The best books for women who love Italy

Who am I?

I am grateful to my maternal grandparents, immigrants from southern Italy, who instilled in me a love for the Bel Paese that has inspired me all my life. I began to travel to Italy 45 years ago, and after writing for television—on the staff of Everybody Loves Raymond—I turned to travel writing. I’ve written 4 books about Italian travel, along with many stories for magazines. I also design and host Golden Weeks in Italy: For Women Only tours, to give female travelers an insider’s experience of this extraordinary country.


I wrote...

100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

By Susan Van Allen,

Book cover of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

What is my book about?

Savor Susan Van Allen’s entertaining anecdotes and practical details as she takes you up and down the beautiful boot to immerse yourself in Italy’s pleasures. Discover such delights as masterpieces that glorify womanly curves, the palace where Audrey Hepburn lived in Roman Holiday, gardens where courtesans once frolicked, spas for pampering, beaches for relaxing, wine bars and jazz clubs, adventures where you’ll be making tortellini with grandmas, shopping for Italy’s prized ceramics, skiing in the Dolomites, or setting up an easel to paint a Tuscan landscape. No matter your mood, even if you’re simply armchair traveling, Italy awaits. An update of the classic women have been loving for over a decade.

"Susan Van Allen is the best girlfriend you've never met." - Pittsburgh Tribune

The books I picked & why

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Under the Tuscan Sun

By Frances Mayes,

Book cover of Under the Tuscan Sun

Why this book?

Frances Mayes’s first bestseller takes us along on one woman’s journey of taking a leap of faith and pursuing a dream – buying a house in the Tuscan countryside, restoring it, and blending into the rhythms of life in Cortona. Her writing is mesmerizing, immersing us in the sensual details of the adventure – from scents of the markets season by season to faces of the locals, the wonderful sounds of the language, and changing colors out her window. She even includes easy recipes to give us a true taste of life in this paradise.

Under the Tuscan Sun

By Frances Mayes,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Under the Tuscan Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover the New York Times bestseller that inspired the film. The perfect read for anyone seeking an escape to the Italian countryside.

When Frances Mayes - poet, gourmet cook and travel writer - buys an abandoned villa in Tuscany, she has no idea of the scale of the project she is embarking on.

In this enchanting memoir she takes the reader on a journey to restore a crumbling villa and build a new life in the Italian countryside, navigating hilarious cultural misunderstandings, legal frustrations and the challenges of renovating a house that seems determined to remain a ruin.

Filled with…


Sacred Hearts

By Sarah Dunant,

Book cover of Sacred Hearts

Why this book?

I love all of Sarah Dunant’s historical fiction novels that take place in Italy. This one is a favorite, bringing me into the world of a 16th-century convent in Ferrara, centering around a rebellious teenager who has been sent there by her family. The relationships between the nuns, young and old, rituals of daily convent life, politics of the church during the days of the Counter-Reformation, and a rich love story blend to make this a fascinating read.

Sacred Hearts

By Sarah Dunant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sacred Hearts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1570 in the Italian city of Ferrara. Sixteen-year-old Serafina is fipped by her family from an illicit love affair and forced into the convent of Santa Caterina, renowned for its superb music. Serafina's one weapon is her glorious voice, but she refuses to sing. Madonna Chiara, an abbess as fluent in politics as she is in prayer, finds her new charge has unleased a power play - rebellion, ecstasies and hysterias - within the convent. However, watching over Serafina is Zuana, the sister in charge of the infirmary, who understands and might even challenge her incarceration.


On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal

By Mary Taylor Simeti,

Book cover of On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal

Why this book?

This memoir of a Sicilian year beautifully weaves together Simeti’s personal experience in rural Sicily and Palermo with her extensive knowledge of history, mythology, and culinary traditions. Simeti’s honesty truly prepared me for my first trip to Sicily – giving me a full picture of the island’s light and dark sides. 

On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal

By Mary Taylor Simeti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Persephone's Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a year of Sicilian life, its seasons and its sacred festivals, its gorgeous fruits and demanding family life, its casual assassinations and village feasts, its weather and the neighbours. It chronicles a life divided between an apartment in the city of Palermo with the weekends and summer devoted to sustaining life in an old family farm. What makes this journal truly exceptional is that Mary Simeti is both an outsider, (an American who had studied medieval history and worked as a volunteer on a social welfare programme) and an insider. For this journal was written after twenty years…


The Neapolitan Novels Boxed Set

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Book cover of The Neapolitan Novels Boxed Set

Why this book?

I have always loved visiting the city of Naples – for the great food, the rich history, and the warm locals who remind me of my southern Italian relatives. Ferrante’s novels go deep into the complexities of a female friendship that spans many decades, while also bringing to life a wide range of characters who I grew to love and truly care about, while devouring this extraordinary series.

The Neapolitan Novels Boxed Set

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Neapolitan Novels Boxed Set as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The complete four-volume boxed set of the New York Times–bestselling epic about hardship and female friendship in postwar Naples that has sold over five million copies.

Beginning with My Brilliant Friend, the four Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante follow Elena and Lila, from their rough-edged upbringing in Naples, Italy, not long after WWII, through the many stages of their lives―and along paths that diverge wildly. Sometimes they are separated by jealousy or hostility or physical distance, but the bond between them is unbreakable, for better or for worse.

This volume includes all four novels: My Brilliant Friend; The Story of…


Beautiful Ruins

By Jess Walter,

Book cover of Beautiful Ruins

Why this book?

This novel is a hilarious, intriguing romp, that begins in one of my favorite Italian locations—the coast of Liguria. I loved being taken to an imaginary seaside village there in the 1960s—before the area became crowded with tourists. Walters’ overlapping stories and charactersfrom impoverished Italian villagers to Rome during its La Dolce Vita heyday, and contemporary Hollywood producers, combined to bring me a love story that totally charmed me.

Beautiful Ruins

By Jess Walter,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Beautiful Ruins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller—Jess Walter’s “absolute masterpiece” (Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author): the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 and resurfaces fifty years later in contemporary Hollywood.

The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet. Hailed by critics and loved by readers of literary and historical fiction, Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962...and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Italy, movie stars, and convents?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Italy, movie stars, and convents.

Italy Explore 265 books about Italy
Movie Stars Explore 27 books about movie stars
Convents Explore 11 books about convents

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Year in Provence, Footsteps, and The Talented Mr. Ripley if you like this list.