Italy is home to some of the most gorgeous places in the world but if you can’t visit then the next best thing is a little armchair travel with some of the best books set in Italy. Whether you’re planning a trip or just want a dreamy literary escape, these 50 books set in beautiful Italy will have you living la dolce vita without leaving home!
This list is made up almost entirely of books that I have read over the years although there are a few that I have in my TBR stack. I’ve included my favourites in historical fiction, romance, contemporary fiction, mysteries and thrillers, non-fiction, classics and children’s books and I’ll add to the list as I read more books set in Italy that I enjoy.
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Historical Fiction Set in Italy
Italy is a country rich in history so it’s no surprise that there is an abundance of historical novels set in Italy to choose from.
1. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
My Brilliant Friend is the first in Elena Ferrante’s four volume series known as The Neapolitan Novels about two friends, Elena and Lila, beginning in the 1950s in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. This first novel introduces the two girls when they meet as 10 year-olds and follows them through their school days and adolescence. The series spans almost 60 years of friendship between these two memorable characters as they become wives and mothers.
First published in 2011, I didn’t pick up My Brilliant Friend until a couple of years after the peak of its popularity but enjoyed it when I finally did. It’s a beautifully written book and I appreciated the glimpse into life in Naples in the 1950s. I haven’t finished the rest of the series but those books are on my TBR list.
2. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
Setting: The Italian Riviera (Portofino)
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim takes place in the 1920s shortly after World War I and is the story of four English women who don’t have much in common but the fact that they are each dissatisfied with their lives for different reasons. The four women escape springtime in dreary London for a month-long holiday at a small medieval castle on the Mediterranean in Portofino, Italy and are transformed by the experience.
First published in 1922, The Enchanted April is a delightful story of female friendship, women re-discovering themselves and the transformative power of travel. Adapted for both stage and screen with an Oscar-nominated film in 1991 and a Tony-nominated play in 2003, it’s impossible to read or watch The Enchanted April and not be inspired to book a trip to the Italian Riviera!
3. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Setting: Coastal Italy along the Cinque Terre
Partially set in Italy, Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 and resurfaces 50 years later in Hollywood. This critically acclaimed novel has been sitting on my TBR shelf literally for years but I plan to read it this winter so I can dream about visiting a village on the Italian coast!
4. The Temptation of Gracie by Santa Montefiore
Gracie Burton is a grandmother living a quiet, unassuming life in Devon, England until she sees an advertisement for a weeklong cookery course in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. Gracie spends her life savings to book the course for herself, her high-powered, businesswoman daughter and her granddaughter who have no idea what has possessed Gracie. Over the course of the week, the three grow closer as Gracie slowly reveals the secrets of her past and what has drawn her to Tuscany.
This was the first novel that I read by bestselling author, Santa Montefiore, and I have read several of her historical novels since as I enjoy her style of contemporary romance set in beautiful destinations. The theme of this novel is that you should never give up on your dreams no matter how long you hold onto them. I enjoyed reading about Gracie and the dreams that prompted her to visit the Tuscan countryside (a destination that I have always wanted to visit!).
5. Stars in an Italian Sky by Jill Santopolo
Setting: Genoa (and also New York)
Stars in an Italian Sky is a dual timeline story set in Genoa, Italy in 1946 and New York City in 2017. In post-war Genoa, Vincenzo and Giovanna fall in love despite their different backgrounds – he’s the son of a count and she’s the daughter of a tailor – in the months leading up to a referendum on whether Italy should retain its monarchy or become a republic.
In New York City in 2017, Cass and Luca are also deeply in love even though neither really fits in with the other’s family. When Luca asks his grandfather and Cass’s grandmother who have never met to pose for a painting, a long-held family secret comes to light.
This is a light historical romance – it’s a quick read, a bit predictable with an emotional ending yet enjoyable. I enjoyed learning a bit about what it was like in post-war Italy as so much historical fiction focuses on the war years and not the aftermath.
6. Hotel Portofino by J.P. O’Connell
An enjoyable, character-driven historical drama set at a small luxury hotel owned by a British family in the glamorous Italian Riviera of the 1920’s. Drama, romance and intrigue set against a backdrop of the rise of fascism in Mussolini’s Italy with an extensive cast of characters including the family, staff, guests of the hotel and various residents of Portofino including a corrupt local politician.
There’s also now a visually stunning television series (two seasons) based on the book that can be watched on PBS, Prime Video or Apple TV in the U.S. – but read the book first!!
7. The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani
Setting: Viareggio (and also Marseille, Scotland, Liverpool)
A beautiful multigenerational story about family set primarily in Viareggio, Italy but also in Marseille, France and in Scotland. A dual timeline narrative, in the present day Matelda who is in her ’80s and nearing the end of her life remembers her mother, Domenica Cabrelli, and shares those family stories with her granddaughter.
The timeline in the past begins in 1920 when Domenica is a young girl and continues with her career as a nurse involving moves to Marseille and Scotland, her marriage to a Scottish sailor and her return to Viareggio.
The Good Left Undone is a moving story of the women from one Italian family and the happiness, love, heartbreak and grief they experience. The novel is also enlightening with respect to some of the World War II events in Marseille and especially in Scotland as I wasn’t aware of the treatment of Italian immigrants there or of the tragedy of the Arandora Star.
8. The House by the Sea by Santa Montefiore
Setting: Tuscany (and also England’s Devon coast)
Abandoned by her mother, 10 year-old Floriana seeks solace in the beauty of the magnificent villa that overlooks the sea outside her village. When the owner’s son, Dante, catches her spying over the wall, he invites Floriana into the garden and the two develop a fast friendship that blossoms into romance over time.
Decades later, Marina is the owner of an old country house on England’s Devon coast that has fallen on hard times. In an attempt to bring new business, she hires an artist to stay for the summer and teach the hotel’s guests to paint. Over the course of the summer, the artist’s presence brings to light secrets that had been long buried in the past.
This is another historical fiction novel by international bestselling author Santa Montefiore that I enjoyed. The House by the Sea is a moving tale of love and forgiveness that spans four decades and which is partially set in the beautiful Italian countryside of Tuscany as well as the Devon coast of England – two destinations that I would love to visit!
9. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Setting: An abandoned villa near Florence
At the end of World War II, four damaged people are living at an Italian villa – a nurse, a maimed thief, an Indian sapper/bomb expert from the British army and, in an upstairs room, the English patient who the nurse has refused to abandon. The nameless man who is presumed to be English had been badly burnt in a plane crash in Northern Africa and brought to this villa. The story unfolds through the English patient’s memories and weaves back and forth through time as they are revealed.
Published to critical acclaim in 1992, The English Patient won the Golden Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in Canada and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. The book is heartbreaking, haunting, and beautiful and Michael Ondaatje’s prose is poetic but not for the reader who wants a straightforward, linear plot.
10. The Last Masterpiece by Laura Morelli
Setting: Various locations in WWII Italy
In the summer of 1943, two women – a German photographer and an American stenographer – race across Nazi-occupied Italy on the hunt for priceless masterpieces looted from art collections. Neither women ever imagined they would hold the fate of some of the world’s greatest masterpieces in her hands as Hitler’s plan to destroy irreplaceable monuments and works of art becomes frighteningly clear.
Inspired by the true story of the Monuments Women and the Fifth Army WACs, The Last Masterpiece takes readers on a heart-pumping adventure across war-torn Italy. I have this book on hold at my local library and am looking forward to reading historical fiction that focuses on events that took place in Italy during World War II.
11. Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
Setting: Italian countryside near Venice
In the autumn of 1943, Nazis are occupying Italy and imprisonment or deportation are a very real danger for Italian Jews. Amidst this danger, one young Jewish woman leaves her parents in Venice to hide in the countryside by posing as the wife of a Christian farmer who had been studying for the priesthood but was forced to leave the seminary to take over the operation of his parents’ farm. As the two of them try to convince the neighbours and the local Nazi official that their love is real, their feelings deepen to become more than a charade but the danger remains.
Our Darkest Night, by USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson, is an unforgettable novel inspired by true events that vividly evokes the most perilous days of World War II in Italy.
12. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
In Florence in the 1550s, Lucrezia de Medici is the third daughter of the grand duke and free to devote herself to artistic pursuits until her elder sister dies on the eve of her wedding to the ruler of Ferrara, Modeno and Reggio. The duke quickly asks for Lucrezia’s hand in marriage and her father accepts on her behalf. Lucrezia now must enter an unfamiliar court where her one duty is to provide an heir to secure the future of the dynasty and until then her future hangs in the balance.
The Marriage Portrait, published in 2022, was a Women’s Prize for Fiction finalist, a Reese’s Book Club pick and a New York Times bestseller. I received a copy of it for Christmas so it’s on my TBR list for this winter and I’m really looking forward to it as I know very little about Renaissance Italy.
13. The Curse of Pietro Houdini by Derek B. Miller
Setting: Rome and Monte Cassino
From the Dagger Award-winning author of Norwegian by Night, a thrilling World War II coming of age/art-heist adventure involving a teenage orphan. In August 1943, fourteen-year-old Massimo flees Rome after surviving the American bombing raid that killed his parents only to be attacked by thugs at the base of the Montecassino. Massimo is rescued by a charismatic man named Pietro Houdini who brings him up the mountain to assist in preserving the treasures that lay within the monastery walls.
When it becomes evident that Montecassino will become the front line in the war, Massimo and Pietro Houdini make a plan to smuggle three priceless paintings down the mountain to safety with the help of a nurse, a cafe owner, a wounded German soldier and a pair of lovers along with their wounded mule.
Romance Set in Italy
Bella Italy – the ideal place to set a romance!
14. Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella
Setting: Italian coast (and London)
After a recent breakup and a dating app debacle, Ava decides to escape London to a remote writer’s retreat in coastal Italy even though it means leaving behind her close-knit group of friends and her precious dog, Harold. After the cancellation of a martial arts retreat, the attendees join the small writing community where nobody is allowed to share their real names or any personal information. Ava, aka “Aria”, meets “Dutch” (real name Matt) and the two embark on a whirlwind affair as they enjoy the beauty of the Mediterranean.
Returning to London at the end of the retreat, Ava and Matt discover just how different their personal worlds are and aren’t sure that they are compatible in anything. While they love each other, it doesn’t seem possible for them to love each other’s lives.
This Sophie Kinsella novel takes place in both Italy and London but I decided to include it because I loved the Italian part of the book so much!
15. Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
The first in the Love & series, Love & Gelato is a sweet YA novel about Lina, a teenage girl who is sent to Italy for the summer to live with the father that she has never met because it was her mother’s dying wish. I read this book because my teenage daughter had just raced through it and couldn’t stop talking about how good it was. Now we both want to plan a trip to Florence!! Loved the line about people visiting Italy for lots of reasons but when they stay it’s for two things – love and gelato!
16. Ciao For Now by Kate Bromley
A cute, lighthearted rom-com set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! Violet is a 29 year-old design student from New York City, deeply in debt and plagued by self-doubt, who has landed a coveted internship in Rome that will have her competing with two classmates for a job at a New York fashion label.
Shortly after arriving in Rome, Violet falls in a cafe spilling coffee everywhere and breaking a man’s laptop. Although she tries to make things right, he’s not impressed with her profuse apologies and she later discovers that he is her professor’s son, Matt, who will be living in the same house with her for the summer. Violet needs to win this competition to launch her fashion career but sparks fly as she spends more time with Matt and the distraction might cost her the prize.
Fun banter and chemistry, fabulous setting (Rome and a weekend trip to Capri), and interesting secondary characters (especially her friend and fellow student Marco) – Ciao For Now is a fun read that will be perfect for the beach bag this summer!
Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin Trade Publishing for sending a digital ARC of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
17. The Rome Affair by Karen Swan
Francesca (Cesca) Hackett has left London behind and is living la dolce vita while leading tourist groups around Rome. When she returns a stolen designer handbag found in her dustbin, she meets famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola who is her neighbour across the piazza.
The two women are intrigued by each other and agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. Cesca is enthralled by the sensational stories that Elena tells but when a priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena’s life.
I haven’t read this one yet but I love Karen Swan’s books! I discovered her a few years ago and have been reading the two new books she publishes each year plus slowly making my way through her backlist. This one set in Rome sounds intriguing!
18. Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas
Setting: Southern Italy
Lucia, a hardworking lawyer in Wales taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, is shocked to discover that her grandfather is planning to retire and needs to sell the family’s beloved pizzeria. Even worse – her not-quite-ex-husband, Giacomo, wants to take it over! Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life and consider whether this is an opportunity to follow her dreams and carry on the family tradition.
A feel-good story about making your dreams come true set in sun-kissed southern Italy. I have read and enjoyed a few books by Jo Thomas and this one sounds like a delicious Italian escape!
19. Italy Ever After by Leonie Mack
Setting: Lake Garda
TV journalist Lou is feeling battered and bruised after her divorce so jumps at the opportunity to accompany her daughter, Edie, on a month long summer camp in Italy hoping to regain her confidence and sense of fun. Nick, Edie’s music teacher, loves being home in Italy but it’s bringing back difficult memories so his blossoming friendship with Lou is a welcome distraction. As the summer passes, Lou and Nick get closer but will their summer romance last or will they leave the memories behind in the Italian sun?
Italy Ever After has great reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads and sounds like the perfect escape to beautiful Italy so I’ve added it to my TBR list!
Contemporary Fiction Set in Italy
A few contemporary novels set in Italy – some have a bit of romance but not the main plot point so listed here rather than romance but could be either.
20. Our Italian Summer by Jennifer Probst
Setting: Tour of Italy
I read this early in 2021 when we were still mostly spending time at home and this story about three generations of Ferrari women spending four weeks exploring Italy was exactly the escape that I needed! There’s a bit of romance but mostly it’s about the relationship between the three women and how it changes over the course of their travels.
Sophia convinces her career-obsessed daughter, Francesca, and her granddaughter, Allegra, to join her on this epic adventure because she wants them to heal their relationship and realize the importance of family. The narrative switches between the three of them in alternate chapters which I quite enjoyed.
Our Italian Summer is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to satisfy their wanderlust by reading about beautiful places. Over the course of their four weeks in Italy, Sophia, Francesca and Allegra spend three weeks on a small group tour visiting places like Rome, Capri, Naples, Venice, Florence and Pompeii before renting a villa in Tuscany for their final week. Reading about the places they travelled had me reminiscing about the ones that I have already visited and longing to see the ones that are on my travel wish list!
21. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle
Setting: Amalfi Coast
Katy Silver is a 30 year-old woman devastated by her mother’s recent death who decides to travel alone to Positano, Italy on the trip they were supposed to take together. While there Katy magically runs into and befriends the younger version of her mother who had spent time in Positano thirty years earlier and in doing so she comes to terms with her grief and develops a better understanding of who her mother actually was.
A perfectly enjoyable story about the powerful bond between a mother and daughter but what I liked most was the sense of place. I felt like I was in beautiful Positano and can’t wait for the opportunity to plan a visit to the Amalfi Coast myself!
22. When in Rome by Liam Callanan
Claire, a 52 year-old single mom and real-estate agent who specializes in churches, finds herself at her 30 year college reunion considering the question “what’s next?” and not knowing the answer. An opportunity arises for her to help a struggling convent in Rome and Claire travels there for a consultation.
Claire had come close to joining a convent as a teenager and, once in Rome, finds herself drawn to the 3 remaining nuns and the beautiful, historic city. She starts to consider taking vows and joining the convent but neither her best friend nor her daughter understand her reasoning and the appearance in Rome of her close friend, Marcus, complicates her thought process as it opens the door to the possibility of a middle-age love as well.
This is a character driven novel about starting over in mid-life with Claire taking several months living in Rome, trying to save the convent and enjoying marathon-training runs around the city while going back and forth on whether she wants to take vows. It’s a look at faith and at all forms of love – romantic, familial and between friends – enjoyable and beautifully written.
23. The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti by Jennifer Probst
A lovely story about three sisters who travel to Italy’s Amalfi Coast to figure out who their mother really was. Priscilla, Devon and Bailey have been somewhat estranged in recent years but they decide to travel to Italy together after their mother’s death when they discover love letters she has saved along with the deed for a house in Positano.
The narrative alternates point-of-view between the three sisters in the present and their mother Olivia who tells the story of her summers in Positano and the great love of her life. The time in Positano helps the three women to feel closer to their mother, reinforces the bonds of sisterly love, and prompts each to consider what steps they need to take to feel happier in their lives.
A warmhearted read about love, loss, and families with a captivating setting!
24. The Little Venice Bookshop by Rebecca Raisin
Luna and her mother lived a nomadic life until her mother decided 10 years earlier to settle in a tiny home in Montana in a community of like-minded women. Luna continued to travel the world on her own and is in Thailand with a friend when she gets a phone call telling her that her mother has died. While going through her mother’s things in Missoula, Luna discovers a packet of love letters from a man who owns a bookshop on the canal in Venice and decides to travel there in search of answers.
This is a quick read and mostly a light bit of escapism but there are some serious themes as well involving Luna’s grief over her mother’s death and her search for a sense of belonging whether it be through her father or through found family. Loved that the book takes place in Venice (a city I have always wanted to visit) plus the bookshop and the cats – a charming setting!! I have read several of Rebecca Raisin’s books and know when I pick one up that it will be an enjoyable read!!
Thank you to NetGalley and HQ for sending a digital ARC of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
25. The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka
Setting: San Benedetto, Italian Riviera
Set in a seaside village on the Italian Riviera, The Sun and Other Stars tells the story of a widowed butcher and his son whose losses are transformed into love. Twenty-two year-old Etto is adrift after losing both his mother and his twin brother within the past year and has become estranged from his soccer-obsessed father. But then a Ukranian soccer star taking refuge from an international scandal arrives in San Benedetto with his sister. Under their influence, Etto begins to repair the relationship with his father and slowly open himself back up to the world.
Described as a beautiful story of families, community and transforming loss into hope. This is the second novel from Brigid Pasulka who won the PEN/Hemingway Award in 2010 for her debut, A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True.
26. The Little Italian Hotel by Phaedra Patrick
Setting: Village near Bologna, Florence, Venice
An enjoyable read that will transport you to Italy! Ginny, a radio host/advice expert/problem solver, has planned a three week trip to Italy to surprise her husband for their upcoming 25th anniversary but when she tells him he asks for a divorce. Heartbroken Ginny announces the marital split on air inviting four heartbroken listeners to travel to Italy with her for a vacation of healing and these five complete strangers arrive at Splendido – a small hotel in a village near Bologna run by Nico who is living with his own heartbreak.
This eclectic group who vary in ages and backgrounds comes together to help each other heal while planning activities, enjoying Italian food, walking in the hills near the village and taking day trips to Florence and Venice. Over the course of three weeks at the little Italian hotel, Ginny helps the others deal with their heartbreak and puts herself on a path to living the life that will truly make her happy. A pleasant, uplifting summer read and I loved the armchair travel!
Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin Trade Publishing for sending a digital ARC of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
27. The Sicilian Inheritance by Jo Piazza
Publication Date: April 2, 2024
This book won’t be published until April but I have included it because I read an advance reader copy and loved it! This one is a mix of contemporary/historical/mystery – a great suspenseful read!
Sara Marsala’s life is a mess – her restaurant failed, she’s going through a divorce, her husband is trying to get full custody of their 4 year-old daughter and now her great-aunt Rosie has died. Rosie has, however, left Sara the deed to a possibly valuable property in Sicily that the family knew nothing about as well as a plane ticket.
Rosie made all of the arrangements for Sara to travel to her family’s village in Sicily to make inquiries about selling the property and also to try and find out what actually happened to Rosie’s mother, Serafina Forte Marsala. The family has always believed that Serafina died from an illness before she was to join the family in America in 1925 but there’s a possibility that she was murdered. Sara arrives in Sicily and soon realizes that there are people who want her to go home without selling the property and her life might be in danger if she stays.
The story is told in a dual timeline – Sara in the present day and Serafina in the past (1908-1925) beginning when she’s 15 until her death at 32. Serafina was an ambitious and headstrong young woman who hoped to leave the village for further education but she discovers she’s pregnant at 15 and has no choice but to marry Gio. Gio emigrates to America to work and Sara stays behind to care for their children and eventually begins working as a healer in the village.
The Sicilian Inheritance is a gripping historical mystery inspired by the author’s own family history. The two timelines in this novel are equally suspenseful and twisty as both women are in danger in this small Sicilian village. The historical aspect of Serafina’s story is also quite interesting as it touches on life in Sicily early in the 20th century with a tumultuous political situation resulting from the unification that made Sicily part of Italy, the control that the Cosa Nostra (mafia) had in the villages at the time, and the economic reality that sent a large percentage of working age men abroad leaving behind women who took on work outside the home to keep the keep villages functioning.
Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group Dutton for sending a digital ARC of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
28. My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith
Paul Stuart is a renowned food writer who finds himself at loose ends after his longtime girlfriend leaves him for her personal trainer so his editor encourages him to finish his latest cookbook on-site in Tuscany, hoping that a change of scenery will cure both heartache and writer’s block. Paul arrives to discover that there has been a problem with his rental car reservation and the only option is to use a bulldozer to travel the Tuscan countryside.
I have added this to my TBR because I love Alexander McCall Smith’s books having read most of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana and many of the Sunday Philosophy Club and 44 Scotland Street series which are both set in Edinburgh. I’m looking forward to learning what he does with Tuscany!
29. The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon
Setting: Small Italian village
The self-appointed mayor of a small village in Italy needs to come up with 70,000 Euros to fix the town’s pipes or the water commission will shut off the water so in a desperate bid to increase tourism – and revenue – he spreads a rumour that a movie star will be filming his next project nearby. Unfortunately, the plan works a little too well and soon everyone wants to be a part of the fictional film and the only way to keep up the ruse is to make the movie for real.
This sounds like a charming story that doesn’t take itself too seriously – small town hijinks in Italy!
30. Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri
A short story collection by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri, that was named a Best Book of the Year in 2023 by both NPR and The New Yorker. This set of nine stories about Rome were written in Italian and translated to English by the author and by Knopf editor Todd Portnowitz.
31. The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
Setting: Venice, Tuscany, Amalfi Coast
Not one second-born Fontana daughter has found true love and married since Filomena Fontana cursed her sister more than 200 years ago. In present day Brooklyn, Emilia and Lucy are Fontana cousins and second-born daughters who are surprised by an invitation from their Great-Aunt Poppy to accompany her on a trip to Italy. Poppy, also a second-born daughter, vows that she will break the family curse by meeting her true love on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral on her 80th birthday.
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany is an easy-to-read escape into a tale of family drama, long-held secrets, romance and hope wrapped up in a fabulous setting. The details of the travels of the three women to the canals of Venice, the Tuscan countryside and finally to Ravello on the Amalfi Coast had me dreaming of a trip to Italy!
32. Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
Setting: Capri and New York City
A lot of people were disappointed by this much-anticipated novel by the author of the best-selling Crazy Rich Asians trilogy but I enjoyed it. Lucie’s story takes place in two parts – the first on the island of Capri while attending a friend’s wedding and the second several years later in New York City.
I particularly enjoyed reading about the places she visited in Capri and found myself googling them to look at photos and learn more about the island. This is a fun bit of escapism that I included on this list although only the first half is in Italy because the setting of Capri is just so incredible!
Mysteries and Thrillers Set in Italy
A few atmospheric mysteries and thrillers set in Italy.
33. The Villa by Rachel Hawkins
Setting: Orvieto, Italy
Two childhood best friends, Emily and Chess, spend the summer together at a villa in Orvieto, Italy that was the scene of a murder in the 1970s. The story is told in a dual timeline narrative alternating between Emily and Chess’s present day stay where they are both working on writing books and the 1974 sex/drugs/rock and roll summer at the villa that culminated in murder as well as the writing of a classic horror novel and a bestselling album.
I would describe The Villa as more drama/suspense than thriller. It’s an entertaining read although I didn’t love the ending – I thought I had it figured out and my ending would have been much more shocking! That would seem to be a “me” problem though because Rachel Hawkins’ fans loved it – regardless, the setting in Orvieto is sublime.
34. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Setting: Rome, Venice and other locations
Perhaps you have seen the movie starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, but The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is a psychological crime thriller worth reading as well. Originally published in 1955, this was actually the first of five novels that Highsmith wrote featuring the Tom Ripley character that is considered to be one of fiction’s great anti-heroes.
Tom Ripley is hired by a wealthy Manhattan businessman to travel on an all expenses paid trip to Italy and bring back his wayward son, Dickie Greenleaf. It doesn’t take long for Tom to become charmed by the lifestyle that playboy Dickie is living in beautiful European settings – a lifestyle that Tom Ripley thinks he deserves as well. Ripley wants to be Dickie Greenleaf and Highsmith takes the reader on a dark and violent journey into the mind of this sociopath who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
There’s a new Netflix 8 episode series adaptation called Ripley coming in 2024 – to watch after you read the book!
35. Murder in Chianti by Camilla Trinchieri
Setting: Tuscan wine country
Mourning the loss of his wife, former NYPD homicide detective Nico Doyle moves to her hometown of Gravigna in the region of Chianti. Early one morning, he hears a gunshot and a dog’s cries near his new home and walks out to discover a dead body in the woods. When the police arrive, Nico hastily adopts the fluffy white dog as his own and wants nothing more to do with the murder but local authorities discover Nico’s professional background and enlist him to help with the case.
Set in the heart of Tuscan wine country, Murder in Chianti is the first in Camilla Trinchieri’s Tuscan Mysteries series of books. The follow-up books are: The Bitter Taste of Murder, Murder on the Vine, and The Road to Murder (to be published March 5, 2024).
Classics Set in Italy
A few literature classics set in Italy.
36. A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
Setting: Florence, Italy and England
Visiting Florence with her prim and proper cousin Charlotte as a chaperone, Lucy Honeychurch meets the unconventional, lower-class Mr. Emerson and his son, George. Upon her return to England, Lucy becomes engaged to the supercilious Cecil Vyse, but she finds herself increasingly torn between the expectations of the world in which she moves and the passionate yearnings of her heart.
A love story and a social comedy – it has been many years since I first read A Room with a View and I also enjoyed the film starring Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and iconic British actors Maggie Smith and Judi Dench.
37. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Setting: Italian front in World War I
Farewell to Arms is the story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse set against the looming horrors of the battlefield – weary, demoralized men marching in the rain during the German attack on Caporetto and the profound struggle between loyalty and desertion.
Widely considered to be the best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is a semi-autobiographical work that captures the harsh realities of war and the pain of lovers caught up in it. This is a classic novel that has been on my list of books I should read for a very long time!
38. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The quintessential tragic tale of star-crossed lovers – Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight but their love is complicated by a family feud – Romeo is from the house of Montague and Juliet is a Capulet. “For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo”.
Is this classic Shakespearean tragedy the most famous work of literature set in Italy? Quite possibly! I have read the play a few times, seen it performed on stage several and have seen more than one film version – it is definitely the Shakespeare play that I know best!
I’m not a big reader of non-fiction but I have read a few about Italy that I have enjoyed!
39. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Frances Mayes, travel and food writer, inspired readers to explore the pleasures of Italian life with her story of buying and restoring an abandoned Tuscan villa. The bestselling memoir of self-discovery set against the Tuscan countryside which also inspired the movie starring Diane Lane is still popular more than 25 years later.
40. From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home by Tembi Locke
It was love at first sight when actress Tembi Locke met professional chef, Saro, on the streets of Florence but Saro’s traditional Sicilian family didn’t approve of him marrying a Black American woman. The couple were undeterred and built a happy life together in Los Angeles eventually adopting a daughter before Saro’s cancer diagnosis takes over their lives. In this memoir, Tembi chronicles three summers that she and her daughter spend in Sicily following Saro’s death finding solace and nourishment in the Sicilian countryside and with Saro’s mother.
This beautiful, heartbreaking yet uplifting memoir was both a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick and a New York Times bestseller and has been adapted as an 8 episode limited series starring Zoe Saldana on Netflix. I cried a lot of tears while reading From Scratch but loved every page.
41. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Setting: Italy (as well as India and Bali)
One of the bestselling books of our time, Eat, Pray, Love is Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir about “searching for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia”. In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want – husband, country home, successful career – but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion. This book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures.
I didn’t love this book as much as most people I know but that was because I adored the Italian part of her trip but didn’t care as much when she travelled to India and Indonesia – I guess the eating appealed more to me than praying and falling in love!
42. Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
Four Seasons in Rome by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See is a celebration of Rome, a look at new parenthood and a story about the process of writing. Doerr learned that he had won the prestigious Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters which included a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for a year on the day that he and his wife brought their newborn twins home from the hospital.
This memoir describes Doerr’s adventures with his young family in one of the most enchanting cities in the world. He reads Pliny, Dante, and Keats and visits the piazzas, temples, and ancient cisterns they describe. He attends the vigil of a dying Pope John Paul II and takes his twins to the Pantheon in December to wait for snow to fall through the oculus. He and his family are embraced by the butchers, grocers, and bakers of the neighborhood, whose stories and idiosyncratic child-rearing advice is as compelling as the city itself.
43. A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance is Marlena de Blasi’s story about travelling through Italy as a divorced American chef who speaks only food-based Italian and meeting and falling in love with Fernando. De Blasi had thought she was finished with romantic love but within a few months of their first meeting she quits her job, sells her house in St. Louis, kisses her two grown children goodbye and moves to Venice to marry “the stranger”.
It has been more than a decade since I read this enchanting memoir (originally published in 2002) and I have been meaning ever since to read the follow-up A Thousand Days in Tuscany (published in 2004) about the couple leaving Venice and moving to a barely renovated stable in a small village in Tuscany – it promises to be just as memorable.
44. Frances Mayes Always Italy by Frances Mayes and Ondine Cohane
This comprehensive guide is filled with insider tips from the two authors who both have spent years living in Tuscany and who travelled together to all 20 regions of Italy to conduct the research for Always Italy.
There are more than 400 pages packed with practical information about the best of Italy but what I loved most was the obvious passion that these two women have for Italy. It’s impossible to read this book and not want to follow in their footsteps and visit ALL of Italy!
Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
Children’s Books Set in Italy
Looking for books for children set in Italy? These are six of my favourites.
45. KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Rome, Italy by Shannon Jones
KeeKee is an adorable calico cat that travels the world in a hot air balloon having fabulous adventures along the way. While in Rome, KeeKee visits the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon the Trevi Fountain and other famous sites in the city. She also learns about gladiators, eats pizza on a piazza and practices a few words of Italian.
Thank you to the author for sending a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
46. This is Rome by Miroslav Sasek
Czech artist and illustrator, Miroslav Sasek, published the first picture book in his delightful This Is series in 1958. Many have been reissued in recent years and a new generation of children and parents can now enjoy the series of books about many of the world’s great cities and countries.
In This is Rome, Sasek navigates Rome’s busy, winding streets to visit such glorious historical landmarks as the statues of Michelangelo, Vatican City, the Pantheon, and the Fontana di Trevi-and to show us the eccentricities of modern Roman life, from its colorful trains, trams, and taxis to its chic espresso bars and pasta houses.
The classic series also includes This is Venice which presents indelible impressions of romantic, watery Venice, where under a brilliant blue sky Sasek the gondolier navigates the winding canals to visit such famous and glorious landmarks as the Palazzo Grassi, Piazza San Marco, Doges Palace, and the Accademia di Belle Arti.
47. Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer
Olivia, the pig with a big personality, goes on an Italian adventure in this picture book written and illustrated by Ian Falconer. Olivia takes her discerning eye for style to beautiful Venice on a family vacation that involves dodging pigeons in the Piazza San Marco, gorging on gelato, and barely staying afloat in a gondola.
48. Thea Stilton and the Venice Masquerade
Kids that like graphic novels and comic books will enjoy the Thea Stilton series narrated by Thea who is the younger sister of the title character in the best-selling Geronimo Stilton series of books for kids ages 6-12.
In The Venice Masquerade, the Thea Sisters are headed to Venice, Italy! They’ll be there for the Carnival, an annual festival that’s “famouse” for its elaborate masks. The mouselets love exploring the city’s bridges and canals, and seeing the beautiful costumes mice wear to Carnival celebrations. But a mysterious thief strikes while they are there! Can they catch and unmask him before the festival ends?
49. Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne
When Jack and Annie discover a mysterious tree house filled with books, they never dream that it will take them on exciting adventures around the world and throughout history! Jack and Annie have traveled to so many amazing places that it is easy to spark the interest of young readers with their adventures in this award-winning series.
In Vacation Under the Volcano, Jack and Annie are whisked back to the days of the Roman Empire. They arrive in Pompeii and soon discover that it is the very day the city will be destroyed. Now Jack and Annie must race against time to find an ancient library before it is buried in ash!
The Magic Tree House series also includes companion non-fiction Fact Tracker books providing facts behind the fiction with Jack and Annie – Ancient Rome and Pompeii is the Fact Tracker companion to Vacation Under the Volcano.
50. Bella & Harry: Let’s Visit Rome by Lisa Manzione
The Adventures of Bella & Harry is a picture book series that chronicles the escapades of a pup named Bella, her little brother Harry and their family, who travel the world exploring the sights and sounds of new, exciting cities. In addition to Rome, the series also includes Let’s Visit Florence and Let’s Visit Venice in Italy.
Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
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