Victoria Hislop: ‘Patra represents the extremes of Greece – sublime and mundane’

It took the novelist a while, but she learned to love the chaos and joy of Greece’s third-largest city

When I visited Patra for the first time, I was baffled. Driving in from Athens through the modern sprawl along the coast, I couldn’t understand how the third largest city in Greece could be so lacking in charm. Where were the string of seafront restaurants that I was expecting, the sixth-century fortress and the museum? The two images that I took away then were of a kitsch hotel modelled on a castle, complete with crenellations: its windows were boarded up and weeds grew from the entrance. It was like something from a nightmarish, abandoned Disneyland. And then there was a sad, rusting ferry languishing in the port, its name, Ionian Queen, only emphasising the sense of a lost but glorious past.

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