Ready To Go?

Please find below some information to help you plan for your walking tour in Italy.  Please let us know if you have any comments or any other suggestions that we can add.  Buon viaggio!

Italy entry requirements:

Italy entry requirements:

If you are travelling with an Australian, New Zealand, US or Canadian passport, you will not require a visa to enter the European Union, or EU, (which includes Italy and twenty-six other countries, known as the Schengen countries) as long as your stay is no longer than 90 days over a total of 180 days. Basically, you turn up to the Italian customs desk on arrival and they will stamp your passport with the authorisation.  If you want to stay longer, you will need to contact your nearest Italian embassy or consulate.

There will be changes to the procedures next year.  As of mid-2025, the EU will introduce the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which is an electronic system that will require all visitors from countries that don’t need a visa to enter the EU to obtain authorisation for trips under 90 days.

The application isn’t open yet, but when it’s available, applicants will fill out an online application and pay a small fee of around € 7.  You’ll need to share personal information like your date of birth, parent’s names, and details about your current occupation and previous criminal convictions.  You’ll also need to provide a valid passport that is good for at least three months.  We understand that you will still be required to have your passport stamped on arrival into the Schengen zone.

Eating in Italy

Eating in Italy

Last year, I was having dinner with a friend of in a restaurant in Milan.  At the end of the meal she asked for a cappuccino and, without batting an eyelid, the waiter declared a polite, but firm, No. 

My friend was at first surprised and then annoyed.  However, there was clearly no room for compromise and fortunately, and she didn’t make a scene and settled for a short black.  My first reaction was surprise as well, which transitioned into amusement and finally respect.  Respect for my friend for being gracious and respect for the waiter for holding the line.

As anyone who has driven in Italy or observed Italian politics will know, Italians are not a compliant people.  They are generally not good at doing what they are told to do, but, when it comes to food, Italians can be real sticklers.  I don’t think they see this, however, as complying to rules.  Food is absolutely central to Italian life.  From the moment they can hold a spoon, everyone talks about it all the time and they seem to have a profound, collective understanding of food, where it comes from, how it is prepared and how it is eaten.  Hence their rigidity.  I think their reluctance to bend the rules, to compromise their culinary traditions, is a very important reason why Italian food is so diverse, and SOOO good. 

It is very hard to get a bad meal in Italy (perhaps only in some high tourist areas).  Chefs and cooks, from the fanciest restaurants to the most modest country trattoria, take great pride in the food they present.  I feel, that if you have the attitude that you are the paying customer and you will have what you like, you might be missing the point.  I think approaching the Italian eating experience with respect and curiosity, you will be amply rewarded, otherwise I’m asking myself what you are doing there in the first place.  It might have been better to stay at home or have ordered a takeaway.

When you enter an Italian restaurant, walk in with confidence.  Be happy.  Don’t creep in like an intruder.  Ask the waiter what the local specialities are and what they would recommend (they mostly speak English these days or can easily fetch someone who does).  If you really want to kick goals and delight the kitchen, just tell the waiter ‘Sono nelle vostre mani!’ (I am in your hands!), ie  Please bring me whatever you think is best.  It’s a bit of a risky strategy pricewise (a leap into the unknown) but I have never been ripped off (if you are worried, you could maybe add ‘and not too expensive, please’) and I have had some great service and fabulous meals as a result.

One of the concerns, however, for me when I’m travelling and regularly eating out in Italy, is the amount of food that you can be presented with each night (volume often equates with hospitality).  Don’t worry though, regular Italians do not eat like this every night either!

The full meals that we have in a restaurant are generally designed for a special occasion, which is great for a slow Sunday lunch or a birthday, but it can be hard work if you are eating like this every day.  Please note that it is perfectly acceptable to only order a couple of courses (an antipasto/appetiser and a main, or a pasta and dessert, for example) but it is probably best to ask the waiter first if this is OK before you are seated: Do you mind if we only have two courses?  They’ll always say yes, well almost always.  Anyway, if they don't say yes, you are better off going somewhere else!

Does and don'ts in an Italian restaurant (or home for that matter)

Does and don'ts in an Italian restaurant (or home for that matter)

Italians have loosened up a little bit over the years (which, as you may guess, I don’t think is necessarily a good thing) but below are some suggestions for not bemusing your hosts:

  • Always say Buongiorno, or Buonasera, to your waiter before you sit down.
  • Don’t ask for a cappuccino after eleven o’clock (and, for heaven’s sake, never with a meal!)
  • Don’t butter your bread (maybe a bit of olive oil, if you must).
  • Bread should be torn into small pieces using your hands (nicely) as you go and the remainder left on the tablecloth beside your setting until you need it (ie don't expect a bread and butter plate).
  • No cheese on seafood (it kills the delicate flavour of the fish) or on spicey food (it doesn't need it).
  • Do not eat spaghetti with anything but a fork (spoons are for children and foreigners) and NEVER with a knife and fork (practice before you get there!).
  • Don’t eat bread with your pasta (too many carbs)
  • Don’t ask for salt and pepper and, definitely, no tomato sauce/ketchup (it’s an afront to the chef/cook).
  • Always say Salute ('salutay') or cin cin ('chin chin') before you take the first sip of your aperitivo or wine (it is not necessary or appropriate to say before drinking water).
  • Fill you own glass with wine, the bottle is usually left open in the middle of the table (and no sneaky pours into other people's glasses, the wine is there on a help-yourself basis).
  • Always say Buon Appetito, knife and fork in hand, before you start eating.
  • You don’t have to eat four courses but, please, eat them in the right order (antipasto/appetiser; primo/first course; secondo/main course; dolce/dessert).  Salad is eaten after your main course. 
  • Please also be aware that if people at your table are all eating a different number of courses this will cause considerable consternation for the waitstaff and kitchen.  Please work with the waiter and try to coordinate the dishes.
  • Try to eat everything that is put in front of you (you can always ask for a small portion, but good luck with that), however, it is ok NOT to eat everything – just put your knife and fork together on your plate, pat your stomach and send apologies to the chef.  BTW, I have never dared ask for a doggy bag, but you could try your luck (attitudes to waste are changing).
  • Theoretically, you shouldn’t wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread (known in Italian as ‘la scarpetta’, the little shoe) but in reality, it’s secretly appreciated as it means you enjoyed your meal (just do it discretely, no big flourishes!).
  • It is not necessary to leave a tip (waiting in Italy is a profession and they are paid properly, and you may have already been charged a 10% ‘service charge’) but rounding up the bill or leaving a 5 or 10 euro note, is appreciated.

                                        GOOD LUCK and BUON APPETITO!

What to take on the walks

What to take on the walks

While the walks on these tours are generally 'walks' and not 'hikes', you will be on your feet and going over a variety of terrain for most of your time, so it is important to the appropriate equipment.

A strong pair of broken-in walking shoes/boots (with ankle support and good, deep tread) and a comfortable pair of socks are two of the most essential items. Good quality walking sandals can work in summer. You may get by with a good pair of sport shoes, but purpose made shoes/boots are far better. We also recommend taking a set of walking sticks.

As far as clothing, we suggest wearing a loose pair of cotton trousers or shorts, a good cotton T-shirt (with a collar to protect your neck) and a hat. We also suggest that you include the following in your day pack: a light jumper or long-sleeved shirt in your pack (in case of chill or prolonged exposure to the sun); a light-weight waterproof jacket; a good supply of water (at least 1 litre per person) and some high energy snack food, such as chocolate or dried fruits, just in case. We would also suggest you take a small first aid kit.

For the evenings, 'smart casual', ie no tiaras or jackets and ties.  Although they have relaxed a bit over the years, Italians still put a lot of store in appearance and presentation, so we would suggest dressing with a bit of thought when you go out in the evening, not just thongs and shorts!

Preparing for the walks

Preparing for the walks

How long does it take to get into shape for the walks?

That depends on you, though we would recommend getting started at least three months before you set off.  Be patient and listen to your body:  start gently and build up.  Aim to do some form of exercise at least three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes each time.

Start walking. 

Begin with shorter, less strenuous routes (nothing gets muscles ready for the trail better than the trail itself).  Gradually increase the length of your walks to around 10 to 12 kms; gradually increasing the elevation of your walks as well (incorporating hills and steps, if possible) and start carrying a loaded daypack (ie with a litre of water, warm top, rain coat, camera and some snacks).

Hit the gym. 

Try stair-steppers, elliptical trainers and climbing machines.  Consider step aerobics and lifting weights (trained muscles are less susceptible to injury and strains).  Pilates is an excellent way to build body strength and balance.  Swimming is another great aerobic workout: it's good for the lungs and heart, and easy on the joints.  Use what's around you.  Take the stairs, walking (or running!) up and down stairs on a regular basis is terrific pre-trail training.  Walk instead of drive.  If you can perform routine chores by leaving your car keys in your pocket, do so.  If you have a bike, start pedaling, cycling is another good way to condition your legs and increase endurance. Gentle jogging is also a popular training option for getting in shape.

Communications:

Communications:

Phones:

Mobile/cell phones from Australia and New Zealand are generally compatible with the European system, while North American phones’ compatibility vary from state to state (please check before you leave). 

Making calls using your home phone number may incur significant costs so please check with your provider before you leave. One alternative to this is to replace your SIM card, although you will need to make sure that your phone is not ‘locked’ (check with your provider before you leave).

While International SIM cards can be bought before you leave home, I think the best option is to buy an Italian SIM card when you arrive. TIM (the main Italian phone provider) and Vodaphone have shops in at Rome Fiumincino and Milano Malpensa airports. Both services also have shops in most sizable towns. I would recommend TIM because I feel it has the best coverage, particularly outside the urban areas.  Please note that because of antiterrorism laws you may need to have your passport with you to buy either a SIM card or a new phone.

Please note, the daily walks on the App can be download so they will operate without coverage (or using data!)

Internet and e-mails:
Internet coverage is generally quite good throughout Italy although it can be a little uneven outside the urban centres. Most hotel will have free wifi.

 

Driving in Italy

Driving in Italy

Having a car is a fabulous way of exploring Italy.  Car rental is quite reasonable (starting from 250 to 300 euro per week).  All the major car rental firms are present in Italy, usually with offices at the airports and in the city centres.

Italian drivers have an unfair reputation as bad drivers.  On the contrary, I think they are very skilful and attentive - the difficulty is that they operate from a different paradigm.  Like other aspects of Italian life, driving rules tend to be treated with a certain flexibility, eg respecting give way signs, lane markers, pedestrian crossings (never assume that they will stop for you), parking signs etc.  As a visitor, however, the onus is on us to adapt to their style rather than expecting to conform to ours.


Because of the narrow, crowded streets, complicated one-way streets and limited parking, I feel it is best to avoid driving in the cities.  My tip is, where possible, to pick up and drop off your hire car at the airport and use the shuttle service to get in and out of town.

Italy has an extensive freeway system, the autostrade (green signs) which is an excellent way to get from A to B, although it can be a little boring.  The 120 km per hour speed limit is often exceeded (and can seem more like a minimum than a maximum speed).  I'd suggest only using the outer fast lane only to overtake.  On a three lane road, I'd suggest sticking in the middle lane!


Be prepared for congestion on the autostradas that circle the big cities during morning and evening peak hours, as they are often used by commuters.  If possible, plan longer trips for Sundays and public holidays, as semi-trailers and heavy transports aren't allowed on the autostradas on these days.

As convenient as the autostradas are, as a rule, I prefer to stick with the smaller state highways (blue signs) and local roads (SP) - less pressure, more interesting and more enjoyable!

Public transport

Public transport

By train:

Trains are a great way of travelling around.  Italy Italy has an extensive, reliable and reasonably priced rail network with a very good website:  www.trenitalia.com.  Tickets can be bought directly at the stations or at most local travel agents.  Boooking a seat is highly recommended, particularly for longer trips (a garanteed seat is automatic with the upmarket Eurostar).

Always get to the stations early and double-check your platform as these can change on short notice.  Getting luggage up into the carriage and into the narrow overracks can be a real challenge so travel as light as you can and get there early to get some space.

Most importantly, stamp your ticket before getting on the train.  If you don't validate your ticket you will liable to a hefty fine.  Tickets are regularly checked and ignorance of the rules is no excuse.  All stations have yellow validating machines, although not all platforms (another reason for getting there with plenty of time).


By bus:

Regional buses:

Trains don't go everywhere, and even if they do, sometimes the regional bus service is better - more direct and cheaper (eg between Florence and Siena).  Timetables and tickets are available at the bus stations (usually next to the town's railway station) or on the buses themselves.    A very useful website is:  www.ibus.it.

City buses: 

City buses are always cheap, around a euro, and are usually valid for 75 minutes travel on other buses and often the underground.  Travel on the buses can require a little planning as the tickets must be bought before getting on the bus and can bought in newsagents and tobacconists.  Like rail tickets they must be stamped once on board.  The mchines are usually up the back and you'll have to fight your way through no matter how crowded as you will be fined for travelling without a ticket or with an unstamped ticket.

Some reading suggestions before you go

Some reading suggestions before you go

Having some background knowledge about Italy and its heritage before you arrive will enhance your enjoyment of the visit.  Blow are some books that would be a useful start.

General:

For general reading on Italy you might like to try the following.  The standard history of modern Italy is written by Paul Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy, 1943 – 1988 and Italy and Its Discontents, 1980 - 2000, while Italy: A Short History by Harry Hearder is probably the best single volume survey of Italian history.  David Gilmour’s recent In Pursuit of Italy is a very readable personal interpretation of Italian history.

Luigi Barzini’s The Italians is the best-known portrait of the Italian people although the recently published Bella Figura, a field guide to the Italian mind, a very amusing ironic look at contemporary Italy written by a Milanese journalist Beppe Severgnini, has also had great success.

The classic book on Italian cooking is Elizabeth David’s Italian Food, first published in 1954 but there have been many more since then, including several by Marcella Hazan, which tend to have a northern Italian emphasis.  For wine, Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion and Burton Anderson’s Wine Atlas of Italy are the two standards.  Anderson also produced a very good small guide The Mitchell Beazley Pocket Guide to Italian Wines.

Courmayeur and the Valle d'Aosta:

For something more general on the region of Val d’Aosta try:  Rough Guide to Piemonte and the Valle d’Aosta (I find the Rough Guide series a good combination of practical advice and cultura/historical background) or National Geographic Piedmont and North-west Italy; Tim Jepson.  Blue Guide, Northern Italy: From the Alps to the Adriatic by Paul Blanchard is an excellent guide that gives a thorough overview of the art, architecture and history of northern Italy.

For something more lighthearted, Antonio Manzini’s character Rocco Schiavone is a widowed police chief deputy who has recently been transferred from Rome to his hometown in Aosta for disciplinary reasons. While he hates his new reality, Schiavone continues his work investigating crimes that disrupt the peaceful Aosta Valley, though often resorting to methods bordering on legality.  There are five books in the series.

Killing of Dragons by Fergus Fleming is a history of the exploration of the Alps, while Scrambles among the Alps (1860 to 1889) by Edward Whymper and Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys by Amelia Edwards (first published in 1873) are charming and engaging recollections by two pioneer explorers of the region.

Piedmont:

Rough Guide to Piemonte and the Valle d’Aosta (I find the Rough Guide series a good combination of practical advice and cultura/historical background) or National Geographic Piedmont and North-west Italy; Tim Jepson.  Blue Guide, Northern Italy: From the Alps to the Adriatic by our own Paul Blanchard is an excellent guide that gives a thorough overview of the art, architecture and history of northern Italy (Paul also leads the Hidden Italy Garden tour of Tuscany in May); Autumn in Piedmont: Food and Travels in Italy’s Northwest by Manuela Darling-Gassner is a very good glossy travelogue focusing on the food and traditions of the region.

Piedmont has produced some fine writers.  My favourite is Primo Levi, an industrial chemist from Turin.  A kind of Italian David Malouf, Levi wrote simply and with great insight.  His most famous work is If this a Man that recalls his terrible experiences in Auschwitz but my favourite is his wonderful memoir The Periodic Table, a series of essays recalling his life before and after WW II.

Other famous works from this period include A Private Affair by Beppe Fenoglio, who was a partisan in the Alba district (a highly regarded novellla set in Piedmont in 1943 as Italy surrenders to the Allied Forces) and Partigiano Johnny (or Johnny the Partisan in English) is probably the most important Italian novel of this period – a film based on the book was made in 2000.  The final section of the last day’s walk back into Alba follows a trail dedicated to Fenolgio.  Cesare Pavese’s The Moon and the Bonfires.  Cesare Pavese was a kind of Italian JD Salinger, still much loved by young Italians, who fled to the Alba district from the bombing of Turin.  Pavese’s last novel, The Moon and the Bonfires, published shortly before his premature death in 1950, evokes post-Mussolini Italy.  The book is also set in the Alba district.

Venice and the Lakes:

Some classic accounts of travelling in Venice and northern Italy include The Stones of Venice by the Victorian writer John Ruskin, Twilight in Italy by DH Lawrence, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (a semi-autobiographical novel set during WW I in Milan and the lakes) and A Traveller in Italy by HV Morton (written in the 1930s and 40s).  All are a little dated but insightful and charming. 

More contemporary books on Venice include Venice by James Morris (and the recently updated World of Venice by Jan Morris – same author, different sex) and the very beefy A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich.  Less earnest recent works include City of Falling Angels by John Berent (based around the recent fire that destroy Venice’s opera house), A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi and A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant (two romances set in Venice, the former modern and the latter based on an illicit romance the author discovered rifling through family papers from the 17th century). 

Guido Brunetti is a fictional Italian detective, created by Swiss/American writer Donna Leon. He is a commissario (detective superintendent) in the Italian State Police, stationed in Venice and a native of that city. Brunetti is the protagonist of (so far) 32 novels: He also appears in a German TV film series based on these novels.  They are a great read.

If you are keen, there are many other books set in Venice:  Othello and The Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare); Death in Venice (Thomas Mann); Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino); The Thief Lord (Cornelia Funke); The Talented Mr Ripley (Patricia Highsmith) to name but a few.

Surprisingly, not many modern books seem to be set on Lake Como and those that are, not surprisingly, are mostly romances.  Some examples of books that are include: Once Night Falls (Rolanda Merullo, set during World War 2); The Place We Met (Isabelle Broom); The Affair (Hilary Boyd); and Gardens of Delight (Erca James).

Northern Italy, of course, has produced a lot of good modern writers.  The most important, and considered the father of modern Italian literature, is Alessandro Manzoni, whose classic work I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), written in the late 1800s and set in Milan and around Lake Como during the plague of the 17th century, is a surprisingly enjoyable read.   Turin produced a number of great writers in the 20th century, including Cesare Pavese, a JD Salinger type of figure much loved by the youth (The Moon and the Bonfires and a collection of short stories and poems The Devil in the Hills); Primo Levi, whose most famous work is If this is a Man, about his experiences in Auschwitz, but who also wrote on other topics, including a charming novel called The Wrench, about a construction worker in Turin, and a marvellous collection of essays (about a lot more than science) called The Periodic Table, which last year  was voted the best science book ever written by London’s Royal Institute (Levi was a chemist).  Natalia Ginzborg, born in Sicily but raised and living in Turin, is one of Italy’s major novelists, her books include Voices in the Evening, Family Sayings and The City and the House.

The Dolomites:

The Hidden Life of Tyrol by Martha A Ward is a comprehensive, if a tad academic, anthropological study of the area we’ll be visiting.  South Tyrol by Rolf Steininger is an ‘Austrian’ view of the very contested modern history of the Dolomites.  Killing of Dragons by Fergus Fleming is a history of the exploration of the Alps, while Scrambles among the Alps (1860 to 1889) by Edward Whymper and Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys by Amelia Edwards (first published in 1873) are charming and engaging recollections by two pioneer explorers of the region.  There was terrible fighting between the Austrian and Italian armies in the Dolomites in World War I.  Two books write focus on this: The First World War in the Alps by Michael Wachtler and The White War by Mark Thompson, while A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway deals with the dramatic collapse of the Italian line in 1917.

Some other books that may interest you:  Iceman:  Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric Man Found in an Alpine Glacier by Brenda Fowler (a very interesting read about Otzi); Medusa by Michael Dibdin (an Aurelio Zen mystery that starts in the Dolomites) and Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino (includes some Alpine folktales) and, finally, if you are up to it, the movie Cliffhanger by Sylvester Stallone is shot in the Dolomites.

Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera:

There is not a lot of information available in English (or Italian, for that matter) on the Cinque Terre, apart from what is to be found in the general guide books on northern Italy.  The official tourist website for the Cinque Terre is quite useful and has both Italian and English versions www.cinqueterre.it as does the Tourist Consortium website for Levanto, www.levanto.com  and Portovenere and La Spezia www.golfodeipoeti.com.

There is little available in English written specifically about the Cinque Terre area, however, a number of excellent books are available which are set in the general area.  These include A Tuscan Cildhood by Kinta Beevor (set just south of the border with Liguria) and Love and War in the Appenines by Eric Newby (set in the mountains behind).

Probably the best general guide to the Italian Riviera is the Cadogan guide Italian Riviera by Dana Facaros and the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Italian Riviera.  Food Wine: Italian Riviera Genoa by David Downie is a very good overview of the area’s culinary treats, while Extra Virgin: Amongst the Olive Groves of Liguria by Annie Hawes is a personal recollection of life and love in the hills behind the coast.  Two novels set in wartime Liguria are Last Train from Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickie and From Liguria with Love: Capture, Imprisonment and Escape in Wartime Italy by MP Ross.  Portofino is a cheesy novel by Frank Schaeffer recalling life as an ex-pat in the 1960s.

Tuscany:

Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron (written in the 14th century) is a wonderful collection of tales told by a group of Florentines refugees hold up in a Tuscan villa and garden to avoid the plague.  Alta Macadam’s Blue Guide Tuscany and Blue Guide Florence are the most comprehensive guides in English.

Italian Villas and Their Gardens by Edith Warton is a classic and important book, first published in 1904.  Sophie Bajard and Raffaello Bencini’s Villas and Gardens of Tuscany is the classic coffee-table book on Tuscan villas and gardens with excellent photography by Raffaello Bencini.

The Italian City Republics by Daniel Waley is an excellent introduction to the formative years (late medieval period onwards) of the region.  Siena was the dominant political and cultural force in southern Tuscany.  Judith Hook’s Siena.  A City and its History gives a excellent overview of this extraordinary city in its prime, from its emergence as an independent city-state in the 11th century to its defeat by the Florentines in the 16th century.

Iris Origo’s War in the Val d’Orcia is an English woman’s account of the Second World War in the region.  In recent times there have been many personal accounts of foreigners resident in southern Tuscany.  The most famous is Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Maye.  A more substantial and interesting read is Isabel Dusi’s detailed portrait of the life and traditions of Montalcino Vanilla Beans and Brodo and Bel Vino.

La Tuscia:

La Tuscia walk passes through the heartland of the Etruscans.  The best and most readable introduction to the Etruscan civilisation and history is The Etruscans by Raymond Bloch, while the standard contemporary historical study is also called The Etruscans by Massimo Pallotini, and is a concise and authoritative account. 

For a less academic and more descriptive read, the classic guide to the Etruscan sites in this area was written by George Dennis and is called The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria.  It was first published in 1848 and is unsurpassed as an introduction.  Dennis was the British Consul in Rome but seems to have spent most of his long career exploring central Italy and discovering the lost lands of the Etruscans. He was one of those marvellous eccentrics that the British seemed to produce in the 19th century and the two volumes of his beautifully illustrated guide make very enjoyable reading.  The books may be found in the larger libraries.  I came across an original copy in Berkelouews second-hand bookshop in Sydney a couple of years ago and it remains of one of my treasures. 

D.H. Lawrence’s Etruscan Places is an interesting, if overly romantised and largely inaccurate, musing by the great man on Etruscan art and civilisation, very much interpreted to suit his own philosophy and politics.

Umbria:

There is a long tradition of ex-pats writing their memoirs and impressions of central Italy.  The most recent is Francis Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, but there are a number of others set in Umbria, including the prolific Edward Hutton who wrote Cities of Umbria and Assisi and Umbria Revisited during the early 1920’s and 30s.   More recent authors include Jonathon Keates’ Umbria, a memoir by Lisa St Aubin de Teran, A Valley in Italy: The Many Seasons of a Villa in Umbria, and Umbria: Italy’s Timeless Heart by Paul Hofmann, as well as a rather gloomy but accomplished novel by Barry Unsworth After Hannibal.  For a more visual idea of the area, Federico Zefferilli’s film about St Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ was film in southern Umbria and may be available online.

Sardinia:

Probably the best general introduction to Sardinia is Sardinia by Russell King.  DH Lawrence wrote a rather lame but celebrated book on his brief to Sardinia called Sea and Sardinia.  Virgina Waite’s Sardinia is probably a more useful read.  Sardinia has produced a number of notable writers, the most famous of whom is the Nobel Laureate Grazia Deledda.  Whose novels include After the Divorce and Cosima, an autobiography. 

Salvatore Satta was from Nuoro near the Supramonte, like Deledda.  His book The Day of Judgement evokes life in Sardinia’s remotest recesses.  The most famous film set in Sardinia is Padre Padrone a true story of a young man transcending his harsh life as a shepherd in the centre of the island.  Giuliano Bugialli’s Foods of Sicily and Sardinia is a good introduction to the topic.

Naples and the Amalfi Coast:

Naples has recently generated much literature.  The Neapolitan Novels is a 4-part series by the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein.  It has been one of the literary phenomenoms of recent years.  It includes four novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.  The series follows the lives of two perceptive and intelligent girls, Elena Greco and Raffaella Cerullo, from childhood to adulthood and old age, as they try to create lives for themselves amidst the violent and stultifying culture of their home – a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Italy.

Another writer, Erri de Luca, roughly the same age as Ferrante, with more than sixty books to his name.  A number have captured awards in Europe, and his common mode is the short novel of a boy’s initiation.  A good example is The Day Before Happiness, a tale in which a boy hears of the War’s Resistance fighters that help him handle the Camorra, Naples’ infamous ‘mafia’.  The Camora also provide the subject for Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano.  Though Saviano lacks Ferrante’s formal command, so harrowing is this personal journey through the depredations of ‘the System’, so unforgettably does it detail those abuses, its writer lives now in hiding, under guard.  A movie of the same name was also made several years ago.

The Ancient Shore, Dispatches from Naples, Shirley Hazzard.  Australian author Shirley Hazzard lyrically and lovingly meditates on the city's present and past, encountering along the way the ghosts of great writers in this brief anthology, which also includes a celebrated New Yorker essay by her husband Francis Steegmuller;  Greene on Capri, A Memoir - slices of literary hobnobbing mixed with generous descriptions of the Italian island. This memoir is ultimately about the author's friendship with Graham Greene, but there's plenty of commentary of Capri's history and culture for those seeking a flavor of the place.

Pompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris.  In this fine historical by British novelist Harris, an upstanding Roman engineer rushes to repair an aqueduct in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, which, in A.D. 79, is getting ready to blow its top;  Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year,  This brilliant book is an account of Carlo Levi's banishment to a remote village in southern Italy for his opposition to Fascism in 1935.

Sicily:

Two classic accounts of travelling in Sicily are The Golden Honeycomb by Vincent Cronin and A Traveller in Southern Sicily by HV Morton.  Both are a little dated but insightful and charming.

Two more contemporary books are The Mattanza: Love and Death on the Sea of Sicily by Theresa Maggio, an account of life in a fishing community on a small Sicilian island, and Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb, which is a rather dense but fascinating look at Sicilian art, food, politics and Mafia.

While on the subject of the Mafia, Giovanni Falcone’s book Men of Honor is a brief but riveting insight into the machinations of criminal underworld in Sicily, written by the judge who was murdered in 1992.  Norman Lewis’ The Honoured Society is the most famous recent account of the Cosa Nostra.

Sicily has produced a lot of good modern writers, including two Nobel laureates: the playwright Pirandello and the poet Quasimodo.  Apart from Guiseppe di Lampedusa’s wonderful book The Leopard (which was also made into a very good film) on the decline of the island’s aristocracy, the most celebrated modern writer is probably Leonardo Sciascia who sparsely written stories and short novels capture the mystery and danger of Sicily.  His best-known books are The Day of the Owl and The Sicilian Uncles.

Gesualdo Bufalino, who died recently, published his first book when he was sixties.  His best-known books are The Plague Sowers and The Night’s Lies. Dacia Maraini was born in Florence to a Sicilian mother.  Her book The Silent Duchess, the tale of a noble family set in the eighteenth century, was one of the most popular novels in Italy in recent times.

Andrea Camilleri, though, is probably Sicily’s most popular contemporary writer.  His numerous books on the adventures of Detective Montalbano are available in English (eg The Shape of Water and the Terra Cotta Dog) as is the charming TV series, which has lots of wonderful settings in Sicily.

Puglia:

Between Salt Water and Holy Water by Italian historian Tomaso Astarita is an insightful account of southern Italian history.  The Middle Ages under the Norman kings when pilgrims, crusaders and traders from all over Europe streamed into Puglia to set sail from its eastern ports was probably the region’s period of greatest splendour and adventure.  John Julius Norwich’s imposing tome The Normans in the South and The Kingdom in the Sun are very readable historys of this period.

Frederick II, Medieval Emperor by David Abulafia is a biography of Puglia’s most beloved king, who was also the dominant personality of his age in Europe.  Castel del Monte, Geometric Marvel of the Middle Ages by Heinz Cotze is a detailed study of Frederick’s enigmatic castle that dominates northern Puglia.  By the Ionian Sea: Rambles in Southern Italy  by George Gissing is a charming, but difficult to find, record of a 19th century Englishman’s encounters with Calabria and Puglia.

Casa Rossa by Francesca Marciano is a vivid novel following the lives of a mother, daughter, and granddaughter from Puglia over the course of the 20th century, opening as the narrator prepares to sell Casa Rossa, the family farm.  Head Over Heel: Seduced by southern Italy.  After falling in love with la bella Daniela, Chris Harrison uproots his life in Australia to follow her to her small hometown on the coast of Puglia and live a dolce vita – a cheesy tale of amore, Italian style.

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