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I’ve decided to switch things up a bit around here. Along with travel, I’m going to be doing more book posts. Don’t worry, the focus and priority will still be travel and the outdoors, but I love reading just as much and want to share that too, so expect some book posts interspersed in the future. For my first book post, I want to share some of the best books set in Italy that you definitely need to read if you’re going there. Or if you need a little inspiration to start planning a trip.
This list is run by Frances Mayes and Marlena de Blasi, and for good reason. They have both lived all over Italy for years and know it very well. These books set in Italy will take you on an unforgettable journey without even leaving home. And hey, maybe you’ll find yourself buying a plane ticket. All of the book titles are links directly to the book on Amazon if you want to read more.
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Lin’s mother is dying and all she wants is for Lina to get to know her father. In Italy. But Lina is only sixteen and she really doesn’t want to go. However, she goes and is given a journal her mother wrote when she lived in Italy. Lina meets her charming neighbor, Ren, and they follow her mother’s footsteps around Tuscany and Florence uncovering more than she ever knew about her parents while learning about herself.
While this may not entirely be set in Italy, the story does start there in 1962 where a young Italian innkeeper spots a beautiful young actress that he later learns is dying. The story picks up today when the innkeeper shows up on a studio lot in Hollywood looking for his long lost love. We are brought into the tangled lives of assistants, army veterans, and even a novelist as we follow along.
Tembi met Sar, a professional chef, on the streets of Florence where they fell in love. Unfortunately, his traditional Sicilian family didn’t approve, but they forged on. They build a happy life, adopting a daughter, in Los Angeles and reconcile with his family before Saro faces a battle with cancer. This is the story of the three summers Tembi and her daughter Zoela spent in Saros tiny hometown, finding solace with his family.
An American chef and food writer married a Venetian banker rather quickly. Now they’re taking another leap of faith to live in a roughly renovated stable in Tuscany. Barlozzo, the village mago, takes them to local festivals, teaches them to gather chestnuts and search for truffles, and most importantly shows them how to enjoy the simple pleasures of every day.
Everyone knows the Elizabeth Gilbert classic. After a divorce, another failed romance, and crippling depression, she took a drastic step and decided to take a trip. Over the course of a year, she goes to Italy to experience pleasure, learning Italian and gaining the 23 happiest pounds of her life, India to experience devotion where she had four months of spiritual exploration, and finally Bali to find the balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.
Mezza Italiana: An Enchanting Story About Love, Family, La Dolce Vita and Finding Your Place in the World
Zoe Boccabella grew up in Brisbane, but never quite fit in. She couldn’t find a way to merge her Australian and Italian heritage until years later when she traveled to her family’s ancestral village, Fossa, and discovers it’s like right out of a fairytale. Sprinkled with stories and laced with love, she begins to enjoy and appreciate her heritage, the stories, the recipes, and the traditions.
Marlena de Blasi, the author of A Thousand Days in Tuscany and A Thousand Days in Venice, brings us to Orvieto in Umbria this time. She and her husband are searching for a house on a hill and find one that happened to be a ballroom of a dilapidated 16th-century palazzo. She cooks her way into the hearts of her new neighbors and we meet a colorful group of characters along the way.
While this one may not have you hopping on a plane, it’s still a great read if you’re looking for a book set in Italy. What first appears to be a drug overdose, is uncovered to be a murder in the Tuscan town of Scandicci. The further into the case they get, the more it appears to have sinister connections to Tuscany’s very foundation.
Once a month on a Thursday, a group of Italian women get together for dinner in a derelict stone house above Orvieto in Umbria. Along with their friend Marlena, they get together for delicious dinner and wine. They share stories about their lives growing up, loves lost, mafia grudges, and family recipes, everything good and bad.
Just off the southern coast of Italy is the island of Sicily, home to stunning coastlines, treasure troves of art and archaeology, and the mafia: La Cosa Nostra. Peter Robb, who lived in Sicily for 14 years offers a mix of crime, travel, and food writing in this book. He shares the mafia’s roots and it’s current place in Italian politics right alongside the origins of pasta and strength of Neapolitan espresso.
Frances Mayes summers in Tuscany and eventually decides to buy a house there. This is the story of her cooking a lot and restoring an abandoned villa. We follow along as she discovers hidden frescos and a bramble-covered vineyard. It has pretty mixed reviews on Good Reads, but it’s come to be a classic book set in Italy. I mean, it was made into a movie.
What starts as a dream for a retired New Jersey couple quickly turns into more of a nightmare. The Petralias live in two different Italian cities and share their experience navigating the Italian roads and the healthcare system, all while making friends, discovering art, food, and customs. Part memoir, part commentary, their adventures recapture their youth and rekindle their romance.
I’m not actually sure if this book is set in Italy, but it is about a regular Italian teenager, Pino Lella, from Milan that wants nothing to do with the war on Nazis. Until his family home is destroyed by Allied bombs, that is. He joins an underground railroad to help Jews escape over the Alps. His mother thinks enlisting as a German soldier will protect him, but after he is injured, he is recruited to be the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left-hand man in Italy. Now, he has the opportunity to spy for the Allies and is pushed on by his courage and hope for a life with Anna, the beautiful widow he fell for years ago.
Ellie Maddison is sent to Southern Italy on a business trip and is reminded why she loves her job. She meets the estate director of Villa Rosso, Max Johnson and instantly feels a connection, which was very unexpected. She soon finds herself entangled in the history of the place while trying to figure out the effect Max has on her. Her life will forever be changed by a simple work trip.
This is the story of Doerr and his family’s life in Rome, Italy. They visit piazzas, temples, and ancient cisterns, take their twins to the Pantheon in December to wait for snow, and attend the vigil of the dying Pope John Paul II. He and his family are embraced by everyone in their neighborhood, whose stories are almost as compelling as the city itself.
Paul Stewart is going to the idyllic Italian town of Montalcino to finish an already late book when things quickly turn worse upon landing. It turns out his rental car is missing and there is no other car available, but a stranger offers him an unexpected alternative: a bulldozer. He accepts and so begins a series of hilarious adventures through the Italian countryside.
Little always thought of herself as a Californian but after her father died, she finds half a letter, a symbol she can’t quite remember, and writer’s block and ends up in Italy, where she was born. With the help of the aunt who raised her, friends, and the country itself, she finds the answers she needs.
Michael and Jill were on vacation in Italy after sending their last child off to college when they found a small cottage in the Umbrian countryside. The 350-year-old home was surrounded by an olive grove and fruit trees of every kind, perched on the top of a hill. It was love at first sight and they purchased it without checking the water pressure or for signs of termites. They immersed themselves in their new Italian culture, learning the language and trying to understand the nuances of Italian culture.
On a flight to Italy, Lizzy Harper, whose husband stood her up on a long-planned anniversary trip, literally fell unto Ren Sawyer’s, a rock star with a secret he can no longer live with, lap. It was the last thing Lizzy imagined happening to anyone like her, but they discovered an undeniable pull between them. They spend their time exploring the streets of Florence and the hills of Tuscany, changed forever.
Like many other, Lisa Condie finds herself on a trip to Italy after her marriage and the following relationship disintegrated. he felt invigorated wandering the streets of Florence, admiring the famed architecture and spectacular galleries. She felt at peace in the rolling hills of Tuscany where she sought out wineries, olive groves, monasteries, and churches for answers and inspiration. Florence didn’t just heal her, it became her muse.
Martha met John when she overheard him talking about quitting his job and living in a box on a beach in Mexico. Two years later, they’re on their honeymoon in Mexico, but not in a box. They decided to move to Italy and this is the story of how they did that. We find out how they decided where to go and how they funded it. We follow along s they move to Rome and adapt to the city living as the Romans do.
Bella Tuscany brings us back to Frances Mayes villa in the Tuscan countryside. This time we get to experience primavera, an Italian spring. She returns to Bramasole just as the first green appears on the hillsides. now that she is more settled in Cortona, she is able to enjoy the food, art, and wine while getting to know her local friends more. We get new recipes from her Tuscan kitchen as explores the different regions of Italy.
Every Day in Tuscany is a continuation of her two-decade experience in the countryside. It’s almost like a combination journal and cookbook as she continues to get to know Tuscany, the food, and Italy altogether. It shares what it’s like in her day-to-day life in a Tuscan Villa.
First, it was a girl, then it was the food. James goes on a mission to find out why Italians are the way they are and he figured the best way to do this is to eat with them in their very own kitchens. He began to feel like family after picking their olives day after day and he began to see their unique human quality, what attracts people to Italy, and what keeps them coming back.
Floriana receives a wedding invitation to watch the one true love of her life get married at Lake Como and she definitely doesn’t want to go. She was distracted thinking about the invitation and gets in a car accident. Esme and Adam come to her aid and she finds the courage to attend the wedding. The lake revives memories of the first time Esme visited at 19 years old when she fell in love for the first time.
This is a work of fiction by Frances Mayes, featuring Kit Raine, an American writer living in Tuscany. She is writing a biography on her close friend when she meets three women that recently developed a spontaneous friendship. They rent a large house in Tuscany launching themselves into Italian life and pursuing their passions.
This is the beginning of Marlena de Blasi’s story in Venice. She is an American chef that only speaks food-based Italian. Fernando see her across the Piazza San Marco then again a year later in a cafe and knew it was fate. A few short months after meeting, she packs up her home in St. Louis and marries Fernando, “the stranger.” This is the story of their new life together in Venice.
The summer following her whirlwind of a love story in A Thousand Days in Venice, Marlena accepts a writing job to write about the interior regions of Sicily. She is accepted by the Sicilians with skepticism until she met Tosca. This is the story of Tosca and life in Donnafugata on Sicily.
Seeking Sicily explores the soul of the island, looking into the history, the mafia, the food, the archaeology, and the politics. We get to see a side of the island that isn’t populated by the tourists visiting.
In 1944, Hugo parachuted from a plane and landed, badly wounded, in a field in Tuscany. He finds refuge in a ruined monastery with Sofia Bartoli. Joanna goes on a trip to Tuscany after finding a startling unopened letter to Sofia when she returned to England to arrange her estranged father’s funeral.
Think House on Haunted Hill, but less murdery. Four very different people are named in a will and summoned to Villa Dante. Delia, George, Marjorie, and Lucius have all gone to great lengths to hide their troubles, but the villa with its magical frescos, gardens, and medieval tower slowly begins to change that.
Well, I hope these books set in Italy will inspire you to plan a visit someday or get you excited about an upcoming trip. I certainly know I’m dreaming of a trip just after writing this.
Have you read any of these? What is your favorite book set in Italy?