A Thing of Beauty

A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes describes ‘Travels in Mythical and Modern Greece’ and places the Greek Gods in the context of modern-day Greece.

Book cover, A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes

Here at Greece Travel Secrets we’re suckers, of course, for travel books about Greece. Our shelves are sagging with them. They include classics like Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lawrence Durrell, and Henry Miller, to more recent must-read titles like Eurydice Street and Wild Abandon. To this list can be added A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes, an evocative and informative book whose sub-title sums it up: Travels in Mythical and Modern Greece.

Bookshelf full of books about GreeceA Section of Our Bookshelves

Peter Fiennes

Peter Fiennes used to be the publisher of London’s Time Out, the magazine and book publishers, and as such he says he says he spent years trying to create the perfect guidebook. Speaking as a guidebook author, I know that’s a laudable but impossible task. He’s also an author, his books including Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers (shortlisted for an Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award), To War with God: The Army Chaplain who Lost his Faith, and Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woods and New Forests of Britain. This last was chosen by The Guardian as a Best Nature Book of the Year.

A Thing of Beauty

You would therefore expect his new book about Greece to shine when it comes to the nature writing, and it certainly does, though that is only one part of its multi-faceted appeal. It’s for anyone interested in the Greek Gods and their myths, the Greek countryside and wildlife, Greek politics and history, climate change and sustainable living, whether there’s any hope in the world today… and just how many Greek salads can one man eat? If you’re interested in more than one of those topics, it’s definitely the book for you.

The theatre at Epidavros in the PeloponneseEpidavros in the Peloponnese

Travels in Greece

It’s the theme of the Greek myths which holds the book together, though, as the author travels around the country visiting the places where some of the more famous myths are said to have taken place. Beginning in Athens and ending in Epirus, via a drive around the Peloponnese, the author retells those myths as well as talking to present-day Greeks – some in pre-arranged meetings and others by chance – and asking everyone the question he’s most curious about: is there hope? It’s a serious question although the book itself is far from sombre, as the author has a light touch and is extremely funny in places.

Lord Byron

In fact A Thing of Beauty begins not in Athens but in Nottinghamshire in England. At Newstead Abbey, to be exact, the ancestral home of George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, better-known to the world as Lord Byron, poet and Grecophile. The author’s travel plans were scuppered, or at least delayed, by the outbreak of Covid. But it’s thanks to this that we get a hugely entertaining chapter about Byron and his family, filled with salacious details, leading up to his love affair with Greece. Well, he’d had every other kind of love affair, why not with an entire country?

And while Covid is initially an impediment, it turns out to add what was probably an unexpected dimension to A Thing of Beauty. After all, it’s not in the least bit far-fetched to look upon the pandemic as a curse brought down on mankind by the Gods above, Greek or otherwise. This is another theme the author skillfully weaves into the tapestry of his story.

Temple remains at Ancient Corinth in the Peloponnese of GreeceAncient Corinth

On the Road in Greece

Renting a car, and leaving his wife and son behind after a few family days, the author drives around Greece visiting such places as Eleusis, Corinth, Mycenae, Epidavros, Olympia, Delphi (where he encounters an online Oracle), Messolonghi (where Byron, or at least a bit of him, is buried), and ultimately to the wilds of Epirus, a majestic landscape threatened by voracious oil developers and by fracking.

Lost and Found

While dealing with the immortal and almighty Gods, the author proves himself to be all-too-human, and very self-deprecating with it. He manages to get lost several times while hiking during A Thing of Beauty, stumbles across German nudists on a beach (not quite literally), and when he has at last treated himself to a decent hotel for the all-important visit to Delphi, he ends up in the worst room in the building, with the smell of tobacco and the sound of conversation – which is seldom whispered in Greece – both wafting in from a ventilation shaft of some kind.

The Prespa Lakes in Northern GreecePrespa

Epirus

For me the book builds to the best part, towards the end, where the author visits Epirus. Here he meets up with an ornithologist contact, Julian Hoffman, who lives in Prespa, and we’re treated to sightings that show just how rich parts of Greece are in birds and other flora and fauna. Even the ornithologist is impressed ('Good Lord!') by what they see in the Ambracian Gulf, a stone’s throw, literally, from the airport at Preveza which brings holidaymakers in by the charter-flight planeload throughout a normal summer.

In this section I learned where I’m definitely going to eat if I ever find myself in Mitikas, just outside Preveza: the Doctor of Hunger steakhouse, it has to be. It’s also in Epirus, at the Monastery of Rodia, that the author and his ornithologist companion meet an eccentric elderly Greek man named Costas, who for some reason seems to be gathering cyclamen. As they’re about to leave, Costas hands them a bunch of cyclamen and tells them with great feeling: ‘Remember what men are here for. It is to share stories about the things that matter.’

It’s a wonderful summing-up of what’s important in life, and Peter Fiennes should be proud of himself that in A Thing of Beauty he has done just that. He’s shared stories about things that matter.

Buying a Thing of Beauty

You can find links to where to buy the book, and read more about it, on the Oneworld Publications website.

See some of our other books pages

  • Greece Book Reviews

    Greece Book Reviews on the Greece Travel Secrets website with reviews of the best guidebooks to Greece, the Greek Islands, Athens, Crete and elsewhere.

  • Books About Greece

    If planning a trip to Greece, what are the best books about Greece to read before you go, or to take with you, to give you a sense of place?

  • The Summer of My Greek Taverna

    The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone is a memoir of his time on the Greek island of Patmos in the Dodecanese, running a restaurant.

  • Wild Abandon

    Wild Abandon by Jennifer Barclay and published by Bradt Guides is A Journey to Deserted Places of the Dodecanese islands in Greece, including Rhodes and Kos.

  • Eurydice Street

    Eurydice Street, A Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff is an honest account of what it’s like to move to Athens and live as a foreigner, learning Greek customs.

  • Northern Greece Guide

    The Bradt Guide to Northern Greece is a detailed guide to Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Thrace, The Pelion, The Sporades and the rest of Northern Greece.

  • Monemvasia Book Review

    Greece Travel Secrets reviews the photography book Monemvasia with extracts from works by Yiannis Ritsos and Nikos Kazantzakis.

  • A Rope of Vines

    A Rope of Vines by Brenda Chamberlain is an evocative memoir of the author’s time living on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s.

  • Lonely Planet Greek Islands

    The Lonely Planet guide to the Greek Islands is a thorough and helpful guide to all the Greek island groups, with Athens included.

  • Lonely Planet Greece

    The latest edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Greece is a comprehensive 750-page guidebook to the whole country.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. The Greek Holiday Calendar 2022

    Will there be a holiday or national celebration taking place during your trip to Greece? Find out here.

    Read More

  2. Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards: 4 Greek Destinations Named

    Three Greek islands and a city proved among the world’s most popular destinations with the users of the famous travel platform.

    Read More

  3. The Summer of My Greek Taverna

    The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone is a memoir of his time on the Greek island of Patmos in the Dodecanese, running a restaurant.

    Read More

  4. Tasteful Stays: 8 Athens Design Hotels for Foodies

    Athens is on the rise as a gastronomy destination, and connoisseurs know that it’s not just about tavernas anymore. Here are eight fine places to check into if you’re a foodie.

    Read More

  5. Arcadia: Amid the Sweet Aromas of the Moschofilero Grape

    The rich and fertile lands of Arcadia in the heart of the Peloponnese, where the vines of the Mantineia PDO flourish, are a feast for the senses.

    Read More

  6. 60 Guest Houses in Greece for the Perfect Winter Getaway (Map Included!)

    From Thrace to the Peloponnese, our comprehensive list of guest houses for that perfect winter escape caters to all tastes and budgets.

    Read More

  7. The Times Changes Side in Parthenon Marbles Debate

    London newspaper speaks up in favor of the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures at the Acropolis Museum.

    Read More

  8. Greece Among Top Choices of US Travelers Over 50 for Holidays in 2022

    Greece is among the top 10 international destinations that US travelers over 50 want to visit in 2022, according to a survey recently released by online travel magazine TravelAwaits.

    Read More

  9. Corfu to Reveal Secrets of Old Town Through New AR Tourism Guide

    Internet users will soon have the opportunity to explore the historic monuments and hidden gems of the old town of Corfu through a new augmented reality (AR) tourism guide. A UNESCO world heritage sit…

    Read More

  10. Greece PM: Italy Museum Sets Example for Parthenon Marbles’ Return

    The time has come for the Parthenon Marbles to return to Greece, their natural home, said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday, during a special ceremony at the Acropolis Museum, where he welc…

    Read More