If you have friends or family planning a trip to Italy, or who have already been and fallen in love, for gift ideas, books about Italy can be the perfect selection.
With so many out there, it can be difficult to sift through and find the best, so I’ve put together a list of my very favorites to help you decide.
A Vineyard in Tuscany by Ferenc Mate`
This may be my favorite on the list, and I almost passed right by it on the shelf. After Under the Tuscan Sun, books galore emerged on Tuscany.
I expected this to be just another spin off, and I was wrong. While you find the classic home search and renovation, this author does the best job of any I’ve read of transporting his reader into the story.
My greatest surprise while reading this was how many times I laughed. From tales of mixed up words as he was learning Italian, to hilarious descriptions of the challenges of wine production, the book was a riot!
Its true charm, however is the way he slips in beautiful commentary about the land and its people. In instant, I went from laughing to being moved to tears by the beauty he describes. This book is a gem!
“The quiet outside seems to have permeated our walls, the stones, the ancient tiles, the beams. And the flavors of the land live in our wines that glow a deep and passionate red in the candlelight. But perhaps the magic of Tuscany is not all in the senses: not just in its food and wine, or its hill towns, or the drama of its ever changing light. Perhaps its magic is in the treasure we too often neglect- the peace within ourselves.”
Bella Tuscany & Every Day in Tuscany by Frances Mayes
I will preface this by saying, I love Under the Tuscan Sun dearly, but I loved these other two as much or more.
I know many people who stopped with the famous one, and never went on to read these other two. Don’t! They are both exquisite depictions and memoirs of Tuscany. Cortona is her home, but these books also give insight into other towns and even regions of Italy.
In both of these, readers learn about customs of the Tuscan people and what life is truly like there. Life is not all sunflowers and blue skies for the author and her husband, and she tells of the difficulties they faced, but also of the people, the beauty, the many moments that still made them feel at home at Bramasole.
Her passion for the area is contagious. All three of her books are not to be missed.
La Bella Lingua by Diane Hales
Just the thought of this one makes me smile. You do not have to speak Italian to enjoy this book, but after you read it you’ll want to learn.
She chooses some of her favorite words and phrases, as well as some of the commonly used Italian idioms that sound a bit funny in English, and elaborates on them.
With such a rich history, it’s no surprise that many of the phrases have their roots in the Renaissance, or even ancient times, and come with fascinating, sometimes hilarious stories.
Diane Hales brings the stories and words to life, and enhances her readers’ understanding of both the language and the culture of Italy.
La Bella Lingua is perfect for anyone planning a trip to Italy, students just beginning to learn the language, and even for those who speak well. It is simply delightful.
Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King
This book is wonderful for anyone planning a trip to Florence, or anyone who has already been. As the title suggests, the focus is strongly on architecture and the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, but it is full of history as well.
Art in Italy is so interesting, partly because of the things we know about the artists themselves. The dome we see today was the result of a contest, just barely won by Filippo Brunelleschi.
Lorenzo Ghiberti, who designed the baptistery doors, was Brunelleschi’s rival, and he almost won. At one point they were even forced to work together on the project.
Stories about both of these artists, the project itself, and life in Renaissance Italy fill these pages. Having read this, when you visit Florence you have a much greater understanding of all that went into the creation of the stunning Duomo.
Sea and Sardinia by D. H. Lawrence
It is no secret that Sardinia is my favorite place on earth, so this book was a must for me. D. H. Lawrence lived in Sicily, with views of Mt. Etna. In the first few pages, you question whether he loves the places or despises it. So, off he goes with his wife on a boat to Sardinia in the Winter time.
This is not the gushing, head over heals for Italy book the others on this list are, but it is wonderful all the same. He gives a glimpse into what it was like to travel in Italy during the early 1900s. Boats, busses and trains carry him and his wife to one town after another in Sicily and Sardinia.
Through the obvious ups and downs of their travels, he manages to describe the enchanting island better than anyone in history that I’m aware of. His words about the place I love bring tears to my eyes. If you go, they will do the same to you.
“This land resembles no other place. Sardinia is something else. Enchanting spaces and distances to travel- nothing finished, nothing definitive. It is like freedom itself.”
Italian Ways by Tim Parks
I also enjoyed his book, Italian Neighbors, but this one is special because of its focus on a huge part of Italian life, its trains. This is another book I enjoyed much more than I expected.
After living in Italy for several years, the author realized what an integral part of Italian life its train system is, and decided to travel the entire country by train only.
His experiences on the trains gives a true slice of life idea to his readers about Italian people. For anyone who has ridden the trains in Italy, had to navigate the Trenitalia website or machines, forgotten to validate their ticket, or found themselves suddenly standing on the wrong platform, the book is sure to make you laugh! It is at once educational and fun.
The Italians by John Hooper
Written by a journalist, this book is incredibly well researched. The author examines customs, common traits, superstitions, and behaviors of Italian people, and the history behind what makes them who they are.
One moment in Italy, and it is hard not to immediately love its people. There is a joy, a warmth, and a passion in Italian people impossible to ignore.
The Italy that conjures up images of ancient ruins, and Renaissance masterpieces is in fact quite young as unified country. Italy was not united until 1865, the same years as the end of our American Civil War.
This book discusses the effects this unification, the wars leading up to it, wars thereafter, poverty, and progress had on its people and the culture in Italy today.
It is longer than some of the others, but the depth of understanding it offers makes reading it time well spent.
I hope these suggestions will prove to be enjoyable for the Italy lover on your list!
Lindsay Sinko, PFI Travel USA
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