West Bay author Rosanna Ley shares her passion for the Italian Riviera that led to her writing her latest novel The Lemon Tree Hotel

A confession: I love Italy - the passion’s grown ever since my first visit in 1989. My favourite part is Liguria, the Italian Riviera, in which lies the magical cinque terre, an area I discovered in 2001. It’s become much busier since then, but it was still the perfect setting for The Lemon Tree Hotel.

For the research trip, we flew to Pisa, rather an under-rated city, perhaps because Florence is such a glorious neighbour.

For my story, I was searching for an apartment for my character Alonzo to live in. (Not literally, of course, but it gives me a template to work with!) When we found it (my husband Grey takes the photographs, I make copious notes) we stayed awhile to get the feel of the broad silky ribbon of the water; the earth-toned buildings of ochre, rust and green.

We went on by train to Vernazza in the cinque terre, five villages built on terraced hillsides where villagers have grown vines and harvested olives for centuries.

Our apartment was at the top of a tall, skinny building - Vernazza has no space for fat houses.

My fictional family though, would be living in The Lemon Tree Hotel, so we tackled the coastal path to plot its location.

Within my fictional hotel, there would be scenes set in the lemon-scented courtyard (it wasn’t hard to find one of those) and in the Cloisters restaurant – I could imagine that.

But it isn’t all sunshine – a wild storm can provide good material. In Vernazza, on a stormy day, the sea crashed high on to the rocks and a couple of local lads dived into the water and let the waves bring them in and up to standing on the jetty in one swoop. I couldn’t leave that out!

And then there’s the food research… very important if one of your characters (Elene) is a chef. (I know, I know, but it has to be done). Two of the region’s specialities are trofie del pesto (best eaten at the restaurant half-way up the cliff for breath-taking views) and farinata – a delicious pancake made with chickpeas. The excellent cinque terre wine should also be sampled as it supports the villagers’ livelihood...

And so, full of the delicious tastes of Vernazza – and more aware now of the hardship too – we leave Italy. We have a camera full of images and a bulging notebook or two. It’s time to go home to Dorset and write a novel called The Lemon Tree Hotel.

*The Lemon Tree Hotel by Rosanna Ley is published by Quercus and available for £7.99 at all good bookshops.