trekking, sailing, horse riding or simply unwinding.
Cultural insight in the Mani
One of the greatest travel writers of the 20th century, adventurer and philhellene Patrick Leigh Fermor details in Mani his first journey to the deep south of the Peloponnese, where he eventually spent the last years of his life. It’s a compelling travelogue of great detail and insightful observation of the Mani, a unique, rocky and isolated part of Greece, threaded with walking trails, olive groves and abandoned stone towers. This rugged region will be appreciated by those keen to avoid the beaten track.
Homecoming and devotion in Ithaki
One of the cornerstones of Western literature, Homer’s Odyssey is a magnificent story of an epic journey and a celebration of spousal loyalty. It concludes on Ithaki, where Penelope patiently awaits, amid aggressive suitors, the return of her husband (and king) Odysseus. The small Ionian island has since become the ultimate Mediterranean getaway; it’s the perfect choice for a tranquil holiday, with scenic mountain roads, windswept cliffs and crystal-clear waters.
Ancient love in Lesvos
One of the first novels in human history, Daphnis and Chloe by Longus (a Greek author from the 2nd or 3rd century AD), is set on Lesvos. It’s a bucolic tale of two adopted children who grow up together working as shepherds for their foster parents, fall in love and eventually get married. Lesvos, the third-largest Greek island, is mostly untouched by mass tourism – a genuine Greek experience of traditional villages, exceptional food, uncrowded beaches and, last but not least, copious amounts of ouzo produced by dozens of local distilleries.
Thrill and intimacy in Delphi
A forgotten classic, My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart is a charming tale of mystery and romance and a vivid portrayal of the Greek mainland scenery around the ancient oracle of Delphi. The magical site of the ‘Navel of the Earth’ is located just a couple of hours’ drive from Athens. Ancient ruins surrounded by endless olive groves, a small but important museum, a picturesque little town in the shadow of Mt Parnassos and, above all, the energy emanating from this place, make Delphi one of the most worthwhile day trips from the buzzing capital.