By Daria Radler After months of impatient waiting it finally happened. Spring had been announcing its arrival slowly but steadily. It had been unfolding like a Christmas calendar that, instead of chocolate, gave me a new leaf along with a new shade of green […]
Suggested Readings for Your Trip to Italy
The cream of the crop by a long long haul (unless you don’t like your guide books accurate, complete, well-written and British). Around since 1918, every few years they update their line.
These guides (and the Fodor’s) are about not so bad either. A good range of recommendations, combined with an honest attempt to take you rather off the beaten track. Put out by those adventurous Brits.
Fodor’s “Gold Guides”
These particular Fodor guides (characterized by a cover that’s got a gold bar across the top) are better than the other Fodor offerings. Chock full of good information, well-organized — though if you would like to have some pretty pictures, best look elsewehere. Good area maps; lacking are the town maps you find in the Rough Guides.
A solid series of guidebooks — get the ones that deal specifically with the region or city you’re interested in. The hotel and food recommendations are pretty extensive, though suited primarily to the budget-minded traveler. Great little maps of a whole slew of towns. Well-organized and properly-sized for a quick draw from a hip pocket.
Nicely put together with lots of nice pictures and good suggestions for places to go — though they’re organized a little too loosely for use as a quick reference. Better as a friendly traveling companion.
Great descriptions of sites to see with solid cultural/historical background information. Good, standard recommendations for lodging and food.
Traveler’s Tales: Italy
The subtitle of this series is “True Stories of Life on the Road” — entertaining, thoughtful essays by a range of writers on different regions of Italy.
Field Guides and Natural History
The Sierra Club Natural Traveler: Wild Italy — Tim Jepson
Lots of maps, drawings and photographs of fauna and flora make this introduction to the wilder areas of Italy a useful guide.
Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy — Gary P. Nabhan
An entertaining travelogue that looks into the envirionmental/cultural history of the Italians. Heaps of interesting botanical lore, as well.
Western Society and the Church in the Middle Age — R. W. Southern
While more correctly a work of European history, this superb book provides a rich backdrop to Italian culture and history from the 8th to the 16th century.
The Italian Renaissance — J. H. Plumb
A good overview of the renaissance, its politics and culture — with nice sketches of some of the formative figures of the age.
The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy — Jacob Burckhardt
A classic of 19th-century historical writing, and highly influential on later historical thought. Though Burckhardt’s basic outlook feels dated, his historical sketches and stories of the age are quite entertaining.
A Traveler’s History of Italy — Valerio Lintner
A good general introduction to Italy’s history, offering considerably more than the typical guidebook.
The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall — Christopher Hibbert
A fascinating account of the famous Florentine family, whose banking and merchant activities brought them to the forefront of the Italian renaissance.
The Italians — Luigi Barzini
Barzini takes a wryly funny look at his compatriots — perhaps focusing more on their weaknesses than their strengths. Highly recommended.
The New Italians — Charles Richard
The story of contemporary Italy and how the Italians are changing to meet modern times.
Italian Journey — J. W. Goethe
Goethe’s travels through 18th-century Italy — charming descriptions of places, people and customs.
Italian Hours — Henry James
Thoughtful essays, written around the turn of the century, that explore Italy’s art, religion and political/cultural revolutions of the time.
Italian Days — Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
A lively, funny travel journal.
Within Tuscany: Reflections on a Time and Place — Matthew Spender
Sculptor Matthew Spender moved to Tuscany thirty years ago — when it was virtually unknown to the rest of the world. He has some interesting stories to tell of times not long past.
Hills of Tuscany: A New Life in an Old Land — Ferenc Mate
An often eloquent personal account of life after moving to Tuscany.
Under the Tuscan Sun — Frances Mayes
“This Old House” set in the rolling hills and olive groves of Tuscany, with pretty descriptions of what life looks like to an outsider living in an insider’s culture. Then came a book called something like Pretty Toscana, and then a movie and then a coffee table book with coffee table mug…. You get the idea.
Food and Wine
The Food of Italy — Waverley Root
An exploration of Italian cuisine in relation to local customs, history and geography.
Italy: The Beautiful Cookbook
A wonderful blend of excellent colour photography of Italy’s countryside, its people and the food, plus authentic local recipes.
Marling Menu Master for Italy
Conveniently sized to fit in pocket or purse, this unique little book translates Italian menus and explains food preparation.
Eating in Italy: A Traveller’s Guide to the Gastronomic Pleasures in Northern Italy — Faith H. Willinger
A wonderful introduction to the best in regional cuisine and wines north of Rome, plus an insider’s list of recommended local restaurants and markets.
The Food Lover’s Companion to Tuscany
This book can be quite helpful in finding the more interesting restaurants and food-related stores in Tuscany — though somehow it seems to miss the most interesting.
La Meglio Gioventù (2003)
Originally aired as a 4-part 6 hour film on the national Italian TV station, The Best of Youth (as it’s known in English) deals with the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini. An instant “cult classic”, it’s available on DVD.
The English Patient (1997)
The Academy Award-winning film adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s novel. Many of the Tuscan scenes were shot in and around Pienza.
Stealing Beauty (1996)
Filmed in Tuscany, Bernardo Bertolucci’s movie about a young woman’s romantic and sexual awakening.
A Room with a View (1986)
A beautifully rendered Merchant and Ivory production based on E. M. Forster’s classic novel.
The Night of the Shooting Stars (1981)
A dazzling and magical reminiscence of childhood, this immensely popular film made by the Taviani brothers won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.
Padre Padrone (1977)
An earlier film from the Taviani brothers — winner of the Cannes Film Festival Golden Palm.
Cartographically speaking, absolutely the best maps are the green-covered beauties put out by Touring Club Italiano. You can get one for the specific region you’re going to, though they are huge and you’ll find yourself folding them into various new configurations in order to fit them in your car — or hotel room. Another problem: the older ones come without indexes — a major fault unless you don’t mind searching, and searching . . . . On a drive, however, this shouldn’t cause difficulties, and you’ll be well served, especially if you want to get off the main highway and do a little jaunt through the country.
For more detailed local maps, you might want to wait until you get to Italy to look through bookstore selections. You’ll sometimes find small-scale maps that can be somewhat helpful in planning out a day hike – though beware they are often based on pre WWII maps. Also, the tourist office in each town can usually provide a map of the town, usually for free or a nominal charge.