Last updated on September 13th, 2021 at 12:19 pm
Our love for Italy is insatiable and when we can’t be there physically, we find refuge in reading books set in Italy until the next time we visit Il Bel Paese, The Beautiful Country.
We know we’re not alone. Anyone who’s been to Italy at least once or dreams of going after watching movies set in Italy is doomed to fall in love with it. For Italy is the embodiment of beauty and the birthplace of la dolce vita, the sweet life.
For all of us counting the minutes until our next trip to the country we hold close to our hearts, we’ve compiled a list of amazing books set in Italy. This list is by no means exhaustive as the country has inspired countless works of fiction and non-fiction throughout the centuries. However, we did our best to include not only some of our favourite books about Italy but also titles from various genres, periods and backgrounds. Enjoy!
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A Selection of Our Favourite Novels Set in Italy
1. Call Me By Your Name (André Aciman)
We don’t know about you, but we rarely read a book after watching the film. However, watching Call Me By Your Name was such an explosion of emotions that we had to read the novel, too. And it didn’t disappoint. Although there are differences between the book and the film in terms of locations cited and plot details, they’re both lyrical, sweet and wonderful. But we’re here to talk about the novel.
With its plot unfolding in Italy’s colourful South, Call Me By Your Name is one of the best novels set in Italy to explore the themes of love and coming of age. The story follows the special bond between Elio and Oliver, the two main characters. In one of the most nostalgic books set in the 80s, readers watch as Elio and Oliver’s love grows during what’s meant to be an unforgettable summer in Italy for both.
When you buy Call Me By Your Name, do yourselves a huge favour and buy the sequel, too. Find Me may not be as unputdownable as Call Me By Your name is. Also, it’s not entirely set in Italy. However, trust us when we say that you’ll want to know what became of Elio, Oliver and their love story the minute you finish reading the first book.
2. Under The Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes)
Under The Tuscan Sun is hands down one of the most famous novels set in Italy. What’s more, it has inspired one of the most romantic movies set in Italy. The book narrates the author’s adventures from that crazy moment she decides to buy an old abandoned villa in the countryside onwards.
Frances Mayes wrote one of the best novels set in Tuscany, this gorgeous Italian region that’s dotted with ancient vineyards, picture-perfect historical towns and golden rolling hills dreamily floating on the horizon. The novel is an account of the time she spent renovating the villa. It’s also a mouthwatering guide to the region’s local cuisine.
If Under The Tuscan Sun makes you long for a trip to Tuscany, why not fuel this wanderlust a bit more? Bella Tuscany is the author’s second book about the region, an ode to life at one of Italy’s most picturesque areas.
3. Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Having watched the film many years ago, we recently decided to read the novel, too. We’re glad we did. Eat Pray Love, the film doesn’t manage to get into the great depths of the author’s emotions the way the novel does.
Eat Pray Love is Elizabeth Gilbert’s account of the year-long trip she took around the world to find herself and recover from a difficult divorce and a failed love. In this trip, she sought worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion and, ultimately, what everyone’s looking for: the meaning of life. In this order. So, it makes sense that she started her trip in Italy, the country where worldly pleasure translates into superb food and unfathomable beauty.
For the other two legs of her trip, the author travelled to India and Bali. Therefore, Eat Pray Love is not just one of the best books set in Rome, Italy’s vibrant capital. It’s one of the most delightful books set in other countries, too.
4. Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter)
Although not a book set in Italy exclusively, the story begins on the colourful coast of Liguria. Therefore, Beautiful Ruins deserves its place in this list of fiction books set in Italy. Back in 1962, a young Italian innkeeper falls in love with an American actress. Fifty years later, he goes looking for her in Hollywood.
Spanning five decades and visiting numerous locations in Europe and the USA, Beautiful Ruins is exactly the kind of novel you’d want to read during your summer holidays. Better still, it’s one of the best books to read while in Italy.
5. My Italian Bulldozer (Alexander McCall Smith)
My Italian Bulldozer is one of the most heartwarming novels set in Tuscany. When a Scottish writer moves temporarily to Tuscany to find the peace he needs to finish his book, he is met with a series of unexpected events. The most hilarious among them? With no rental cars available, he ends up driving around Tuscany in – you guessed it right! – a bulldozer.
With the dreamy landscape of Tuscany as the perfect backdrop, My Italian Bulldozer is humorous and warm. Above all, it’s a fine lesson in making the most of what you have. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life puts you behind the wheel of a bulldozer, start driving.
6. That Summer in Puglia (Valeria Vescina)
As its title suggests, this is one of the best books set in Puglia, one of Italy’s most authentic regions. The plot is intertwined with Puglia in such a way that the region itself becomes one of the novel’s major characters. With an air of nostalgia and touching upon themes like love, loss and grief, the author manages to write an ode to Puglia. As a result, readers are gifted with one of the most gripping books set in Southern Italy.
The story begins with Tomasso, the main character, living a life of solitude in England after having escaped Puglia and the only true love of his life. He managed to keep his whereabouts secret for thirty years but now a private investigator comes knocking on his door. Tomasso is willing to narrate his entire life’s story to the P.I. in the hopes that the latter will show compassion and pretend never to have found him.
That’s how a journey into Tomasso’s troubled past begins not only for the private investigator but also for us stunned readers.
7. The Neapolitan Novels (Elena Ferrante)
Author Elena Ferrante regards the four novels that comprise this coming-of-age series as a single novel. Therefore, it only makes sense to read all four of them if you ask us. The Neapolitan Novels are set in Naples. The plot follows the lives of two girls, Elena and Lila, from their childhood all through to their elderly years. As the story unfolds, we don’t just learn about Elena and Lila; the Neapolitan Novels give great insight into life in Naples and, ultimately, life in Italy.
The first novel, My Brilliant Friend, is a book set in the 1950s. It introduces readers to Elena, Lila and their neighbourhood, an impoverished part of Naples where violence and hardships are quite commonplace. The plot follows the two girls through their childhood and adolescence.
In The Story of a New Name, the second of these books set in Naples, the two main characters are now in their late teens. Each of them has chosen a different path in life. Yet their friendship and their love/hate relationship are still central to the story.
The third novel, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, follows the lives of the two female protagonists as they move to their twenties and thirties. Elena and Lila are no longer restricted to the confines of their Naples neighbourhood. They’ve moved on to get a taste of the real wide world.
Some readers claim that The Story of The Lost Child, the final novel in this series of fiction books set in Italy, and specifically in Naples, is the best of all. Elena and Lila are now grown-ups, two strong women whose life decisions challenge their special bond at times. The fourth and last book in The Neapolitan Novels series is fast-paced and filled with revelations.
All in all, The Neapolitan Novels series is a powerful masterpiece that explores the themes of female friendship and rivalry, class conflict and the role that literature plays when it comes to social turmoil and the changes it brings about.
8. A Thousand Days in Venice (Marlena De Blasi)
This novel is one of our favourite books set in Venice. A Thousand Days in Venice is Marlena De Blasi’s autobiographical account of how she fell in love not only with the most beautiful city in the world but also with Fernando, a mysterious stranger she met at a café in Venice. This is a gripping memoir of the author’s efforts to adjust to life in this dream of a city, after having left the USA behind for good, and one of the loveliest romance novels set in Italy at the same time.
Although Marlena is thrilled to be living in gorgeous Venice, Fernando has other plans. He quits his job to live a more laid-back life in the countryside with his new wife. More specifically, in Tuscany. Their adventures in Tuscany is the theme of Marlena de Blasi’s A Thousand Days in Tuscany, yet another brilliant novel set in Italy you’ll definitely enjoy. Both books feature the author’s delicious recipes, which are based on local Italian recipes but with a twist.
9. The Enchanted April (Elizabeth Von Armin)
The Enchanted April is one of the most delightful books set in the 1920s. Four English ladies, who had never met each other before, decide to leave cold England behind to indulge in a month-long vacation at a charming medieval castle in Portofino, Italy.
The four main characters are of different age groups and backgrounds, while each of them has her personal demons and problems to deal with. Yet the gorgeous Italian scenery does the trick. In the end, The Enchanted April becomes a unique celebration of the healing effect of travelling. The novel is humorous, even hilarious at times, and a fantastic mini study in human behaviour.
10. Master & God (Lindsey Davis)
Master & God is one of the best books set in Ancient Rome. That’s probably because Lindsey Davis did great research before writing the novel and that’s resulted in one of the finest pieces of historical fiction set in Italy. However, the wealth of information and historical facts cited in the novel don’t, by any means, undermine the artistic value of the book.
With engaging characters entangled in a bittersweet love affair and thanks to the author’s vivid descriptions of Ancient Rome, the novel manages to transport readers to an era lost in time yet brought back to life in the most eloquent way.
11. Angels & Demons (Dan Brown)
Angels & Demons is the first novel in the super successful Dan Brown book series, featuring Robert Langdon, a symbology expert, as the main character. Although the story begins at the CERN Institute in Switzerland, the rest of the novel is set in Rome and the Vatican. Robert Langdon is called to help solve a mysterious murder case. Yet he’s caught in a frantic hunt to save Vatican City from a disastrous time bomb.
If you’re into Dan Brown’s work, there’s yet another of his novels set in Italy that you should read: Inferno. The latter is the fourth novel in the Robert Langdon series and it’s one of the most exciting books set in Florence.
Both Angels & Demons and Inferno are so captivating and fast-paced that reading them feels as though you’re watching films set in Italy. No wonder why there are film adaptations for most of the Robert Langdon novels, with Tom Hanks starring as the intelligent symbology expert.
12. Love & Gelato (Jenna Evans Welch)
Love & Gelato is the story of Lina, a teenage girl who reluctantly travels to Italy from the USA to fulfil her mother’s dying wish. She is supposed to spend an entire summer in Tuscany with her father, whom she’s never met or even ever heard of, and if she wants to be honest with herself, isn’t even remotely interested in meeting.
However, upon arriving in Florence, Lina is handed her mother’s diary and that changes everything. From then on, she’s inspired to follow in her mother’s footsteps and get to know Italy, while going through her personal healing process. The best word to describe this light-hearted book set in Italy is adorable. That pretty much sums it up.
13. Almost Blue (Carlo Lucarelli)
Almost Blue is a thriller set in Italy that’s very much loved by readers worldwide. The novel is set in Bologna and the main character is a female detective who’s assigned to solve the murders that take place at the University of Bologna.
This is one of the most fast-paced detective novels set in Italy you could ever wish for. In less than 200 pages, Almost Blue explores difficult themes, such as mental illness and misogynism. Similar to many other crime novels, you may find that there’s a bit too much blood and violence, but it all comes down to how familiar you are with the genre. Unlike Katerina, who’s a great fan, I’m not that into crime fiction, so take my warning with a pinch of salt.
14. Playing For Pizza (John Grisham)
Regardless of whether you are an American football fan or not (we’re not), this book is absolutely worth reading. It narrates the story of a professional player who, after an unfortunate incident during a game, is considered to have provided the worst performance in the history of the NFL. As a result, all doors in the USA close on him. However, his agent manages to secure him a place as a quarterback in the Panthers of Parma. In Italy.
The plot follows the main character as he moves from being a fish out of the water to finally embracing this new life of loud friends, loads of wine and mouthfuls of superb food in what turns out to be one of the most delightful books set in Italy.
15. The Blind Contessa’s New Machine (Carey Wallace)
The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is among the most fascinating books set in the 1800s yet unjustifiably underrated. The main character is Carolina, a beautiful young countess who lives in the lush Italian countryside. Just as she’s ready to marry one of the most sought-after bachelors, she realises that she’s going blind. However, neither her mother nor her future husband seem to believe her. Therefore, the wedding goes ahead as planned and Carolina does indeed go blind.
The only person Carolina seems to connect with is her lifelong friend Turri, a local inventor. Turri is desperate to find a way to communicate with his beloved Carolina now that she’s blind. For this reason, he invents the world’s first typewriter. The novel, apart from being a well-written literary work, is also historically accurate and that can only add to its overall charm.
Classic Fiction Books Set in Italy
16. Romeo & Juliet (William Shakespeare)
Out of all Shakespeare plays set in Italy, Romeo & Juliet is probably the most famous. Moreover, Romeo & Juliet is often considered among the greatest love stories set in Italy of all time, one that has inspired countless other works of art throughout the centuries. For these reasons alone, it’s worth reading, no matter if you already know how the story ends.
Set in dreamy Verona, Romeo & Juliet narrates the doomed love between two young people whose families are engaged in a blood feud. As with many other Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo & Juliet has death written all over it. Yet it somehow manages to convey the timeless message that love conquers all.
17. A Room With a View (E.M. Forster)
A Room With a View is a classic novel by E.M. Forster about two upper-middle-class English women who embark on a trip to Italy in the early 1900s. The first part of the novel takes place in Florence and it’s in essence an ode to the beautiful Italian city. In the second part of the book, the main characters return to England.
Even though it’s a light and quick read, A Room With a View provides valuable insight into what life was like during the Edwardian Era, especially for women. For that reason alone, it’s one of the best books set in Italy of its time.
18. A Farewell To Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
A Farewell To Arms is among the most well-known books set in WW1. This semi-autobiographical novel about an American expat who serves as an ambulance driver in the Italian army and falls in love with a British nurse is sometimes considered the best example of WW1 literature. But not everyone agrees.
Some readers find A Farewell To Arms rather flat. The author’s sexist approach to the main female character doesn’t go unnoticed either. All that said, nobody can argue that the novel is a classic and one of the most famous books about Italy during the First World War.
19. The Shape of Water (Andrea Camilleri)
If you’re looking for top crime fiction set in Italy, Andrea Camilleri is your guy. This Sicilian writer is among the most famous authors from Italy worldwide. He is responsible for giving life to Inspector Salvo Montalbano, one of the most brilliant detective characters in world literature.
The Shape of Water is the first novel in the Inspector Montalbano series of Italian detective stories. Therefore, it makes sense to read this novel first. If you’re hooked on Camilleri’s writing, you can proceed to read the rest – almost thirty – of Montalbano-themed Italian novels and a handful of short story collections, too.
Set in the fictional town of Vigata and drenched in the Sicilian sun, A Shape of Water is listed among the best Italian crime novels. It’s only natural that these books set in Sicily have inspired Detective Montalbano, one of the most popular TV shows set in Italy.
20. The Name of The Rose (Umberto Eco)
Although not the easiest book to read, The Name of The Rose has managed to become one of the best-selling novels ever published. This Umberto Eco classic is a masterpiece of world literature as it spans many genres. From historical to crime fiction to one of the most famous intellectual mystery books set in Italy.
Set in a Benedictine Monastery in Northern Italy, The Name of The Rose takes readers on a journey into the unfathomable depths of medieval darkness. After you’ve read the book, consider watching the classic 80s film by the same title, starring Sean Connery and a super young Christian Slater.
Non-Fiction Books About Italy
21. La Bella Figura (Beppe Severgnini)
If you are as desperately in love with Italy as we are, it’s a good idea to read some non-fiction books about Italy, too. These are the ideal books to read before going to Italy as they will help you understand Il Bel Paese and its people better. As a result, your past and future trips to Italy will make a lot more sense to you. The only drawback is that you’ll be left hungry for more Italy in your life.
The first on our list of non-fiction books about Italy to read is a book written by an Italian who endeavours to explain the very idea that’s an integral part of the Italian culture: la bella figura. Translating to beautiful figure or beautiful impression, la bella figura and beauty, in general, are the driving forces of everything in Italy. That’s pretty much evident in all things Italian. Be it architecture, fashion, food, cars or scooters, everything in Italy is, above all, beautiful.
This is why La Bella Figura is one of the best books on Italy culture.
22. Italian Hours (Henry James)
Italian Hours is one of the best books about Italy travel. It’s a collection of travel essays written by Henry James between 1872 and 1909. The author covers all aspects of Italy, from art and religion to culture and politics. Although this isn’t a work of fiction, James’ style of writing remains poetic and enchanting.
The essays are about Italy in general, but also about specific destinations within the country. Most parts of Italy are mentioned but the author focuses primarily on Venice and Rome.
23. Pasta, Pane, Vino (Matt Goulding)
One of the things that make Italy stand out is its food. In Italy, food isn’t just sustenance. It’s part of the country’s culture. It’s a form of art. Pasta, Pane, Vino is a collection of the tastes and aromas of Italy, sprinkled with real people’s stories. If that’s not a combination to make you fall deeper in love with Italy, we don’t know what is. The fact that the book includes 200 photos of mouthwatering dishes and stunning landscapes doesn’t help ease our Italy wanderlust one bit.
Read this book if you’re planning a trip to Italy to know what you’re about to taste. But also read this book once you’re back from your latest trip to Italy to let all the mesmerising aromas of this seductive country linger a while longer.
24. Murder in Matera (Helene Stapinski)
Although categorised as a non-fiction book about Italy, Murder in Matera is written in a literary manner. Helene Stapinski visits Matera in the rugged region of Basilicata in Southern Italy. Her sole purpose is to unveil the truth about her family’s past.
More specifically, Helene wants to know the truth about her great-great-grandmother Vita, who had reportedly committed murder before immigrating to the USA in the 19th century. In the end, the author is faced with impossible revelations that render her journey into self-discovery unique and Murder in Matera becomes one of the best books on Southern Italy.
25. The World of Venice (Jan Morris)
We’ve said it earlier in this article and we’ll never stop saying so: Venice is the prettiest city in the world. But the soul of the city is as intricate as its network of canals. The World of Venice tries to look past the city’s charms – if that could ever be possible – to explore its history, its people and everything else that’s forged the city’s remarkable character throughout the centuries.
Jan Morris’s love for Venice is evident in every word she uses to describe her beloved city. In fact, Venice isn’t even presented as a place. Venice is a living and breathing character.
Your Favourite Books Set in Italy
This list of books about Italy turned out quite long, didn’t it? Yet, when it comes to a country with so many natural beauties and such long history, rich culture and exquisite art, inspiration is literally limitless. Therefore, there are countless other books on Italy we’d love to read at some point. So, why don’t you help us make a list of all the travel books about Italy we should definitely read as soon as possible?
Add your favourite books set in Italy in the comments and help us travel with our minds to our beloved country until the next time we’re there!
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