Italy is the 5th most visited country by international tourists, has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world and is an incredible setting for literature. If you’re not already planning a trip, these books set in Italy are sure to inspire an Italian adventure (or diet at the very least!) 🍝
During my previous trips that took me through Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan and Pisa I read two books set in Italy; the heartwarming Under The Tuscan Sun followed by the heartbreaking Journey From Venice. Italian classics in this reading list include Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Forster’s A Room With A View while contemporary best-sellers include Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.
To help make order of these books set in Italy, titles are arranged by date of publication from oldest to newest. Some of the contemporary novels near the end are next on my to-read list; including Beautiful Ruins (one of those book covers I keep seeing prominently displayed in every bookstore I visit) and The Solitude of Prime Numbers.
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Books Set In Italy
Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare, 1597
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare creates a world of violence and generational conflict in which two young people fall in love and die because of that love. The story is rather extraordinary in that the normal problems faced by young lovers are here so very large. It is not simply that the families of Romeo and Juliet disapprove of the lover’s affection for each other; rather, the Montagues and the Capulets are on opposite sides in a blood feud and are trying to kill each other on the streets of Verona.
A Room with a View
by E.M. Forster, 1908
Lucy has her rigid, middle-class life mapped out for her until she visits Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte, and finds her neatly ordered existence thrown off balance. Her eyes are opened by the unconventional characters she meets at the Pension Bertolini: flamboyant romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the Cockney Signora, curious Mr Emerson and, most of all, his passionate son George.
The Enchanted April
by Elizabeth von Arnim, 1922
A recipe for happiness: four women, one medieval Italian castle, plenty of wisteria, and solitude as needed. The women at the center of The Enchanted April are alike only in their dissatisfaction with their everyday lives. They find each other—and the castle of their dreams—through a classified ad in a London newspaper one rainy February afternoon. The ladies expect a pleasant holiday, but they don’t anticipate that the month they spend in Portofino will reintroduce them to their true natures and reacquaint them with joy. Now, if the same transformation can be worked on their husbands and lovers, the enchantment will be complete.
The Magic Mountain
by Thomas Mann, 1924
In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, a community devoted exclusively to sickness, as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality. The Magic Mountain is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.
A Farewell to Arms
by Ernest Hemingway, 1929
In 1918 Ernest Hemingway went to war, to the war to end all wars. He volunteered for ambulance service in Italy, was wounded, and twice decorated. Out of his experiences came A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway’s description of war is unforgettable. He recreates the fear, the comradeship, the courage of his young American volunteer, and the men and women he meets in Italy with total conviction. But A Farewell to Arms is not only a novel of war. In it, Hemingway has also created a love story of immense drama and uncompromising passion.
Tender Is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1933
This one is technically set in France, but very close to the border!
Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s, Tender Is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick’s harrowing demise. A profound study of the romantic concept of character, Tender Is the Night is lyrical, expansive, and hauntingly evocative.
by Alberto Moravia, 1941
Thirteen-year-old Agostino is spending the summer at a Tuscan seaside resort with his beautiful widowed mother. When she takes up with a cocksure new companion, Agostino, feeling ignored and unloved, begins hanging around with a group of local young toughs. Though repelled by their squalor and brutality, and repeatedly humiliated for his weakness and ignorance when it comes to women and sex, the boy is increasingly, masochistically drawn to the gang and its rough games. He finds himself unable to make sense of his troubled feelings. Hoping to be full of manly calm, he is instead beset by guilty curiosity and an urgent desire to sever, at any cost, the thread of troubled sensuality that binds him to his mother.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
by Patricia Highsmith, 1955
Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante.
The Agony and the Ecstasy: The Biographical Novel of Michelangelo
by Irving Stone, 1958
Florence in the year 1475 was the intellectual & artistic center of the flowering Italian Renaissance. Into this gem-like city-state, ruled by the patron of arts & letters, Lorenzo de’ Medici, was born one of the greatest geniuses the world has produced–Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter, poet, architect & engineer. Few artists have matched the grandeur of his conceptions, or the power of his creations. To know his life is to know the history of Italy’s glory.
by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, 1958
Set in the 1860s, The Leopard tells the spellbinding story of a decadent, dying Sicilian aristocracy threatened by the approaching forces of democracy and revolution. The dramatic sweep and richness of observation, the seamless intertwining of public and private worlds, and the grasp of human frailty imbue The Leopard with its particular melancholy beauty and power, and place it among the greatest historical novels of our time.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
by Italo Calvino, 1979
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is a marvel of ingenuity, an experimental text that looks longingly back to the great age of narration–“when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded.” Italo Calvino’s novel is in one sense a comedy in which the two protagonists, the Reader and the Other Reader, ultimately end up married, having almost finished If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
The Name of the Rose
by Umberto Eco, 1980
The year is 1327. Franciscans 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.”
Italy for the Gourmet Traveler
by Fred Plotkin, 1996
Fred Plotkin takes us beyond the traditional tourist experience and lures us to special places, whether in big cities or out-of-the-way villages. Under his discerning eye, we learn about the food, wines, local bakeries, olive oil distilleries, cheeses, markets, restaurants, and best kept secrets of Italy’s culinary world. Lovingly drawn portraits of the people who make world-famous regional specialties, and local history make each village, town, and city come alive.
Under the Tuscan Sun
by Frances Mayes, 1996
Frances Mayes entered a wondrous new world when she began restoring an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. There were unexpected treasures at every turn: faded frescos beneath the whitewash in her dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles in the garden, and, in the nearby hill towns, vibrant markets and delightful people. In Under the Tuscan Sun, she brings the lyrical voice of a poet, the eye of a seasoned traveler, and the discerning palate of a cook and food writer to invite readers to explore the pleasures of Italian life and to feast at her table.
Midnight in Sicily
by Peter Robb, 1996
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 archeology has seduced travellers 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, travel, and food writing, Peter Robb, a writer who lived in Southern Italy for fourteen years, sets out to understand both the historic roots of the Mafia and its central place in contemporary Italian politics. And whether he’s touting the gustatory strength of Neapolitan espresso, unveiling the Arabic origins of pasta, or unraveling the criminal history of a bandit, Robb seductively brings Sicilian culture to life.
by Carlo Lucarelli, 1997
A serial killer is terrorising the people of Bologna and rookie Detective Inspector Grazia Negro is determined to solve the case. She only has one witness who can identify the killer – and he is blind. Simone spends his nights listening to Chet Baker and scanning the radio waves of the city, eavesdropping on other people’s lives. He imagines what people are like – based on the ‘colour’ of their voice – and his acute hearing sets alarm bells ringing when he tunes in to the killer. Together Simone and Negro are the only people able to stop the killer, before he closes in on Simone.
Letters from the Palazzo Barbaro
by Henry James, 1998
Henry James first came to Venice as a tourist and instantly fell in love with the city – particularly with the splendid Palazzo Barbaro, home of the expatriate American Curtis family. This selection of letters covers the period 1869-1907 and provides a unique record of the life and work of this great writer.
Angels & Demons (Robert Langdon 1/5)
by Dan Brown, 2000
When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol — seared into the chest of a murdered physicist — he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati… the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth. The Illuminati has surfaced from the shadows to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy… the Catholic Church.
Journey from Venice
by Ruth Cracknell, 2000
The Serene City beckons, promising Paradise regained for Ruth Cracknell and her husband, Eric, as they set forth on a carefully planned holiday. What they are seeking is time. Time to think, time to gaze, time for each other. But from the moment the holiday becomes an uncharted journey, their time is measured.
I’m Not Scared
by Niccolò Ammaniti, 2001
In this immensely powerful, lyrical and skillfully narrated novel, set in southern Italy, nine year-old Michele discovers a secret so momentous, so terrible, that he daren’t tell anyone about it.
The hottest summer of the twentieth century. A tiny community of five houses in the middle of wheat fields. While the adults shelter indoors, six children venture out on their bikes across the scorched, deserted countryside.
by Stefano Benni, 2001
A young boy is given a magical gift: an internal ‘duoclock’ that allows him to see the future. Timeskipper sees and foresees the big events of his era, from postwar reconstruction to the birth of television. These events are offset by his own experiences: first love, first job, and wild adventures with oddball acquaintances.
The Birth of Venus
by Sarah Dunant, 2003
Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family’s Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter’s abilities.
The City of Falling Angels
by John Berendt, 2005
Venice, a city steeped in a thousand years of history, art and architecture, teeters in precarious balance between endurance and decay. Its architectural treasures crumble—foundations shift, marble ornaments fall—even as efforts to preserve them are underway. The City of Falling Angels opens on the evening of January 29, 1996, when a dramatic fire destroys the historic Fenice opera house. The loss of the Fenice, where five of Verdi’s operas premiered, is a catastrophe for Venetians. Arriving in Venice three days after the fire, Berendt becomes a kind of detective—inquiring into the nature of life in this remarkable museum-city—while gradually revealing the truth about the fire.
by Roberto Saviano, 2006
A groundbreaking major bestseller in Italy, Gomorrah is Roberto Saviano’s gripping nonfiction account of the decline of Naples under the rule of the Camorra, an organized crime network with a large international reach and stakes in construction, high fashion, illicit drugs, and toxic-waste disposal. Known by insiders as “the System,” the Camorra affects cities and villages along the Neapolitan coast, and is the deciding factor in why Campania, for instance, has the highest murder rate in all of Europe and why cancer levels there have skyrocketed in recent years.
Eat, Pray, Love
By Elizabeth Gilbert, 2006
Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want—a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be.
The Glassblower of Murano
by Marina Fiorato, 2006
Venice, 1681. Glassblowing is the lifeblood of the Republic, and Venetian mirrors are more precious than gold. Jealously guarded by the murderous Council of Ten, the glassblowers of Murano are virtually imprisoned on their island in the lagoon. But the greatest of the artists, Corradino Manin, sells his methods and his soul to the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, to protect his secret daughter. In the present day his descendant, Leonora Manin, leaves an unhappy life in London to begin a new one as a glassblower in Venice. As she finds new life and love in her adoptive city, her fate becomes inextricably linked with that of her ancestor and the treacherous secrets of his life begin to come to light.
Call Me by Your Name
by André Aciman, 2007
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.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers
by Paolo Giordano, 2008
A prime number can only be divided by itself or by one—it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia, both “primes,” are misfits who seem destined to be alone. Haunted by childhood tragedies that mark their lives, they cannot reach out to anyone else. When Alice and Mattia meet as teenagers, they recognize in each other a kindred, damaged spirit.
The Blind Contessa’s New Machine
by Carey Wallace, 2010
In the early 1800’s, a young Italian contessa, Carolina Fantoni, realizes she is going blind shortly before she marries the town’s most sought-after bachelor. Her parents don’t believe her, nor does her fiancé. The only one who understands is the eccentric local inventor and her longtime companion, Turri. When her eyesight dims forever, Carolina can no longer see her beloved lake or the rich hues of her own dresses. But as darkness erases her world, she discovers one place she can still see – in her dreams. Carolina creates a vivid dreaming life, in which she can not only see, but also fly, exploring lands she had never known. Desperate to communicate with Carolina, Turri invents a peculiar machine for her: the world’s first typewriter. His gift ignites a passionate love affair that will change both of their lives forever. Based on the true story of a nineteenth-century inventor and his innovative contraption, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is an enchanting confection of love and the triumph of the imagination.
Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life
by Frances Mayes, 2010
Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book. Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion.
The Things We Cherished
by Pam Jenoff, 2011
An ambitious novel that spans decades and continents, The Things We Cherished tells the story of Charlotte Gold and Jack Harrington, two fiercely independent attorneys who find themselves slowly falling for one another while working to defend the brother of a Holocaust hero against allegations of World War II–era war crimes.
The Stranger’s Child
by Alan Hollinghurst, 2011
In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate – a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance – to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried – until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.
by Jess Walter, 2012
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.
Summer at the Lake
by Erica James, 2013
It was a wedding invitation that changed everything for Floriana. If she hadn’t been so distracted at the thought of having to witness the one true love of her life get married, she would have seen the car coming and there would have been no need for elderly spinster Esme Silcox and local property developer Adam Strong to rush to her aid. If she hadn’t met them she would never have had the courage to agree to attend Seb’s wedding in Lake Como. For Esme, Lake Como awakens memories of when she stayed at the lake as a 19-year-old girl and fell in love for the first time. So often she’s wondered what happened to the man who stole her heart all those years ago, a man who changed the course of her life.
Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside
by Andrea di Robilant, 2014
From the author of the best-selling A Venetian Affair, here is the charming chronicle of his search for the identity of a mysterious old rose. Andrea di Robilant’s tale takes us back to the time of Josephine Bonaparte, as well as into some of the most delightful rose gardens in Italy today, brought to colorful life on the page in the watercolors of artist Nina Fuga.
What do you think of these books set in Italy?
Are you planning a trip to Italy? Have some great books set in Italy that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about more books set in Italy in the comments below!