Escapist romance : must it always be set in Italy or Greece?

woman overlooking seaToday (Friday) I finished reading a romantic novel featuring a heroine who finds love over a summer in Italy. Classic escapist romance. It’s not a genre I read much—more on that later—but this one was from an author I admire and I hadn’t read any of her books for a while.

So it was timely. And I enjoyed the story very much.

There are, as you probably know, loads of books in this genre. But my reading got me thinking and asking questions.

Why are they so popular?
And why are they mostly set in Italy or Greece?
Aren’t there other places for a heroine to find love?

Research your escapist settings before you put finger to blog?

At this point, you may be yelling at your screen that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Since you might well be right there 😉 I took the precaution of doing my research by checking Amazon lists. I filtered for “summer escapist romance”. This is what I got in the first 60 books:sunset, woman reading in a hammock under a palm tree, with beach and sky behind her

  • 13   set in Italy
  • 11   set in France
  • 7     set in Greece
  • 3     set in Spain/Portugal
  • 7     set in Cornwall
  • 5     set in Scotland

OK. Maybe I was wrong in saying summer escapist books are “mostly” set in Italy or Greece. But a lot of them are. On my count above, it’s one-third for the two together. I also have to admit that a lot are set in France, often on the French Riviera. But that’s almost Italy, isn’t it?

glorious beach in north-west Scotland

Glorious beach in Northwest Scotland

I should also have realised how popular Cornwall has become. Fair enough. But Scotland? As a Scot in exile, I can’t forget the midges and the rain, though I admit the scenery is spectacular and, when the sun shines, I’d say there’s nowhere better on earth. (And here’s one of my own pics to prove it.)

I tried Amazon again with the search term “summer fiction”. In the first 25 books, Italian settings scored 8, Greek settings 6, Scotland a measly 1. France and Cornwall got none at all. So in that second sample, Italy + Greece did account for more than half. See, I was sort of right after all. (And no, I didn’t fiddle the searches to get the answer i wanted. Honest.)

Escapist romance needs the right setting

Winter midlands garden: snow, grey, miserable

As we sit here in the UK, in February, in the rain (mostly, but sometimes snow), and with dark mornings and evenings, it’s easy to see the lure of warmth and sunshine and the kind of outdoor life that’s difficult this far north.

Bars and cafés and restaurants spilling onto the street as a matter of course because everyone knows it won’t rain? People sitting around in shorts and t-shirts or going for a leisurely promenade in the cool of the evening? Warm azure sea to swim in? (Cornwall may be OK on that front in high summer—I haven’t tried—but I can assure you, from freezing experience, that Scotland definitely isn’t.)

Athens, Acropolis in winter

Athens, Acropolis by santorines

This weekend, the temperature here in the Midlands is forecast to reach a high of 14º, very warm for the time of year. But it’s grey and it keeps raining, on and off.

In Italy (Rome) it’s likely to be 20º without a cloud in the sky. Same, or hotter, in Seville in Spain. Corfu, in Greece, will be cooler, maybe 16º, but cloudless skies are forecast there too.

So, even in winter, those Mediterranean settings have something attractive to recommend them. (And the Acropolis is always worth a visit, even if it’s got snow on it, as shown in the image above. Note the cheerily bright blue sky.)

The essentials of an escapist romance?

blue question marks

Too predictable?

As I said at the start, I don’t read all that many escapist romances because, if I’m honest, I find them too predictable.

Pause for thought here. Why am I saying that? After all, I used to write Regency romances for Mills & Boon and they were pretty predictable, too. In all these (m/f) romances, it’s heroine meets hero, attraction happens, conflicts keep them apart, then conflicts are resolved and we get a HEA.

So being too predictable is a pretty lame excuse on my part. Not good enough, Joanna. Try again.

Fantasy characters?

My second reason for not reading many is that I often find it difficult to empathise with the characters. The hero is (usually) to die for. Not only gorgeous to look at, but also kind, sympathetic, understanding, rich enough to live a good life, etc etc. He’s probably even a great cook! How many men like that have you met recently? No, me neither, so I find it difficult to believe in him. (More about him later.)

diverging paths, which to choose?

Image by PixxlTeufel from Pixabay

The heroine is (usually) blonde, slim and very attractive but with some kind of trauma in her immediate past (like a bad divorce) that has brought her to a crossroads in her life. Faced with that choice, she decides to make a fresh start in a new country far away from the grim old UK.

And in spite of the fact that she probably speaks barely a word of the language, she makes a success of it, finding the dishy hero along the way. It takes a really good writer to make me believe in a heroine like that, too. (And I want to slap her on the language laziness.)

That exotic location again?

Add in the relatively exotic location and it can begin to feel like pure fantasy. Sunshine, blue sea etc. It never seems to get so hot that hero or heroine start wilting, does it? (When I was in southern Spain last year, it was about 40º and even the locals were wilting.) In escapist romance, it’s always picture postcard perfection, like this image of Samos, in Greece:

Greek taverns, Samos

Samos beach tavernas by freesurf

And mentioning Spain led me to wonder why so few escapist romances are set there. It has beaches, and tavernas, and sun too, doesn’t it? My good friend Sophie, of this parish, may have provided the answer there. It’s the Benidorm factor, we decided. Although loads of Spain is nothing like Benidorm and it has lots of wonderfully romantic settings, many Brits do think of Benidorm-type resorts when they think of Spain. And that image may not be helpful for escapist romance.

Cordoba, Spain, city walls early morning

Cordoba, city walls, early morning

Italy and Greece, on the other hand, don’t generally suffer from the Benidorm factor (or local equivalent). For both of them, Brits tend to think of small resorts with tavernas on the beach (like Samos, above) and cosy little hotels or villas to rent where escaping heroines can relax freely and find a new life. (They may also think of glamorous and upmarket cities like Rome or Venice or Athens where an escaping heroine might be swept off her feet by a droolworthy hero.)

Nothing against Italy and Greece, but I love Spain and I’d say that it deserves a revival in the escapist romance arena. Up in the mountains, or in some of its glorious cities, maybe, like Toledo, or Cordoba, or Seville?

Granada, Spain, alhambra from below

Granada, the Alhambra from below

The hero in escapist romance is…?

Back to our hero, as promised.

He’s hot, of course. Usually with dark-eyed, dark-haired, smouldering good looks. Sometimes with a hint of menace or leashed power.

And charisma by the bucketload.

I do find myself wondering, though, why these hot and desirable heroes have reached the age of 30 or 35 without getting hitched.

Cynics might say that it’s the Mamma syndrome, that these gorgeous men are so pampered by their doting Mammas (cooking for them, doing the laundry, generally waiting on them hand and foot) that no other female will be good enough. So said heroes stay at home and live the easy life with Mamma. Makes them a bit less droolworthy, maybe…?

When one of my author friends attended a real honest-to-goodness Greek wedding, she was rash enough to mention the “Greek hero” trope to some of the younger guests. After they had stopped laughing—and it took quite a while—they gently disabused her. No, Greek men weren’t like that at all. They were not all that different from British men, apparently.

The same is probably true of smouldering Italian heroes. (Or at least the ones who get away from Mamma.) Do they smoulder? One gets the impression that [some] Italian men like to think they ooze sex-appeal.

I am reminded of the sidekick, Mimí, in Camilleri’s Montalbano books and TV series, set in Sicily. The TV Mimí (who fits the dark-haired, dark-eyed pattern) seems to be able to seduce almost any woman, though to my mind his looks are nothing special. How does he do it?

Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Sadly, we never really get to find out. Though he does seem to have a good line in chat.

Like the Greek Lothario in Shirley Valentine whose chat-up lines are so well honed that he uses them regularly on incoming female tourists like Shirley? Not a true escapist romance, that one. Love and trust? I don’t think so. And that’s another question mark over the hot Greek or Italian hero.

Then again, Rudolph Valentino was Italian so maybe he proves the smouldering rule?

More research needed?

I think I probably need to shell out on a fair few more escapist romances in order to find out the truth about the genre. But you may have different views?
Do you love them?
Write them?
Do tell me where I’m going wrong.

Joanna Maitland author


Late PS: Forgot to say, in the blog, that even Libertà indulges in escapist fiction sometimes. For fun and laughter on the English riviera—in Little Piddling no less—try the 6 novellas in our Beach Hut Surprise, available as an ebook here.
Buying our book would help to support this website. Thank you.

Clothes and character : does fashion matter?

Blogging Inspiration and Regency clothes

AI generated picture of three cats dressed in historical costume.

AI generated image by GrumpyBeere at Pixabay

Joanna recently blogged about blogging, and where we could find inspiration. All very helpful but I envy the fact that, as an historical novelist, she has photographs to share from costume exhibits at the museums she has visited.

Lovely dresses, shoes, uniforms as well as what her characters wore beneath them. So much fascinating detail to write about.

Regency fashion is such an important part of the pleasure in reading books set in an era when clothes and character are inextricably linked.

As someone who has always written contemporary novels – and with a very low personal fashion threshold – I tend to find dressing my characters a bit of a challenge. Continue reading

For the love of owls : Sophie Weston reprise

owls,. Little owlDear Readers: Sophie is currently hors de combat with a broken arm so we’re republishing one of her inspiring nature blogs: this one is about owls (from 2019). Enjoy.

First you should know: I love owls. When I was at college, I lived for a time in a cottage opposite a field. We had a visiting Little Owl. I first encountered it when I came home at dusk to find Something sitting on the stone wall that surrounded our garden. I thought a child had dropped a stuffed toy and I reached to retrieve it. Until it OPENED ITS EYES.

It was a Little Owl. And they are really small, as you see. 1.5 bricks tall, max. But the message was direct, unmistakeable and compelling: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

I’ve been a huge fan of owls ever since. Continue reading

Divided by a common language? Britspeak vs USspeak

divided by a common language, half and half apple“Divided by a common language” was, I thought, something that Churchill (more from him below) said in relation to the UK and the USA. Checking, I found I was wrong. It was George Bernard Shaw, echoing Oscar Wilde. Never mind who said it. This week, I’ve been finding out how right it is.

It happened like this…

I had submitted a contemporary urban fantasy novel to a New York publisher. The editor came back asking for the full MS. (Cheering in Maitland Manor, natch.) But this publisher specifically asked that all submissions be in US spelling. That made me think.

question markWhat if the US editor doesn’t understand my Brit language? After all, my MS had pavements and lifts instead of sidewalks and elevators. I decided I’d go through the MS and change all the offending words and phrases from British English (BrE) to American (AmE). Wouldn’t take long, I thought.

Er, no. Continue reading

Bristol research: Cricket, Cary Grant, Banksy…and Dracula?

It’s not often Cricket, Cary Grant and Dracula come up in the same conversation. Oh, and Banksy. But they do here, following my Bristol research trip.

Why Bristol research?

Bristol research curved terrace

Why not? It’s my home town so a research trip really appealed! It’s the city where I spent the first decades of my life. I am currently writing a book, set in the Regency, with scenes around the docks and in what was then South Gloucestershire, now just outside the city centre…

But more about the book at a later date

For today’s blog, I want to share with you my delight in a Bristol research trip where I discovered an area of the city that I only knew by name. Montpelier. Continue reading

When IT Goes Wrong

Hiding face looking at computer screen when IT goes wrong

Image by mrkaushikkashish from Pixabay

The biggest news in the UK at the moment is all about when IT goes wrong. Well, really it’s about the appalling injustice, destruction and simple chaos that can follow when IT goes wrong and the management who commissioned it are still believers.

And that, of course, brings us very quickly to the people who use the IT in question. And who might have been responsible.

It’s a big issue and, oddly enough, one that I started to grapple with umpty-um years ago in my first single-title novel. Not that I realised that was it was any sort of issue at the time. I just had a story and some characters and a cracking setting on an imaginary Caribbean island.

When IT Goes Wrong Spontaneously

As anyone who has sat at their desk and watched the rolling beach ball of doom spin can attest, IT can go wrong at any time.

Sometimes it’s the user’s responsibility. Fat finger syndrome is common to just about everyone on the planet.

For instance, I can’t count the times I’ve pressed two keys simultaneously. The unfortunate machine freezes.

I sort of sympathise. The poor thing can’t say, “Oh come ON. Make your mind up.” Though perhaps one day it will, come to think of it. Continue reading

Christmas and New Year Greetings with Christmas books

The Libertà hive has got into the habit of relaxing over Christmas and New Year. Probably reading Christmas books! Which means no blog, sadly. The next “proper” blog will appear on Sunday 7th January, 2024.

In the meantime, we hope all our readers had a very happy Christmas and we wish you a prosperous and healthy New Year. Busy fizz

And if Santa didn’t bring you any Christmas books, there are some that the hive would recommend. (Since hive members wrote them, we would, wouldn’t we?)
What’s more, our cute cat loves them… Continue reading

Accidental Historical

Earlier this month one of my all time favourite authors, Leigh Michaels, proposed a new category of books: the Accidental Historical.

She has  coined it to cover republished books which she wrote some years ago. Back then, they were correctly described as contemporary romantic fiction. But we have had a digital, social and media revolution since then.

After pondering this for a bit, I think Amazon, other online stores and ALL publishers of ebooks in general would do well to adopt it.

Leigh Michaels

cover of novel, Brittany's Castle, showing a welcoming room with a tall Christmas tree, ablaze with lights and beautifully packed presents at its foot. Leigh Michaels is a multi-award winning author of contemporary and historical fiction, mostly romantic. She’s published in more than 25 languages and 120 countries the last time I looked. She is also a teacher and mentor for other writers. For a while we shared the inspiring editor Jacqui Bianchi, whom I have quoted here before.

And I have loved her books ever since Jacqui recommended them to me. Several of the books are on, not just my Keeper Shelf, but my Never to be Taken Out of This House Under Any Circumstances shelf.

I have had to wrench my copy of A New Desire  out of the hands of a departing guest. “If you want to read it, fine. But you have to come back here and read it in situ.” She did. She was 25.

And this is the nub of the matter. The book my visitor was so determined to read was first published in 1989. It was ten years older than she was.

Enter the Accidental Historical. Continue reading

Mosaics: just a few coloured stones laid on the ground?

Roman mosaic Nennig, Germany

Vibrantly coloured Roman floor mosaic, Nennig, Germany, 3rd century AD

In my recent travels, mostly exploring Mediterranean history (including Romans and Greeks) I’ve seen an awful lot of mosaics like the ones in Italica. I’ve even watched curators working to restore a mosaic in Pompeii.

But I’d never thought much about the fundamentals of creating a mosaic.

Mosaics are just a lot of coloured stones laid on the ground in a clever pattern, aren’t they?

Nope. There’s much more to it than that.

Engineering mosaics to last

If the coloured stones (tesserae) were simply laid on the ground, even if they were grouted together with mortar, they wouldn’t have lasted long. And many of them, as we know, have lasted for thousands of years. They had to be hard-wearing. They were going to be walked on.

semi-dome, christ pantocrator, capella palatina, Palermo

Capella Palatina, Palermo, Sicily

Not all of them, of course.

Some mosaics were for wall decoration as you can see in my earlier blog showing some of the incredible religious mosaics in Sicily.

Like this one here where the colours and all that gold really sing.

Hidden layers

Floor mosaics have lots of hidden underpinnings. (Wall mosaics probably have a lot less. Not sure on that, but it sort of stands to reason, doesn’t it?) In the museum in Ecija near Seville (called Astigi by the Romans) there are wonderful floor mosaics plus an explanation of how they were made. In pictures, I’m glad to say. Continue reading