A great book is not only a perfect gift but also a means of travel. Whenever you cannot just pack your bags and hit the road (or air), allow yourself to drift away with one of these best books about Italy in hand.
Many of them are famous, but some you might just discover now for the first time.
Make your way together with these lovely characters on the streets of Rome, the canals and palazzos of Venice, in the charming countryside of Tuscany, or way South of Italy in undiscovered Puglia or striking Sicily. I’ve aimed to gather in one place some of the most beautiful books set in Italy.
Together with a virtual tour of Italy, a book will be everything you will want for a laid back afternoon or even weekend at home. And who says you cannot read while you travel? That’s my favorite thing to do especially while I fly or while on the train.
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Some of the books are available for free through Kindle Unlimited or as part of your Amazon Prime subscription (if you don’t have it, get a 30-day free trial). When you prefer listening to the audiobook version, some of them are available for free as part of an Audible trial. On top, right now you get 40% off the first 4 months of Audio Premium Plus, check the deal out here!
A few tips for reading while you travel
Sure, I absolutely love paperback books and I could spend hours and hours wandering through bookshelves in libraries. However, when you travel it could get difficult to carry around a book. Especially if the book is big or has more than one volume.
I love my library back home, but after moving all the way to Asia, I’ve started appreciating more online books.
Even though I still have a few books I carry with me, my favorite way of reading these days is on a Kindle. It is small enough not to be heavy, but I don’t have to worry that I won’t be able to see the characters (as it often happened on the phone).
If you would rather listen to a book – it might be easier and faster – make sure to check out the Audible membership plans. You get 30 days free trial and access to thousands of audiobooks, podcasts, and Audible originals.
However, if you prefer paperback books, make sure to check out BookDepository. I usually order my books in English (or even Italian) from them mainly because they have worldwide free delivery while offering a wide selection of titles. On top of that, they always have discounts and special offers.
Read also: The best Italy subscription boxes to order at home!
My list of the best books about Italy
My brilliant friend by Elena Ferrante
I’ve read many reviews about the 4 books in the My Brilliant Friend series, but I wasn’t influenced by any of them. I think it’s hard for people that haven’t lived in a “dark” society as Naples was (and maybe still is in certain places) to understand how real everything is.
Turning one page after the other, I really went back to the narrow streets of Naples, the shriveled buildings, the lack of optimism, poverty, and the lack of desire to change something.
I went back on the streets of Florence, on a beach south of Naples, in Ischia. All through the pages of Elena Ferrante’s books, and the stories of one long friendship. A difficult friendship, one that you cannot explain, and you probably shouldn’t even try.
I loved it and I hated it all at the same time. The characters made me angry, but I also understood them somehow. As always, I’ve loved the books more than I liked the HBO tv series. But you should make your judgment after reading the books to will spark wanderlust for sure.
“At that moment I knew what the plebs were, much more clearly than when, years earlier, she had asked me. The plebs were us. The plebs were that fight for food and wine, that quarrel over who should be served first and better, that dirty floor on which the waiters clattered back and forth, those increasingly vulgar toasts. The plebs were my mother, who had drunk wine and now was leaning against my father’s shoulder, while he, serious, laughed, his mouth gaping, at the sexual allusions of the metal dealer. They were all laughing, even Lila, with the expression of one who has a role and will play it to the utmost.”
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
A classic and I’ve written about it in the past. I’ve read it while I was in university and before I’ve traveled through all the places I’ve been to since then.
The book made me think it was possible to leave everything behind and just travel to find yourself. The Italy part, in particular, caught my attention and maybe was one of the reasons I applied for an Erasmus scholarship in Italy. It might have been the impulse I needed to make a change and that transformed my life forever.
“A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.
A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”
You still haven’t read it, this is when you should!
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
You might have already seen the movie that I keep watching over and over again, but as usual, the book is quite as nice.
Frances decides on a whim to buy a run-down house in Tuscany. While restoring the house she falls in love with the local vibe, the nearby hill towns, vibrant markets, and delightful people.
If you’ve been to Italy or dream to get there someday, this is one book you shouldn’t miss reading.
“Life offers you a thousand chances… all you have to do is take one.”
“Splendid to arrive alone in a foreign country and feel the assault of difference. Here they are all along, busy with living; they don’t talk or look like me. The rhythm of their day is entirely different; I am foreign. ”
The name of the rose by Umberto Eco
An incredible investigation novel you won’t let off your hand once you start reading it.
The year is 1327. Benedictines in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective.
His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon—all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.”
“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means…”
Call me by your name by André Aciman
A book turned into a very popular movie (especially with teenagers, as far as I could see).
Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera.
Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime.
For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.
“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!”
The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi
Every month on a Thursday evening, a group of four Italian rural women gathers in a derelict stone house in the hills above Italy’s Orvieto. There – along with their friend, Marlena – they cook, sit down to a beautiful supper, drink their beloved local wines, and talk.
Here, surrounded by candlelight, good food, and friendship, they tell their life stories of loves lost and found, of aging and abandonment, of mafia grudges and family feuds, and of ingredients and recipes whose secrets have been passed down through the generations. Around this table, these five friends share their food and all that life has offered them – the good and the bad.
A house in Sicily by Daphne Phelps
After reading the introduction of this book it sounded to me like something very similar to “Under a Tuscan sky”, just placed on the charming island of Sicily. I absolutely loved Taormina and traveling back through the lines of this book is amazing.
It begins in 1947 when, thirty-four years old and war-weary, a modest Englishwoman arrived in Taormina with little Italian, less money, and a plan to sell the property she had unexpectedly inherited. Instead, she fell in love, not just with the airy quarters of the golden stone house on a hillside but also with a community and its way of life.
To save Casa Cuseni from certain demolition, Daphne converted her enchanting inheritance into the wondrous pensione that for nearly half a century she has run with the blessing of every Taorminan from the local silk-shirted godfather, Don Ciccio, to Concetta Genio, her steadfast cook, housekeeper, and friend.
Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is go back home.
But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires her, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.
People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.
TIP: If you liked this one and you’re in love with Greece as well, add “Love & Olives” to your list – a love story in Santorini.
‘‘You know, people come to Italy for all sorts of reasons, but when they stay, it’s for the same two things.’’
‘‘Love and gelato.’’
A room with a view by E.M. Foster
A classic novel set in Florence that made me think about “Pride and Prejudice” somehow.
“A Room With a View” is the story of a young English middle-class girl, Lucy Honeychurch. While vacationing in Italy, Lucy meets and is wooed by two gentlemen, George Emerson and Cecil Vyse.
After turning down Cecil Vyse’s marriage proposals twice Lucy finally accepts. Upon hearing of the engagement George protests and confesses his true love for Lucy. Lucy is torn between the choice of marrying Cecil, who is a more socially acceptable mate, and George who she knows will bring her true happiness.
“A Room With a View” is a tale of classic human struggles such as the choice between social acceptance or true love.
“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”
The almond picker by Simonetta Agnello Hornby
The child of poor farmers, La Mennulara became a maid for a well-to-do local family when she was only a girl; by dint of hard work and intelligence, she became the indispensable administrator of the family’s affairs. Still, she was a mere servant, and now (as this story begins) she is dead.
As the details unfold about this mysterious woman, The Almond Picker assumes the witty suspense of a thriller, the emotional power of a love story, and the evocative atmosphere of a historical novel. Set in Sicily in the 1960s, a violent, complicated society in the midst of tumultuous change, The Almond Picker is the story of a woman who negotiated for her freedom as no one else dared.
That summer in Sicily: a love story by Marlena de Blasi
“At villa Donnafugata, long ago is never very far away,” writes bestselling author Marlena de Blasi of the magnificent if somewhat ruined castle in the mountains of Sicily that she finds, accidentally, one summer while traveling with her husband, Fernando. There de Blasi is befriended by Tosca, the patroness of the villa, an elegant and beautiful woman-of-a-certain-age who recounts her lifelong love story with the last prince of Sicily descended from the French nobles of Anjou.
“Some people are born empty. All manner of good deeds and patience and loving kindness can’t even begin to fill them up.”
The Italian Party by Christina Lynch
A delicious and sharply funny page-turner about “innocent” Americans abroad in 1950s Siena, Italy. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of Italy, America, and each other.
“American tourists come here and they see only the happy, beautiful Italy they want to see, and that the Italians want them to see. The party. They don’t see the scars. The ongoing struggles. Why would they? They don’t see them at home, either.”
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
Written by the author of “Crazy Rich Asians” this book has not very great reviews, however, I think it could be a nice read on a lazy day, and maybe on the beach or by the pool.
On her very first morning on the jewel-like island of Capri, Lucie Churchill sets eyes on George Zao and she instantly can’t stand him.
She can’t stand it when he gallantly offers to trade hotel rooms with her so that she can have the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, she can’t stand that he knows more about Curzio Malaparte than she does, and she really can’t stand it when he kisses her in the darkness of the ancient ruins of a Roman villa and they are caught by her snobbish, disapproving cousin, Charlotte.
Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb
Off the southern coast of Italy lies Sicily, home to an ancient culture that–with its stark landscapes, glorious coastlines, and extraordinary treasure troves of art and archaeology–has seduced travelers for centuries.
But at the heart of the island’s rare beauty is a network of violence and corruption that reaches into every corner of Sicilian life: “La Cosa Nostra,” the Mafia.
In an intoxicating mix of crime and travel writing, Peter Robb, a writer who lived in Southern Italy for fourteen years, sets out to understand both the historical roots of the Mafia and its central place in contemporary Italian politics.
And whether he’s touting the gustatory pleasures of Sicilian ice cream, unveiling the Arabic origins of pasta, or unraveling the criminal history of a bandit, Robb seductively brings Sicilian culture to life.
An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser
When Laura Fraser’s husband leaves her for his high school sweetheart, she takes off, on impulse, for Italy, hoping to leave some of her sadness behind. There, on the island of Ischia, she meets M., an aesthetics professor from Paris with an oversized love of life.
What they both assume will be a casual vacation tryst turns into a passionate, transatlantic love affair, as they rendezvous in London, Marrakech, Milan, the Aeolian Islands, and San Francisco.
Each encounter is a delirious immersion into place (sumptuous food and wine, dazzling scenery, lush gardens, and vibrant streetscapes) and into each other.
And with each experience, Laura brings home not only a lasting sense of pleasure but a more fully recovered sense of her emotional and sexual self.
“You can’t regret a whole period in your life. . . . It’s part of who you are, one of your stories.”
Beautiful ruins by Jess Walter
The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.
And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.
“Sometimes what we want to do and what we must do are not the same. Pasquo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.”
Santa Lucia by Michelle Damiani
Surrounded by glimmering olive groves and embellished with flower-lined alleys, it would be easy to believe that Santa Lucia is as idyllic as it appears. After all, what drama could possibly unfold in such a picturesque village?
As it happens, Santa Lucia is rife with secrets that are swapped over espresso at the local bar.
Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks
In this deliciously seductive account of an Italian neighborhood with a statue of the Virgin at one end of the street, a derelict bottle factory at the other, and a wealth of exotic flora and fauna in between, acclaimed novelist Tim Parks celebrates ten years of living with his wife, Rita, in Verona, Italy.
Via Colombre, the main street in a village just outside Verona, offers an exemplary hodgepodge of all that is new and old in the bel paese, a point of collision between invading suburbia and diehard peasant tradition in a sometimes madcap, sometimes romantic always mixed-up world of creeping vines, stuccoed walls, shotguns, security cameras, hypochondria, and expensive sports cars.
Extra virgin by Annie Hawes
A small stone house deep among the olive groves of Liguria, going for the price of a dodgy second-hand car. Annie Hawes and her sister, on the spot by chance, have no plans whatsoever to move to the Italian Riviera but find naturally that it’s an offer they can’t refuse.
The laugh is on the Foreign Females who discover that here amongst the hardcore olive farming folk their incompetence is positively alarming. Not to worry: the thrifty villagers of Diano San Pietro are on the case, and soon plying the Pallid Sisters with advice, ridicule, tall tales, and copious hillside refreshments.
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
The City of Falling Angels is Berendt’s first book since Midnight, and it immediately reminds one what all the fuss was about.
Turning to the magic, mystery, and decadence of Venice, Berendt gradually reveals the truth behind a sensational fire that in 1996 destroyed the historic Fenice opera house.
Encountering a rich cast of characters, Berendt tells a tale full of atmosphere and surprise as the stories build, one after the other, ultimately coming together to portray a world as finely drawn as a still-life painting.
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
From the award-winning author of The Shell Collector and About Grace comes an evocative memoir of the timeless beauty of Rome and the day-to-day wonderment of living, writing, and raising twin boys in a foreign city.
Roma sub rosa (Roman blood) by Steven Saylor
A thrilling puzzle from the ancient world with real historical characters and based on a case in Cicero’s Orations – Roman Blood is a perfect blend of mystery and history by a brilliant storyteller.
On an unseasonably warm spring morning in 80BC, Gordianus the Finder is summoned to the house of Cicero, a young advocate and orator preparing his first important case. His client is Umbrian landowner, Sextus Roscius, accused of the unforgivable: the murder of his own father.
Gordianus agrees to investigate the crime – in a society fire with deceit, betrayal, and conspiracy, where neither citizen nor slave can be trusted to speak the truth. But even Gordianus is not prepared for the spectacularly dangerous fireworks that attend the resolution of this ugly, delicate case.
Masters of Rome by Colleen McCullough
When the world cowered before the legions of Rome, two extraordinary men dreamed of personal glory: the military genius and wealthy rural "upstart" Marius, and Sulla, penniless and debauched but of aristocratic birth. Men of exceptional vision, courage, cunning, and ruthless ambition, separately they faced the insurmountable opposition of powerful, vindictive foes.
Yet allied they could answer the treachery of rivals, lovers, enemy generals, and senatorial vipers with intricate and merciless machinations of their own — to achieve in the end a bloody and splendid foretold destiny … and win the most coveted honor the Republic could bestow.
One summer day in Rome by Mark Lamprell
Alice, an art student in New York City, has come to Rome in search of adventure and inspiration before settling down with her steady, safe fiancé.
Meg and Alec, busy parents and successful business people from LA, are on a mission to find the holy grail, a certain blue tile that will make their home renovation complete—but soon it becomes clear that their marriage needs a makeover as well.
Connie and Lizzie are women of a certain age—“Sometimes I look at my laughter lines and wonder what on earth could have been that funny”—who come from London to scatter the ashes of their beloved husband and brother. Both women are seemingly done with romance, but Rome has other ideas.
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