Italian Walking Holiday Reading List

On a walking holiday there is no better way to bring an area to life than by reading. On the tours we often read aloud short passages from books relating to the areas in which we are travelling, and people appreciate the extra colour this adds to the walk. The following is a selection of fictional and non-fictional novels set in the regions of the tours and some are general background reading which you may enjoy:

A Tuscan Harvest, The Palio of Siena, Lucca, Volterra and the Island of Elba, Northern Tuscany & Ravenna, Etruscan Trails in Central Italy and Medieval Umbria

Vanilla Beans and Brodo - Isabella Dusi
A beautiful autobiographical account of Isobel’s hard-won acceptance into the tempestuous, warm-hearted and proudly independent community of Montalcino. The locals’ passion for home grown wine and Tuscan cuisine, for football and ancient traditions and festivals is intertwined with the fascinating history of this medieval town.

War in Val d’Orcia – An Italian War Diary 1943-1944 - Iris Origo
A classic of the Second World War, War in Val d’Orcia is a first-hand account of daily life in southern Tuscany during the final years of the conflict, years which were, in Italy, blighted by German occupation, Allied invasion and civil war.

Too Much Tuscan Sun – Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide - Dario Castagno
A light-hearted account of the region and its visitors written by an Italian tour guide living near Siena.

Etruscan Places – D H Lawrence
Published in 1932, D H Lawrence charts his visit to Etruria in present-day Tuscany and Lazio and gives his impressions of the tombs and of the Etruscan Civilisation.

Daughter of Siena - Marina Fiorato
Set in 1723, this is a fictional account to two women whose involvement in the famous Palio horse race will change their lives forever.    Rich in historical detail and local colour.


The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici - Christopher Hibbert
Charting the history of the powerful Florentine family from the 1400s to the 18th century Hibbert provides a well-researched and readable account of the Medici set against the tumultuous history of the time.

April Blood – Florence and the Plot against the Medici - Lauro Martines
In April 1478, a plot to murder the two heads of the powerful Medici family dramatically miscarried. The younger of the two brothers was killed, but Lorenzo the Magnificent, the brilliant poet and connoisseur, escaped. A blood-bath followed and all of Italy was at once affected.

The Stones of Florence and Venice Observed - Mary McCarthy
Wonderfully vivid and perceptive descriptions of two great Italian cities, told through their history and art, making Mary McCarthy  a great literary travelling companion.

Death in Tuscany - Michele Giuttari
One of the series of fictional thrillers featuring Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara, head of the Squadra Mobile in Florence, following his investigation into the murder of a girl.

Death in the Mountains - Lisa Clifford
Australian writer Lisa Clifford moved to Florence after her marriage to an Italian and started to uncover the mysteries surrounding the death of her husband's great grandfather - a Tuscan farmer at the turn of the last century.

The Consul - Walter W Orebaugh
A true story about an American diplomat who is captured by the fascists during WWII in Italy. He escapes and is given refuge by the Italian partisans, joins the Italian resistance movement and fights alongside the partisans.

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore – Stella Duffy
Award-winning novelist Stella Duffy vividly recreates the life and times of a woman who left her mark on one of the ancient world's most powerful empires.  This captivating novel resurrects an extraordinary, little-known figure from history and follows her life from humble dancer to Empress of Rome in Ravenna.

Death in Ravenna – Richard Blake
A story of blood and espionage that moves from the canals and squares of medieval Ravenna, to the Lombard capital in Pavia, where the distinction between barbarian and Roman seems to be blurring by the day into a common Italian nationhood.  This is the second book in a trilogy by the same author.

The Villa Triste - Lucretia Grindle
Two Florentine sisters find themselves trapped under the Nazi regime in 1943 and are forced to make difficult decisions which reverberate for decades to come.

The Sweet Hills of Florence - Jan Wallace Dickinson
The author has lived and worked between Italy and Australia for over 25 years.  This novel follows the lives of two cousins from a Florentine family, starting in 1941, as Mussolini's power is waning.  The cousins make life and death decisions working first with the clandestine resistance and then overtly with the partisans.

The Fireflies of Autumn and other Tales of San Ginese - Moreno Giovannoni
Set in a little-known Tuscan village near Lucca these stories tell of war and migration, feast and misfortunes. They follow the lives of the people who moved away and those who never left.

Florence Under Seige: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City - John Henderson
The author, a Professor of Italian Renaissance History at London University’s Birbeck College, provides an account of the impact and reactions to the Florence epidemic through demographic, medical, social, religious and artistic sources.

Still Life - Sarah Winman
This is an enchanting tale of an unlikely friendship between a British soldier and an alleged spy in a wartime Tuscany, ripe with colour and the ghosts of the past.  

The Daniel Leicester Books - Tom Benjamin
Beneath the beauty of the city, Bologna has a dark underside, and English detective Daniel must unravel a web of secrets, deceit, corruption and murder.  A Quiet Death in Italy, The Hunting Season and Requiem in La Rossa are the first three, and more are promised!

Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop - Alba Donati
The inspiring story of a truly romantic endeavour, Donati's chronicle of how she brought bookselling to a tiny Tuscan village abounds in local charm and memorable characters.  Set in the Garfagnana region.


Parma, Tuscany and the Ligurian Sea

Love and War in the Apennines -  Eric Newby
After the Italian Armistice in 1943, Eric Newby left the prison camp in which he’d been held for a year and evaded the advancing Germans by going to ground high in the mountains and forests south of the River Po.

A Small Place in Italy -  Eric Newby
In 1967 Eric Newby and his wife Wanda fulfilled a long-cherished ambition when they acquired I Castagni, a small and excessively ruined farmhouse near Fosdinovo in the foothills of the Apuan Alps on the borders of Liguria and northern Tuscany. This book is a brilliant memoir of a house and a magnificent re-creation of a forgotten time and era.

A Tuscan Childhood - Kinta Beevor
Kinta Beevor was five when she fell in love with her parents’ castle at Aulla facing the Carrara mountains in northern Tuscany. The freedom and beauty of life at the castle attracted poets, writers and painters, including D.H Lawrence and Rex Whistler. The other side to Kinta’s childhood was very different. It was spent with her famously formidable great aunt, Janet Ross, outside Florence in a grand villa where Boccaccio set part of The Decameron. But soon, the old way of life and Kinta’s idyllic world were threatened by war.

Castle in Italy - Lina Waterfield
We recently disovered this autobiography, first published in 1961, written by the mother of Kinta Beevor who, having lived much of her life in Tuscany, was appointed the Observer Correspondent in Italy in 1921 and through her work charted the rise and fall of Facism in Italy. Memories of her life are littered with fascinating characters, from Mussolini himself to many aristocrats, writers and artists of the day.

Extra Virgin - Annie Hawes and Ripe for the Picking - Annie Hawes
A modern autobiographical novel which tells of Annie’s experiences when she buys a house near the coast in Liguria. Light reading telling of daily life in this beautiful region and introducing some fascinating, and amusing, local characters.   

Rossano: Valley in Flames - Gordon Lett
Major Gordon Lett was taken prisoner in July 1942 and after 14 months in the notorious camps at Bari and Chieti he escaped to the mountains above Pontremoli. Here he established and led a highly successful band of partisans and their significant contribution to the success of the Allied advance was recognised with the award of the DSO at the end of the war.

Jewels of Piedmont, The Mountains of Piedmont,  The Italian Alps, The Italian Lakes

Johnny the Partisan - Beppe Fenoglio (Translated by Stuart Hood)
A semi-autobiographical account of an episode in the war when the partisans briefly, and against all logic, 'liberated' a mountainous zone in Northern Italy.

The Twenty Three Days of the City of Alba - Beppe Fenoglio (Translated by John Shepley)
The Classic Tales Of Italian Wartime Resistance. Two thousand Italian partisans took the city of Alba on October 10, 1944, and two hundred lost it to the fascists on November 2 of the same year. Among the bedraggled fighters in this historic 23 day siege was Beppe Fenoglio. This collection of short stories is based on his experiences as a soldier in the resistance movement.

The Moon and the Bonfires - Cesare Pavese (Translated by R.W. Flint)
A foundling abandoned on the cathedral steps, the narrator was brought up, for a fee, by a destitute farmer, who treated him more like a workhorse than a person with a soul. Eventually escaping as a youth to the United States, he worked his way to California but later returns to his village in the Langhe, where he confronts the harsh memories of his childhood and the even harsher wartime events which traumatized the town after he left.

Pictures from Italy - Charles Dickens
In 1844, Charles Dickens took a break from novel writing to travel through Italy for almost a year and this book is an illuminating account of his experiences there.

Leonardo and the Last Supper - Ross King
In this compelling book the author explores how Leonardo created the masterpiece that would forever define him amid war, political and religious turmoil and his own insecurities and frustrations.

The Long Finish - Michael Dibdin
One of the series of Inspector Zen mysteries, this novel is set in the vineyards of Piedmont as Zen tries to penetrate a traditional culture in which family and soil are inextricably linked.

The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the secret of the Resurrection - Thomas de Wesselow
A fascinating new book written by a Cambridge University art-historian revealing a new theory linking the famous cloth of Turin to the story of the Resurrection.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky - Mark Sullivan
Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, this is the epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during WWII.

Le Otto Montagne (Eight Mountains) - Paolo Cognetti
The story tells of the friendship between Pietro and Bruno, who meet as children every summer in the Italian Alps.  As they grow into adults, Pietro travels the world but Bruno never leaves his beloved mountain. Through loves and losses, their deep connection to the mountains and each other lasts a whole lifetime. 

A House in the Mountains - Caroline Moorehead
The extraordinary story of the courageous women who spearheaded the Italian Resistance during the Second World War


Slovenia and Friuli

A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
A semi-autobiographical novel concerning events during the Italian campaigns of the First World War. It is the story of an affair between an English nurse and an American soldier on the Italian front - a tale of love and pain, loyalty and desertion.

The Glassblower of Murano - Marina Fiorato
A fictional account, set in Venice in 1681, of the glassblowing community on the island of Murano. It is tale of intrigue and betrayal, but gives an evocative insight into the historical life-blood industry of the city.

The Stones of Florence and Venice Observed - Mary McCarthy
Wonderfully vivid and perceptive descriptions of two great Italian cities, told through their history and art, making Mary McCarthy one of literature's greatest travelling companions.

Under the Light of the Italian Moon - Jennifer Anton
Spanning two decades,  this is an epic, emotional and triumphant tale of one woman’s incredible resilience during the rise of fascism and Italy’s collapse into WWII.  Set in the tiny community of Fonzaso in the Veneto region.



The Wilds of Abruzzo

The Abruzzo Trilogy - Ignazio Silone
The author narrates the struggles of local people in his native Abruzzo in the face of poverty, natural disasters and totalitarianism.  The three parts are:  Fontamara, Bread and Wine and The Seed Beneath the Snow.

Finding Valentino - Angela Di Sciascio
A daughter (the Australian author) travels through southern Italy to capture the history of her father and his culture through their relatives still living in Abruzzo.

Friends and Romans: on the run in wartime Italy - John Miller
In 1943, with a single daring leap from an Italian train carrying prisoners of war, John Miller jumped into the war as lived by civilians. For months Italian anti-fascists harboured and fed him as he dodged German patrols and the secret police. Finally the Allied liberation of Rome brought him freedom.


Southern Italy

Christ Stopped at Eboli - Carlo Levi
The author was famously exiled in Basilicata in the 1930s having been arrested for political activism and his book gives a real insight into the bleak conditions and poverty stricken lives of the local population.

Old Calabria - Norman Douglas
Witty, erudite and elegant, "Old Calabria" is a literary classic, acclaimed as much for its sparkling prose as for its exquisite portrait of Italy's most unpredictable and colourful province.

Naples 44 - Norman Lewis
As a young British intelligence officer stationed in Naples following its liberation from Nazi forces, Norman Lewis recorded the lives of a proud and vibrant people close to destitution. The most popular of Lewis's twenty-seven books, Naples '44 is a study of the agony of war and its ability to bring out the worst, and often the best, in human nature.

The Neapolitan Novels - Elena Ferrante
Four different books which follow the friendship of two bright and passionate girls from a raucous neighbourhood in working class Naples. The four books are engrossing and powerful.


France and the Maritime Alps

The Lavender Keeper - Fiona McIntosh
Set in the second world war, the plot follows the two main protagonists from Paris to the rugged beauty of the south of France in the fight against the Nazi occupation.

The French Promise - Fiona McIntosh
Following the lives of the characters in The Lavender Keeper, the story moves to Tasmania as they try to rebuild their lives after the war.

Escape to Provence - Maureen Emerson
This is the true story of two remarkable women, one American and one English, who carved out new lives for themselves in the South of France in the first part of the last century.

A Thread of Grace - Mary Doria Russell
In September 1943 thousands of Jewish refugees fled over the Alps into Italy, as the Italians broke with Hitler. This story follows the lives of those who sought refuge in Italy during the final phase of the second world war and the people who risked everything to help them.


Austria and the Dolomites

Eva Sleeps - Francesca Melandri
The conflicts in the border regions of Northern Italy and Austria provide the backdrop for this family saga, reflecting the rich history and culture of both nations.

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919 - Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson’s book was hailed, on its 2007 publication in Britain, as an outstandingly original contribution to the study of the period. The author writes vividly about the chaos of nationalities at the time of the dying Hapsburg empire.

A Time of Gifts - Patrick Leigh Fermor
The first volume of a trilogy about an epic walk from the Hook of Holland via Austria to Constantinople in 1933.

The Accidental Empress and Sisi: Empress on Her Own - Allison Pataki
The author writes in two consecutive novels about the little-known and tumultuous life story of “Sisi,” the Austro-Hungarian Empress and captivating wife of Emperor Franz Joseph.


The Heart of Sardinia and The Island of Corsica

The Day of Judgement - Salvatore Satta  
Set on the eve of the First World War Don Sebastiano Sanna, a lawyer from the remote Sardinian town of Nuoro, watches as his seven sons head off to fight and he reflects on the changes to his life and family.  Powerful and evocative.

Sea and Sardinia - D H Lawrence  
This travel book describes a brief excursion undertaken in January 1921 by Lawrence and his wife from Sicily to the interior of Sardinia. Despite the brevity of his visit, Lawrence distils an essence of the island and its people that is still recognisable today.

Grazia Deledda is a Sardinian- born author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926.   Her books, often set in the landscape of her native island, explore themes of moral dilemmas, passion, and human weakness.  Look for Elias Portolu,  After the Divorce and Reeds in the Wind which have been translated into English.

The Whispering Wind - Lexa Dudley  
A fictional story of two star-crossed lovers who meet on the island of Sardinia.

Granite Island: Portrait of Corsica - Dorothy Carrington  
The author lived almost half her life on the island and wrote this vivid and magical portrayal of a highly individualistic island culture whose people have nurtured their love of freedom and political justice, as well as their pride, hospitality and poetry.

Honorable Bandit: A Walk across Corsica - Brian Bouldrey  
The author took two weeks to walk across Corsica with his friend Petra and the book is part travelogue and part memoir of his reflections on the trip.

Time was Away – A Journey through Corsica - Alan Ross    
Poet and writer Alan Ross and artist John Minton travelled through Corsica together in 1947 and this travel book brought to life the colours, scents, sounds and warmth of the island, with some beautiful illustrations.

The Dream Hunters of Corsica - Dorothy Carrington 
This is a fascinating insight into a forgotten corner of civilisation where the occult has retained its everyday place as an explanation of the mysteries of life.

Bitter Honey - Letitia Clark
Chef Letitia Clark invites us into her new home on beautiful Sardinia, and shares this book which is part vacation, part cookbook and a window onto a covetable lifestyle in the sun – all rolled into one.

General Reading on Italy and the Italians

The Italians - Luigi Barzini
First published in 1964, this remains a classic account of the Italian people. A fascinating and entertaining portrait, celebrating both the virtues and the vices of the Italians.

Italian Neighbours - Tim Parks
The author is an Englishman living in Verona and he describes this book as "an attempt to say and savour everything I’d learned in ten years in Italy by way of an account of our life with the neighbours in our small palazzo."   Warm and well-observed.

Italian Ways - Tim Parks
In his latest book the same author as above describes train travel in Italy from north to south but along the way warmly describes all aspects of Italian life.

The Hero's Way - Tim Parks
"Walking with Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna" is the longer title for this book which is a fascinating portrait of Italy past and present, and a celebration of determination, creativity and belief. Parks intertwines this travelogue with interesting contemplations on leadership, history and love of Italy.

The Dark Heart of Italy -  Tobias Jones
In 1999 Tobias Jones emigrated to Italy, expecting to fall in love with the beautiful Italy described by centuries of foreign visitors. Instead, he discovered some darker undercurrents, political intrigues and paranoias.   This book is his account of a three-year voyage across the Italian peninsula.

La Bella Lingua - Dianne Hales
La Bella Lingua tells the adventurous tale of how the Italian language became Italian and follows its path through the realms of history, art, literature, manners, music, cooking, cinema and, of course, amore.

La Bella Figura - Beppe Severgnini
Beppe Severgnini is a columnist for the Corriere della Sera daily newspaper but has lived between England and Italy.  In this book he takes a tour around his country and amusingly observes what really goes on inside the Italian mind.

Saving Italy - Robert Edsel
The story of heroic efforts to track down and rescue the stolen masterpieces and priceless artefacts plundered by the Nazi regime during World War II.

The Mussolini Canal - Antonio Pennacchi
This prize-winning Italian best-seller has now been translated into English and follows the fortunes of a family relocated as part of Mussolini's plan to increase Italy's productivity. The story is fictional but reflects the very real experiences of thousands of Italians in the 1930s.

Fiori di Zucca - Valentina Harris
An acclaimed food writer Valentina Harris has produced a heart-felt food memoir which explores her interesting family history alongside the many wonderful recipes which have been handed down through the generations.

The Italians - John Hooper
An affectionate but well-researched study of modern Italian society and its many contradictions.

See you in the Piazza - Frances Mayes
The best-selling author of Under the Tuscan Sun discovers the hidden pleasures of Italy in a sumptuous travel narrative that criss-crosses the country, with inventive new recipes celebrating Italian cuisine.

Escaping Hitler - Monty Halls
Stories of courage and endurance told in heart-stopping detail as Monty Halls takes the reader along the freedom trails out of occupied Europe, from the immense French escape lines to lesser-known routes in Italy and Slovenia.

Oil and Marble and Raphael, Painter in Rome - Stephanie Storey
These are two historical art thrillers set during the Italian Renaissance, with many of Italy's most celebrated artists appearing as characters.  What is more, this link to Stephanie Storey's own website shows many of the paintings being referenced in the novels, which adds to the reading experience.

General Reading on Walking

Wild - Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-six, the author thought she had lost everything. With nothing to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk eleven-hundred miles of the west coast of America - from the Mojave Desert, through California and Oregon, and into Washington state - and to do it alone. Strayed's account captures the agonies, both mental and physical, of her incredible journey.

In the Shadow of the Mountain - Silvia Vasquez-Lavado 
A remarkable story of heroism and climbing to the top of the world, but not the traditional hero's tale you might expect. Peruvian Silvia Vasquez-Lavado is a survivor of childhood abuse, a pain she has worked through by climbing the Seven Summits. She gathered a group of young female survivors and led these novices to Everest base camp alongside her. It was a nerve-wracking and anxious endeavour but there were moments of great joy and healing too, all documented in this page-turning, pulse-raising memoir.

The Salt Road - Raynor Winn
Husband and wife Raynor and Moth face a terminal illness and destitution. With literally nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the UK's sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall. This is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world.

We also have a list of books for our Australian tours.

Favourite Films

La Dolce Vita 1960 Classic Federico Fellini story of a journalist's adventures during a week in Rome.

Life is Beautiful A moving film following a Jewish family surviving life in a Nazi concentration camp.

Il Postino A fictional story of the real life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda forming a relationship with a simple postman.

Tea with Mussolini The story of Luca's upbringing in Florence by a circle of British and American women in World War II.

Room with a View E M Forster's tale of a young English Edwardian woman falling in love in and with Italy.

The Leopard This classic film chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Unification of Italy.

Cinema Paradiso The tale of a successful film director returning to Sicily for the funeral of his old friend.

Roman Holiday A reporter and an incognito royal princess discover Rome together.

The Wings of the Dove; A Henry James novel set in Venice following a complicated love triangle.

Bread & Tulips An Italian housewife finds herself stranded on holiday and impulsively hitchhikes her way to Venice.

The Bicycle Thief A 1948 classic set in Rome, the story of a father looking for his lost bicycle, helped by his son.

Draquila A 2010 satire about L'Aquila's catastrophic earthquake and the political controversies surrounding it.

Le Otto Montagne (Eight Mountains) Moving story of a lifelong friendship between Pietro and Bruno, beautifully filmed in the Italian Alps.