Books Set in Italy
I originally wrote this post about the best books set in Italy when we were in Florence in 2016. We spent another three months in Italy in 2022 and it was time for an update to include more non-fiction and fiction books set in Italy.
One of the ways I try to immerse myself in Italian culture both before and during the trip is through story. Books that take place in Italy put you right there in the country (if they are well written!).
Last month I started my online book club and asked for your recommendations for books set in Italy. I want to get your input on your favorite reads set in places we are visiting. I am mainly looking for fiction or creative nonfiction. While I love travelogues, I don’t need guidebooks. I want to be entertained while getting a broader picture of the place we staying.
Reading these books set in Italy while in Italy enriched my time there and made the stories more meaningful.
There are a ton of books set in Italy, of course. Some of your suggestions for fiction set in Italy (Angels and Demons; Eat, Pray, Love, Under the Tuscan Sun) I have already read. And there is only so much time – four weeks!
Add your favorite Italy-themed books in the comments so we all have more options.
- 1 Books Set in Italy
- 2 Best Classic Italian Fiction
- 3 Best Italian Historical Fiction
- 4 Best Italian Memoirs
- 5 Best Italian Crime Fiction
Italian Setting: Tuscany and Umbria
I bought this book on the recommendation of my friend, Mariann. In addition to having articles, interviews, recipes, and quotes from writers, visitors, residents, and experts on the region…recommendations for books, restaurants, wineries, and other suggestions were listed. This is where I got the idea to visit Fiesole from Florence and read Birth of Venus. The book recommends novels set in Tuscany, novels set in Florence, and other books based in Italy.
This may be one of my favorite travel books. I stuck to the sections on Florence and Siena since those are the places we stayed, but would dive back in if we went to other places in Tuscany and Umbria. There are similar books for Paris and Istanbul and I’ll definitely be getting it when we get to one of those places.
Buy Tuscany and Umbria on Amazon here.
Best Classic Italian Fiction
Italian Setting: Florence and Fiesole
This is such a classic that I felt I had to reread it. And I am glad I did.
Of the books I read, the ones set in Florence, Italy were my favorite, because we spent most of our time there. Seeing Florence through early 20th century British eyes while in Florence, was a great perspective. And it was a pretty cute tale.
Buy A Room with a View on Amazon here (it’s free on Kindle!)
Italian Setting: Lake Nemi
This is a comedy that takes place in the 1970s in a villa on Lake Nemi. I did not find it as darkly comedic as the reviewers on Amazon, but it was entertaining.
“The Takeover is a suspenseful, acidic comedy about the clash between the conventions of old wealth and the inevitable tide of modernity. It is a testament to the mind and work of ‘The most sharply original fictional imagination of our time.’” So says the Sunday Times.
I don’t know if it was the way it was written or that I didn’t know what time period it was taking place in until I went back to the copyright, but this book was a little confusing for me at first. Read the book flap before the story.
Buy The Takeover on Amazon here.
Best Italian Historical Fiction
Italian Setting: Florence
I haven’t read any other books by Scottish thriller writer, Sarah Dunant, and might not be drawn to this normally, but when in Florence…. I am glad I gave it a chance because I really enjoyed it. It’s not a thriller, but Italian historical fiction.
It’s the 15th century and Alessandra Cecchi is almost 15-years-old. She grew up in the Renaissance, appreciating luxury, art, and poetry – all the things Florence is so famous for. Her father brings a painter to live with them and paint a fresco on their family chapel. Of course, Alessandra falls for him before being whisked into an arranged marriage with an older man.
The story is entertaining as is getting a picture of Florence at the time the Renaissance was coming up against religious zeal. It was an interesting look into the everyday life of a wealthy family during changing times.
Buy The Birth of Venus on Amazon here.
Italy setting: Venice
I am not sure if this should be in the Italian Historical Fiction section or Italy Romance Novels… probably both.
The general premise is Juliet ‘Lettie’ Browning visited Venice in1928 through the Second World War years and fell in love with a man she never saw again. On her death bed in 2001, she leaves her great-niece Caroline a key and a mystery to solve. The story is told in dual timelines.
Caroline is at a low point in her life when she sets off to Venice to try to figure out Lettie’s mystery and what she was doing in the Floating City.
The story was a little slow at times and quite rich in descriptions of Venice and the food. Maybe a little too rich in descriptions, but overall it was a fun read.
Buy The Venice Sketchbook on Amazon here.
Best Italian Memoirs
Italy setting: Florence
Only one chapter of Educating Alice qualifies for an Italy books list, but it’s still a fun read. Alice Steinbach takes a year to travel and learn new things – French cooking in Paris, gardening in Provence, traditional Japanese arts in Kyoto, and most importantly for this list… art in Florence.
She visits Florence to take a class but ends up literally wandering down a small street and figuratively wandering through a small slice of Florentine history.
As much as learning new skills, Steinbach’s story is about meeting and connecting with people through travel. It’s about novel experiences and lifelong learning. You’ll wish you could take a year to explore the world!
Italy setting: Naples and Rome
This book is surprisingly contentious. It seems you either love it or hate it.
We all know the story by now. After a divorce and serious depression, Gilbert sets out to “examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasures in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.”
Only the first part is in Italy where Gilbert explores beauty and food. In addition to Rome and Naples, Gilbert took side trips to other regions of the country. She traveled through Parma, Bologna, and Montepulciano
I’ll admit, I loved this book when I read it in 2007. I like stories about change, hope, exploration, and self-knowledge. I think going into this book without knowing a single thing about it – it was sitting on my mom’s coffee table during a visit – helped. Now that there is so much hype (and a movie starring Julie Roberts) it’s harder not to have an opinion going in.
Best Italian Crime Fiction
Italian Setting: Florence and Venice
While the story is not Pulitzer material, it was fun to read a book set in Florence. It’s book four in the Robert Langdon series—you remember The Da Vinci Code. This time Robert Langdon ends up in Florence, though he doesn’t remember why. He has to follow clues left by a mad villain in time to save the world.
Henry and I both read it. We rarely read the same book, so it was nice to have someone to talk to about the story, the places in the book, and what we thought about it. Henry and I agreed that learning about Dante and Florence’s history was a highlight. We even took an Inferno Tour at the Palazzo Vecchio, which was super interesting because we got to go into the roof, through secret passageways, and visit other places not open to the general public.
We visited a lot of museums in Florence, Italy, and loved that this book got us to a couple more.
When we were in Italy, we toured the Inferno sites in Florence and made this video.
Join the Book Club!
Don’t miss these other book reviews and suggestions perfect for both the armchair traveler and those who like to read books set in the country in which they are traveling.
- Books Set in Italy
- Books Set in Croatia
- Best Books to Read While Traveling
- Books Set in Scotland
- Books Set in Japan
- Books Set in Alaska
- Book Club for Kids
- Yellowstone Books for Kids, Tweens, and Teens