Italy is one of my favourite places in the world, and I have a particular love of historical novels set there. My own novel BITTER GREENS is set half in Venice and in a tower on the shores of Lake Garda - t gave me a wonderful excuse for a trip there!
Today I've gathered together a list of what I consider the BEST 25 BOOKS SET IN ITALY:
(in alphabetical order)
1. The Wedding Officer – Anthony Capella
I loved this books so much! Its set in Sicily during the Second World War, and is all about food and love. It'll make you want to cook, I warn you!
2. Four Seasons – Laurel Corona
A beautiful book about Vivaldi and the women musicians of the Pieta in Venice.
3. A Thousand Days in Venice - Marlena de Blasi
This is really a memoir and not a novel, but I really loved it and so wanted to include it. Another gorgeous book about love and food.
4. The Principessa – Christie Dickason
Set in the Italian city-state of La Spada, the gateway to Europe, this is an absolutely wonderful book of romance, palace intrigue, murder and fireworks.
5. The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant
I loved this book - its bold, passionate and brilliantly brings the world of Renaissance Italy to life.
6. In the Company of the Courtesan - Sarah Dunant
One of my all time favourite books!
7. Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant
This one is set in a convent in Ferrara, Italy, in the year 1570 - I sat up till after 2am to finish it. An absolute zinger!
8. Leonardo’s Swans – Karen Essex
Set in Renaissance Italy, the book charts the lives, loves and marriages of two sisters. Isabella and Beatrice, and their relationship with Leonardo da Vinci. This is historical writing at its best, vivid, alive, crackling with sexual and political tension, and uncompromising in its reality.
9. The Glassblower of Murano – Marina Fiorato
This novel tells the parallel stories of a glassblower in Venice, 1681, and his descendant centuries later, a young woman who dreams of being a glassblowing artiste herself. It’s a simple, romantic story, but well told and with lots of lovely Venetian details.
10. The Madonna of the Almonds - Marina Fiorato
A story of love, art, war and the story behind the making of the Amaretto di Saronna liquer - loved it!
11. The Botticelli Secret - Marina Fiorato
A grand romp of an adventure through Renaissance Italy and Botticelli’s most famous painting, ‘La Primavera’, this was a great read (though you may need to willingly suspend your disbelief about quite a number of things). I loved it, though. The heroine Luciana is a delight, and the illumination of some of the possibly meanings behind the figures in the painting quite fascinating.
12. Daughter of Siena - Marina Fiorato
This lush historical novel set in 18th century Siena is a fabulous read, with a perfect blend of action, mystery and love.
13. The Venetian Contract - Marina Fiorato
Her latest book and just as good as all her others.
14. A Room with a View- E.M. Forster
An old favourite of mine and one I like to re-read every few years. A beautiful, subtle love story set partly in Italy and partly in England, with a gentle satire on English manners and mores – a wonderful book.
15. Where Angels’ Fear to Tread – E.M. Forster
Not as well known as A Room with a View, but just as good - romance and misunderstandings among English ex-pats in a small Italian village
16. Juliet – Anne Fortier
A brilliant read! I really recommend it. This book tells the story of the original Juliet of Shakespearean fame, in parallel with the modern-day quest of a young American woman to find an ancient family legacy. I love books which parallel two historical periods, particularly when it is done as well as this one.
17. The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke
An absolutely wonderful and magical children's book set in Venice. I love all of Cornelia Funke's books but this is my favourite. A must read for all ages.
17. The Confessions of Catherine de Medici – C.W. Gortner
An absolutely fabulous historical novel told from the point of view of Catherine de Medici, one of the most maligned women in history. The parts dealing with her childhood are set in Italy; the rest in France.
18. The Falconer’s Knot – Mary Hoffman
‘A tale of poison, bloodshed and passion’ ... a fabulous book, and one I can highly recommend.
19. I, Mona Lisa – Jeanne Kalogridis
This was the first book I have read by Jeanne Kalogridas and it won't be the last. I really enjoyed this book, which tells the story of the woman behind Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting. So little was known about Lisa Gherardini, Kalogridas was able to position her right in the heart of the intrigues, murders, and religious fanaticism of Florence in the days of Savaronola. A really good, exciting, romantic book.
20. The Borgia Bride - Jeanne Kalogridis
The tagline for this book reads ‘Incest. Poison. Betrayal. Three wedding presents for the Borgia Bride.’ This sums up the book really well. It’s a real historical page turner, set in Italy in the 1490s when the Borgia family ruled Rome. Riveting stuff.
21. The Book of Unholy Mischief – Elle Newmark
An utterly fabulous read! Set in 15th century Venice, with a boy who seeks to protect an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. Lots of intrigue, drama, danger and cooking.
22. Vivaldi’s Virgins – Barbara Quick
Another wonderful book about Vivaldi and the girl musicians of the Pieta in Venice - full of atmosphere and beauty.
23. Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers
This novel tells the story of a prim and proper Englishwoman who goes to Venice and finds her life transformed by the power of art and love. It made me want to move to Venice!
24. The Passion of Artemisia – Susan Vreeland
A novel inspired by the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few women to ever be admitted into the salons of Renaissance Florence. Read my Interview with Susan Vreeland for more.