Reading lists

9 beach reads set in Italy

From chilling thrillers to sun-soaked rom-coms, here is our list of the best books set in Italy.

Lucy Hall
Image credit: Flynn Shore/Penguin

Italy is the perfect backdrop for canonical classics, chilling thrillers, historical novels and sun-soaked rom-coms alike. With its beautiful old cities, dramatic coastline and distinctive culture, many authors have chosen the country as the locale for their stories – and it certainly adds a richness to both their writing and characters.

If you’re looking to broaden your Italian experience while on holiday there, or even if you just want to escape to the streets of Florence or Venice from the peace of your own garden, we’ve got the ultimate list of books set in Italy.

Hard-working lawyer Lucia is normally only focused on her career, but during a hard-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, she’s shocked to learn they are selling the beloved family pizzeria ­– and her not-quite-ex-husband wants to take it over. This delicious rom-com feels as warm as the Italian sun.

This famous historical tragedy is reimagined through the eyes of four very different characters, as Roman society teeters on the brink of destruction. From the bestselling author of The Second Sleep and Acts of Oblivion, this novel is both historically informative and incredibly addictive. 

Rhys’ captivating novel is set in a remote Tuscan castle, where conflict begins to arise among six English residents. When Connie, the widow paid to look after them, starts to hear sinister noises each night, she begins to wonder: is she losing her grip on reality or does someone really want her gone? This mystery is perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith and Agatha Christie.

Londinium, AD 211. Zuleika has been married off to a much older man and is adjusting to her new city life – until she catches the eye of the Roman Emperor himself. Set in a playful mash-up of Ancient Rome and modern society, it’s a fun and sharp-toothed exploration of womanhood and survival from the Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other.

Inferno by Dan Brown (2013)

When Harvard symbologist Robert Langford awakes in hospital with no memory, he and an unlikely accomplice must embark on a chase across Florence to decipher clues using only a few lines from Dante’s Inferno. This is Brown’s code-breaking intrigue at its very best.  

In this dark exploration of the Venetian underworld, Commissario Guido Brunetti must uncover a mole from within his team and solve the murder of a family friend – but could the two be linked? Prepare to witness “Venice like a native,” according to the New York Times, which named this the Best Crime Book of the Year upon its publication.

Raised in the repressed society of Edwardian England, Lucy finds herself caught up in the vivid world of Florence and the flamboyant characters she meets there – but will she ever learn to follow her own heart and find her own way? This witty classic still appeals to readers today.

Justin Calmar is just your average family man – until he is asked by a stranger on a train between Venice and Paris to deliver a briefcase, no questions asked. Deceptively simple and chilling, this classic novel asks the question: what happens when we compromise our morals for money?

This novella is about the friendship between two very different girls in 1930s Italy – 16-year-old Gina and her more worldly friend Amelia – as they learn to navigate artistic society and falling in and out of love. Pavese’s lyrically crafted prose make for a wonderfully immersive coming-of-age tale.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more