Victoria Hislop tours the Peloponnese hunting inspiration for her new novel

The Mail/Victoria Hislop  — Victoria Hislop’s new book , Cartes Postales From Greece,  is about  a man who makes a journey around Greece and falls in love with the Peloponnese. As he travels and explores the Peloponnese, he sends postcards to the woman who has jilted him, but by some strange twist of fate  they land on another woman’s doormat. Enchanted by them, she is lured to the Peloponnese to see it for herself.

“In order to write about him, I had to go travelling myself, heading westwards from Athens to this wonderful southernmost part of mainland Greece.” Hislope writes in the Sunday Mail.

“I began in autumn, with plenty of energy to sightsee (this is the perfect season, with the sea staying warm enough to swim in until mid-November) and my travels soon shaped the route that my character Anthony would take and inspired the stories he would tell.

I went where tourists throng as well as to places where they don’t tend to hang around for long.

Sometimes I found myself where they don’t go at all, occasionally because of my terrible map-reading. Mistakes sometimes led to happy discoveries. 

I began in Nafplio, which was the first capital of the Greek State. It has a perfect harbour and three fortresses (including one on an island).

I loved it for its faded grandeur and elegance, narrow streets without cars, and a feeling that this was where history was made”

“Kalamata was the next place I stopped at, though I passed dozens of small villages in between. This is a working town, a port, somewhere entirely without pretension or awareness of its own charm.

Kalavryta is also known for something more positive. It is the starting point for Greece’s most spectacular rail journey

Much of the city is modern. Many of the buildings were destroyed by an earthquake in 1986, but dotted among their replacements are dozens of magnificent neo-classical mansions that survived the tremors.

In the older part of town furthest from the port (from which a vast tonnage of olives is exported annually), there is a more picturesque area with small streets that wind up towards a Frankish castle.”

“The rolling hills and mountains are as verdant and fertile as any of the Latin poet Virgil’s descriptions and, any minute, you expect the half-man, half-goat figure of Pan to emerge with his pipes and to cast his spell.

Beyond these magic mountains, Kalavryta is a very contrasting place to Kalamata.

 This is a town that vividly remembers a dark moment from its past, and if any visitor was not aware of the consequences of the German occupation of Greece, it would be impossible to be oblivious here.

On December 13, 1943, as retribution for resistance and an attack on German soldiers, the entire male population, about 500, were taken to a hillside and shot.

Women and children were locked inside the school while the village was burned to the ground. They emerged to find the smoking ruins of their homes and the bodies of their husbands and sons.

The extraordinary thing about this attractively rebuilt town (a ski resort in winter) is the sense of peace. On the hillside, where a memorial has been built, the word ‘Eirini’ – peace – is spelled out in stones.

Kalavryta is also known for something more positive. It is the starting point for Greece’s most spectacular rail journey.

I travelled like an excited child on the narrow-gauge track built in the 1890s to bring minerals from the mountains to the sea.

The small carriages rattled their way through the Vouraikos gorge and eventually reached Diakofto, a village on the sea.

Arrival brought a change in climate, and the warmth of the air and the sight of trees heavily laden with oranges was welcome after the mountain chill of Kalavryta.

From here I looked out across the Gulf of Corinth and decided to go west to Patra, the largest city in the Peloponnese. It may be dilapidated, but this is part of its charm.

The church of St Andrew, which inspired an episode in Cartes Postales, is extraordinary – more impressive than some Byzantine churches. Consecrated in 1974, it holds 5,000 people.

The interior is extravagant, with every surface and interior of its dome gleaming with colour and gold leaf.

Full of stories, I left the Peloponnese and crossed to the rest of Greece over the suspension bridge at Rio….”

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