One of the ways I find out about new places to visit in Italy or new things to see and do in my favorite Italian cities is through books. I love to read and I love to read books set in Italy, especially the books where someone moves to Italy, buys an old home and builds a new life.

Through the books listed below I have found wonderful restaurants all over Tuscany (Frances Mayes’ books) discovered the Aeolian Islands (Laura Fraser’s book) explored Umbria (Michael Tucker) vacationed in Pontius Pilate’s birth tow (Michael Rips) relived  thousand glorious moments in Rome (Anthony Doerr). I have found new places to visit in Venice (John Berendt and Barry Frangipane) and had a private viewing of a Picasso that has never been hung in public (Daphne Phelps)

If you are planning a trip to Italy, or just enjoy thinking about Italy, here are 15 books set in Italy that you need to have on your reading list. These books have Amazon Affiliate links. Read the Disclosure Page to learn about how this blog uses affiliate links.

As much as I love the tactile experience of reading a physical book I mostly buy books on Kindle now. I don’t actually own a Kindle but instead have the Kindle app on my iPad and read books there. It is especially efficient when traveling!

15 Books Set In Italy To Add To Your Reading List.

Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy

Under The Tuscan Sun

I was given this book in 1998, shortly after it was first published, and fell in love with every word. Reading Frances Mayes’ account of buying an old, run down house in Cortona, and then its slow but steady refurbishment reignited my love of Italy and propelled me into traveling back to Tuscany. I have read all of Frances’ books and through them have found some fantastic little towns to explore, some wonderful restaurants (I have eaten at every restaurant in her books!) and have learned to cook many of the dishes she tells us about.

If you have seen the movie Under The Tuscan Sun you can still read the book. The two stores are very different – the only common thread is that her name is Frances, she is a writer and university professor, she finds her house in Cortona and the house is called Bramasole. In real life she was already married to Ed when they bought the property.

Under The Tuscan Sun is a  must read for anyone traveling to Italy, and especially those traveling to Tuscany. You will love walking through Cortona with Frances’ stories in mind, and seeing Bramasole is just wonderful (if you have read the book!)

Order your copy of Under The Tuscan Sun here on Amazon.com

An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser

An Italian Affair

I found this book by accident and have re-read it many times. Laura Fraser’s autobiography starts with her devastating divorce, her methods to try and mute the pain, and her eventual trip back to Italy to stay with friends and figure out a new life plan. A friend in Florence convinces her to spend a few days on the island of Ischia, where she happens to meet a professor from Paris, and begins a years long affair. Throughout the book the pair meet up for little vacations in Italy, as well as London and Morocco.

Every divorced woman, every unhappy wife, every female looking for some excitement in her life should read this book!

Apart from the inspiration and the intoxicating wondering what if…. An Italian Affair introduces you to some fabulous places in Italy that are well off the beaten path. After reading this book I had to go to the Aeolian Islands to see them for myself, and visit the places she talks about, and have since had many gorgeous vacations there.

Get your copy of An Italian Affair here at Amazon.com

The Venice Experiment: A Year of Trial and Error Living Abroad by Barry Frangipane

The Venice Experiment

Barry and Debbie Frangipane decide to skip out on the Florida rat race for a year and move to Venice. Barry’s account of setting up their temporary home and living in the most unique city on earth for 12 months is absolutely intoxicating! Equal parts hilarious and fascinating, The Venice Experiment will leave you wanting to go there, eat at Barry’s favorite places, walk the streets he takes you along in Cannaregio and live in Venice for a while.

Get your copy of The Venice Experiment here at Amazon.com

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

The City Of Falling Angels

 

Have you read Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil? Shortly after the film of the book came out author John Berendt moved to Venice, arriving the day after the world famous La Fenice opera house burnt to the ground. The City of Falling Angels is a fascinating and funny account of Berendt’s entry into Venetian society, his investigation into the opera house fire (equal parts intriguing and entertaining) and the mysterious goings on in the art world of Venice.

Berendt makes his characters compelling and their quirky behavior entirely captivating. As with the previous book on this list you will want to explore the author’s Venice, eat at his restaurants, drink at his wine bars and walk the streets he frequents. Venice will take on a whole new magic for you after reading The City of Fallen Angels.

Get your copy of The City of Falling Angels here at Amazon.com

A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps

A House In Sicily

After my first trip to Sicily I had to read every book I could find that was set on the island. I found this book by accident, but the timing was perfect as I had just spent time in Taormina, the town it is set in.

In the late 1800s British businessman Robert H Kitson fell in love with this fantastic little town on a hill in Southern Sicily. He bought a piece of land and in 1898 built a villa on it, overlooking the Ionian Sea. The villa, named Casa Cuseni became a hangout for Kitson’s artistic friends. Creatives such as Roald Dahl, Tennessee Williams, Henry Faulkner and Bertrand Russell all sought refuge and inspiration at Casa Cuseni over the years. Greta Garbo loved it as did Picasso.

In 1948 Kitson died, and willed the villa to his favorite niece Daphne, who had loved childhood vacations in Taormina with her uncle. The book picks up with Daphne’s story, from her moving to Sicily to look after the villa, to her refurbishing and maintaining it, the artists who came to work in residence there, and her interactions with the locals, including a mafia don!

Daphne lived at Casa Cuseni until her death in 2005 at age 95. Her relatives didn’t want to leave dreary old rainy London to live in sunny Taormina (which just kills me!) so they sold the villa. It is now a bed and breakfast and museum.

I went to visit Casa Cuseni last time I was in Taormina. The villa is still stunning! I was also incredibly lucky to be given a private viewing of the painting Picasso left at the villa, a painting that has never hung on a museum wall, only the wall inside Casa Cuseni. I would never have had that amazing experience had I not read this book!

A House in Sicily is a wonderful read and will leave those who have been to Sicily aching to go back, and those who have never been, dying to go.

Get your copy of A House In Sicily here at Amazon.com

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr

Four Seasons In Rome

 

On the day his twin boys are born author Anthony Doerr finds out he has won the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters Rome Prize, a paid year in the Eternal City with a writing studio, to work on a new book.

Four Seasons takes you step by step through that year, mixing the wonder of Rome with the angst of being a new parent. Times two!

I particularly loved this book because the Doerr’s were living around the corner (and up a giant flight of stairs) from the apartment I rent every year in Rome. I know every street he walked along, the bakery and every other store he talks about. I can even picture the faces of the baker and his son!

While reading Four Seasons I made long lists of places in Rome that he talks about, some that I need to revisit, some that I hadn’t heard of before. I really loved this book!

I would love to have a coffee with Anthony Doerr and ask him if he ever went back to visit, find out if sunsets on the Janiculum haunt him (as they do me) and talk to him about living in the Trastevere. Four Seasons In Rome is a wonderful read.

Get your copy of Four Seasons In Rome here at Amazon.com

Somewhere South of Tuscany: 5 Years In a Four-Cat Town

somewhere south of tuscany

 

If you loved Under The Tuscan Sun, this book is for you! Food and travel writer Diana Armstrong bought a 400 year old house in a tiny town on the edge of Umbria. Somewhere South of Tuscany is the story of the joys and the difficulties that come with buying and fixing up an old house in Italy. Armstrong’s love of food is woven throughout the book and she provides you with simple recipes for all the meals she talks about, whether cooking for herself or for friends and family who come to stay.

The book of course introduces you to a menagerie of local characters, including the owners of the towns palace, Palazzo Monaldeschi. The palazzo was built centuries ago by the Monaldeschi’s, a prominent family from nearby Orvieto. When the Monaldeschi family ran out of heirs the palace was sold to the Cosenza family, who feature in the story.

The little town where Armstrong bought her house is Lubriano, a one road town perched on the crest of a hill, with stunning views including the view of Civita di Bagnoregio. The single road is only 9 feet wide and every home has a front door opening directly onto the street, keeping the neighbors close! There are only 900 inhabitants in Lubriano, and there are no signs on any of this businesses – everyone knows which business is behind which door.

Lubriano is tiny but picturesque. I was there briefly a few years ago, prior to reading this book. Now I want to go back, just to see it again one more time.

Get your copy of Somewhere South of Tuscany here at Amazon.com

A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance by Marlena di Blasi

A Thousand Days In Venice

This book is perfect for anyone who has ever daydreamed about having an Italian romance.

The first in a series of autobiographies, each book is just wonderful, but need to be read in order.

Marlena di Blasi was a food writer and chef living in St Louis. A magazine she was writing for sent her to Italy on assignment. While there they asked her to go to Venice, a city she had always avoided, to write an additional piece. She begrudgingly went to Venice and promptly fell in love with it, so much so that she planned a trip for the following year with a group of girlfriends.

While in Venice (a year later) she was having coffee with her travel companions when the waiter came and told her she had a phone call. No one knew she was there, so she declined to take the call. The same thing happened each day as the group stopped in for their morning coffee. On the last day of their trip she finally agreed to take the call. The man on the other end was Fernando. He had seen her across the piazza a year before, but only in profile. He had dreamed about her every day for a year, and then low and behold she walked into the coffee shop he stopped in every morning! He was shy by nature and completely overwhelmed, so instead of approaching her he tried calling her.

Within months Marlena sold her house and her restaurant, and moved to Venice. A Thousand Days In Venice tells the story of their first three years together living on Lido island. At the same time as she makes you fall in love with the city she also takes you through the trials and tribulations of working through a new relationships, moving to a new place where she knew no one and where the local society was less than welcoming. You will find yourself rooting for her all the way.

Subsequent books track their life and romance as they move around Italy. Fernando and Marlena are still happily married, and she is still writing gorgeous books.

Get your copy of A Thousand Days In Venice here at Amazon.com

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter
Beautiful Ruins

This book reads like a biography but is actually a novel.

Set on the Ligurian Coast it is the story of an almost-love affair. In 1962 while Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were making headlines in Rome, an ingenue arrives at a remote hotel just beyond the Cinqueterre. The combination of a little intrigue, 1960s Hollywood, an actress,a novelist, and an innkeeper weaves a gorgeous story spanning 50 years that will keep you captivated all the way to the last sentence.

Beautiful Ruins is an absolutely wonderful book. If you have visited the Cinqueterre area you will love it even more.

Get your copy of Beautiful Ruins here at Amazon.com

Extra Virgin: Amongst the Olive Groves of Liguria by Annie Hawes

Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes

 

I read this autobiography years ago and followed every book in the series, and recently re-read them all. They are wonderful!

Annie Hawes and her sister Lucy leave the grey rainy weather in England to spend a season grafting roses in the sunny warm climate of Liguria (the region of Italy along the Mediterranean that shares a border with France and Monaco.) Their story takes place in a tiny town on a hill overlooking the ocean, where the townsfolk, who have lived there forever,  think these two pale British girls who drink cappuccinos after lunch and have all kinds of unusual (British) behaviors are crazy.  Their interactions with the locals are hilarious and would be enough of a story on their own, but along the way Annie finds a very run down old cottage on the hill, tucked behind the trees. She buys the cottage, which is more like a large shed, for a little less than the price of a used car, and begins remodeling it on an almost non existent budget. The series of books takes you through Annie’s life in Liguria over the course of many years.

Extra Virgin will open your mind to the endless possibilities of buying a home in Italy on a tiny budget,  building a new life in a beautiful place where the sun shines all the time, the food and wine are both plentiful and wonderful, and the gregarious and fun loving people make every day an adventure!

Get Your copy of Extra Virgin here at Amazon.com

Pasquale’s Nose by Michael Rips

Pasquale's Nose

 

Michael Rips and his wife move to Italy for a year so that she can work on her art while he writes a book. They live in a tiny, ancient town 50 kms from Rome, whose claim to fame is being the birth place of Pontius Pilate.

Michael spends his days sitting at an outdoor cafe in the main piazza, writing his book and observing the eccentric local life taking place around him. Not only is he a masterful story teller, but both he and the towns people are hilarious! I loved this book so much I had to go find the town myself and stay there for a vacation. It was every bit as fantastic as the book indicated.

Get your copy of Pasquale’s Nose here at Amazon.com

Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy by Michael Tucker

Living In A Foreign Language

 

Did you ever watch the TV show LA Law? I watched it religiously, so was thrilled when one of the lead actors, Michael Tucker, wrote this book about buying a home in Umbria with his wife, fellow LA Law actor Jill Eikenberry. A welcome break from books set in Tuscany, Living in a Foreign Language is a lovely introduction to Umbria, Tucker is endearing and funny, and you will no doubt be left wondering how you too can buy a home in Italy.

Get Your copy of Living In A Foreign Language here at Amazon.com

The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria by Marlena di Blasi

The Lady In The Palazzo

 

This is the third book in Marlena di Blasi’s autobiographic series. After three years living in Venice and three years living in Tuscany Fernando and Marlena decide to set down some roots in Umbria, buying a palazzo in Orvieto. From the difficulties they have purchasing the palazzo, to the inherent struggles newcomers face when moving to a town whose inhabitants have lived there for generations, this book marries real life hardships with the magic of living in Italy, wrapping it all up in a gorgeous love affair. Of course there are a host of intriguing and funny characters, some history and intrigue, and above all Marlena’s beautiful style of writing.

Every time I go back to Orvieto I find myself looking out for her as I wander around. I would dearly love to meet her, and after reading this book I am sure that you will want to see inside her house every bit as much as I want to!

Get your copy of The Lady In The Palazzo here at Amazon.com

 

Get your copy of Head Over Heels  at Amazon.com

The House in Amalfi by Elizabeth Adler

The House In Amalfi

 

I am finishing this list with a novel  by romance writer Elizabeth Adler. After the death of her cheating husband, the protagonist in this story returns to Amalfi to the home she lived in as a child during the happiest years of her life. Her father had been a famous author, and while he moved her to live with friends in America he lived a wild life in Amalfi before his untimely death.

Now living in the house in Amalfi she is faced with the memories of her father, the unusual relationships and behaviors of the wealthy family who own the land the house is on, the mystery of her father’s death, and of course, a romance of her own.

I don’t normally read romance novels, but I loved this book for its locations. If you have been to the Amalfi Coast you will recognize all the places she goes, and if you haven’t been there this book will leave you dying to go!

Get your copy of The House In Amalfi here at Amazon.com

A Single Stop for European Rail Travel

If you are staying beautiful Florence and want to explore Tuscany but don’t want to rent a car, no problem! You can visit much of Tuscany by train (or bus). Here are 10 really fabulous places to visit in Tuscany with things to see and do, and approximate travel times by train.

Florence day Trips

10 Day Trips From Florence By Train

FIESOLE

Fiesole sits on the hilltop overlooking Florence. A mere 20 minute bus ride from the heart of town it is worth the trip just to take in the view, but Fiesole has much more to offer! (The best view is from the climb up to the monastery of San Francesco)

The town has a long history with famous artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, who lunched his flying machine from the hillside of Fiesole. All summer long the town hosts cultural events (see the Estate Fiesolana calendar)

What To Do In Fiesole

Visit the Etruscan-Roman Archeological site. The Etruscan settlement probably dates back to the 8th century B.C, but its first historical mention was in the 2nd century B.C when it was conquered by the Romans. In the archaeological are you can see Roman baths and the Roman amphitheater, and in the Civic Museum you can see both Etruscan and Roman artifacts. Also look for the Antiquarian Costantini collection of more than 150 pieces of ceramics from Greece and Etruria.

Fiesole Amphitheater
After the museum head down the street behind to see the remains of the massive Etruscan walls.

The Bandini Museum houses Florentine art from the 12th-14th centuries and is well worth visiting.

Bandini Museum Fiesole
The first Sunday of the month there is an antiques market in the main square, Piazza Mino. During the month you will frequently find other markets in the same space.

Fiesole Piazza Mino

image via PaesiOnline

How To Get There

From Santa Maria Novella station take the #7 bus.

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

CERTALDO

Certaldo is a hidden treasure, far from the tourist crush but well worth making the trip for.

From the train station take the 5 minute walk across the heart of town to the base of the hill where the funicular will take you up to Certaldo Alto, a magnificent walled, medieval town.

Certaldo Alto Palazzo Praetorio

The main street of this beautiful and historically significant town is Via Boccaccio, which abruptly ends at the Palazzo Pretorio/Priori Palace. This 12th century palace is a must see, with its frescos dating back to the 13th century and a little museum full of Etruscan treasures (800 BC – 500BC) dug up on the property. Statues, vases and other historic finds in excellent condition are quite spectacular to see!

The palace was taken over by the church by 1420 and was used as a vicarage.

Certaldo Alto

Also of note is the 13th century Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo. The church is little and peaceful, watched over by a fantastic 14th century “Triumphant Christ” crucifix. It is noteable for Memmo di Filippuccio fresco of Virgin and Child between Saint James and Peter, and also for Boccaccio himself.

Certaldo Boccaccio

The writer of the Decameron, Boccaccio (1313-1375) is buried here. A sign marks the exact place he is buried and a bust of the writer holding his masterpiece (15030 sits against the left wall.

Certaldo Alto

Take time to walk this tiny town and take in the spectacular views of Tuscany from the open spaces and the city walls. You can see San Gimignano across the hill.

Certaldo Alto Certaldo Alto

How To get There

From Florence by train it take 50 minutes to reach Certaldo.

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SIENA

Florence’s arch enemy for centuries, Siena lies in the heart of Tuscany and is a beautiful city to visit. Make your way up to the walled city and spend your day strolling within the walls. Make a note of which city gate you arrived through so you can find your way back out!

What To Do In Siena

Start by walking into the heart of Siena, Piazza del Campo.

Piazza Del Campo Siena

This is one of the biggest medieval squares in the world, and is the home to the Palio horse race every July and August. The Campo has been the heart of Sienese life since 1300 and has been the place everyone gathered for parties and celebrations, political rallies and markets.

Piazza del Campo Siena

It’s shell shape is both unique and lovely. The beautiful Fonte Gaia fountain sits at the top of the shell (this one is a copy – the original is in the Museum Santa Maria della Scala), and looks out across the Campo.

Fonte Gaia Siena

The Torre del Mangia sits across the Campo from the Fonte Gaia. If you enjoy a good thigh burn take the 400 steps (!) tot the top for a truly breathtaking view of all of Siena and the surrounding hills.

Torre del Mangia Siena

Built in 1338-1348 it was constructed to the same height as the cathedral, to signify the equal power of church and state. The tower got its name from its original guardian (I have also read the original bellringer) Giovanni di Balduccio who was known as Mangiguadagni or Mr Eats-the-profits, because he ate all his earnings at the local taverns!

Duomo Siena

The Duomo. Siena’s cathedral is truly sensational and deserves a significant portion of your time. Built between 1215 and 1263 both the exterior and interior are made up of alternating stripes of white marble and a greenish black marble. The cathedral is enormous and holds incredible art from the likes of Michelangelo, Donatello and Pinturicchio.

The enormity and verticality of the cathedral draw the eye upward but be sure to look down too – the floors are incredible. Decorated with mosaics designed by 40 leading artists between 1369 and 1547, the 56 inlaid marble panels took 600 years to be completed!

The Piccolomini Library inside the Duomo is spectacular. Built by Pope Pius III to celebrate his uncle, Pope Pius II (creator of the nearby town of Pienza), the library houses Pius II’s collection of manuscripts, which are wonderful to look at, but more significantly the room is exquisitely frescoed by Pinturicchio and his students, including Raphael. With stunning use of perspective the frescoes are divided into 10 scenes depicting the life of Pius II.

Piccolomini Library ceiling, Duomo Siena

Make sure you look up while you are in there. The ceiling is spectacular!

You purchase tickets next door prior to entering the cathedral, and various city passes are available. One item you may want to take note of is the opportunity to go up to the “Gate Of Heaven” and walk with a guide near the frescoed ceiling. This is a really remarkable tour, well worth doing, but as there are only a few tours per day, and they are timed, you may want to buy this ticket online ahead of time and plan your day around it.

Duomo Siena

Duomo, Siena

The Baptistery is another must see and can be included in a multi entry ticket. The Baptistery was built in 1300 and is a separate building behind the cathedral. Catholics, even babies, couldn’t enter a church or cathedral without first being baptized, so it is normal to see a separate building for the baptistery. This one has beautiful artwork but its most special treasure is the bronze and marble baptismal font where for centuries every person in Siena, rich and famous or not, was baptized.

Santa Maria della Scala stands across the piazza from the cathedral (by the ticket office). Built in the 1330’s and at one time used as a hospital for abandoned children,the sick, the poor and the pilgrims it is now home to some tremendous museums, spread over 4 floors.

If you have just one day in Siena spend the rest of your time walking around the city. There is so much to see! Be sure to try a slice of panforte, a Sienese delicacy originally made as a gift for the nuns at Christmas time. It pairs perfectly with a cappuccino.

How To get There

By train from Florence you will need an hour and 45 minutes. The Siena train station is outside the walled city but plenty of city buses can take you back and forth.

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AREZZO

Arezzo is an ancient city, older than Alexandria in Egypt! It was one of the main Etruscan cities and went on to become strategically important to Rome. It was known for its foundaries, its commerce and for the red coralline pots made there and seen throughout the Roman world.

If you can possibly swing it try to do a day trip to Arezzo on the weekend when its world famous antiques market is happening. The market is fantastic, and you can spend hours wandering around looking at the treasures found in the attics of estates and villas that have changed hands.

Arezzo Market

image via Visit Tuscany

What To Do In Arezzo

Go To The Market. The first Sunday of the month hosts a really incredible antiques market in Piazza Grande. With 500+ stalls you can lose yourself for hours looking at cool old treasures.

The Arezzo Cathedral. Go to see Piero della Francesca’s Mary Magdalene fresco and Donatello’s baptismal font relief.

The Basilica of San Francesco doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it houses one of Italy’s most important and most treasured pieces of Renaissance art – Piero della Francesca’s Legend Of The True Cross fresco cycle. Even though Arezzo doesn’t get a huge tourist crush it is still a good idea to book tickets for this online as they are frequently sold out.

The Medici Fortress was built between 1538 and 1560, and from the top of its walls you can get a 360 degree view of Arezzo and the surrounding area.

Roman Amphitheater and Arecheological Museum. The museum which holds 2nd century treasures sits on top of part of the amphitheater. Both are fantastic to see.

Casa Vasari. Giorgio Vasari’s Renaissance home is well worth visiting for both the art – his own frescoes line the walls, and also a handwritten letter from Michelangelo.

Just wander. Have lunch or a coffee in Piazza Grande, take in all the shields and coats of arms on the walls of the surrounding buildings, and enjoy being in this lovely city with so few tourists!

Arezzo

image via Visit Tuscany

RELATED POST:  THE AREZZO MARKET

How To Get There

Arezzo is approximately one hour from Florence by train.

POPPI

As you cross the lovely valley of Casentino between Florence and Arezzo you will see a castle rise up out of nowhere – this is the town of Poppi.
Poppi is one of the best preserved walled cities, watched over by the Guidi Castle, which has been lovingly cared for and is still in amazing condition today.

What To Do In Poppi

A trip to Poppi is all about the castle. If it looks familiar that’s because it was the prototype for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The Poppi castle was built in the 13th century for the noble Guidi family.

Guidi castle, Poppi

image via Borghitoscana.net

From the interior courtyard a series of intricate staircases wind and weave their way upwards, and your eyes are drawn with them up to a sizeable collection of family crests.

staircase poppi castle

Inside the Chapel of Counts you will discover a truly breathtaking 14th century fresco cycle by Taddeo Gaddi.
The library has an incredible collection, considered to be a literary treasure trove. It was donated to the Municipality of Poppi by the Rilli-Orsini family.

 

As you walk back from the castle under the porticos make your way to the ancient Abbey of Saint Fedele. Built in the 11 th century it houses paintings by Ligozzi, Solosmeo, Morandini, Portelli and Davanzati.

While in Poppi take time to visit the Camaldoli Hermitage. Surrounded by a forest of fir trees this sanctuary was founded in 1012 by Saint Romauld. The church has undergone many transformations over the centuries, and is now baroque. A must see inside the church is the Andrea della Robbia glazed terracotta alterpiece in the Sant’ Antonio Abate chapel.
There are 20 cells here at the sanctuary but the only one open to the public is Saint Romauld’s cell, which faces the church.

Some of Giorgio Vasari’s earliest works can be seen in the Church of Santi Donato e Ilariano, a monastery a few kilometers down the road.

How To Get There

The most direct route takes less than an hour by car, but by train from Florence it takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Take the train to Arezzo, then a second train to Poppi.

 

CORTONA

If not for Frances Mayes and her wonderful books we may not have even known about Cortona. A tiny little town on top of a hill above Camucia, it is a lovely place to spend a day or part thereof.

Bramasole, Cortona

Bramasole, Cortona

What To Do In Cortona

Wander the Etruscan walls. I never get tired of seeing Etruscan anything, and the fact that walls and portions there of still stand 2500 years later is always amazing!

Cortona

me, walking in Cortona

Museo dell’ Accademia Etrusco is housed in the 13th century Palazzo Casali and holds a substantial collection of local Etruscan and Roman treasures. The Etruscan objects are amazing, especially those gathered from the tombs just outside town in Sodo.

The Fortezza del Girifalco is a 15 minute hike uphill to the highest point in Cortona. The remains of what was a Medici fortress are the perfect viewing point to gaze out over the Valdichiana and Lago Trasimeno.

Caffe Degli Artisti, Cortona

Caffe Degli Artisti, Cortona

Caffe degli Artisti on via Nazionale is a fantastic place to stop for lunch. The owner is hilarious and will seat you elbow to elbow with fascinating people, as though it was all an elaborate dinner party. I never miss lunching there and have met the most fabulous people and made wonderful friends in the process!

Piazza della Republica, Cortona

Piazza della Republica, Cortona

People-watch in Piazza della Republica, the central piazza and main hub in town. The Town Hall stands at the top of a big staircase, on which you will normally find people sitting and looking out at the town. There are plenty of bench seats around the piazza and you will often see locals hanging out on them and catching up on the gossip, but if you find a space it is a lovely spot to enjoy the beauty of this lovely little town.

The Museo Diocesano is only little but it holds some amazing paintings from the 12th to the 17th centuries, including works by Fra’ Angelico and Luca Signorelli, who was from Cortona.

The church of Madonna del Calcinaio and its dome are one of the famous landmarks of Cortona. Luca Signorelli is buried there and the grounds are wonderful to wander along, with ancient little staircases and wonderful views.

The Saturday morning market is a wonderful chance to join the locals and buy cheeses and prosciutto, local breads and produce.

Cortona, via Nazionale

via Nazionale, Cortona

How To get There

The train from Florence takes an hour and forty minutes. You will need to take the local bus up the hill from the train station, and it will drop you outside Piazza Garibaldi.

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PISA

Of course you will you see the famous leaning tower, but Pisa has much more to offer as well.

What To Do In Pisa

Walk along the Corso Italia and check out the shops, until you arrive at Logge dei Banchi, a loggia that has hosted markets or centuries. Positioned next to the the clock tower it makes one of the most famous views of Pisa along the Arno river. Palazzo Blu is a mere 2 minutes walk from there, and is a great place to catch fabulous art exhibitions.

Image result for pisa palazzo blu

Palazzo Blu, via myitalianitineraries.com

Look for the beautiful little church Chiesa della Spina sitting alongside the Arno.

Take time to stop on any of the bridges and take photos along the Arno.

Piazza vettovaglie by day

Piazza della Vettovaglie is a market during the day and is the heart of Pisa’s nightlife after the sun goes down.

Piazza vettovaglie by night

The National Museum of San Matteo has sculptures, paintings and ceramics in the Pisan style.

While in Pisa make sure to visit the Verdi Theater, a beautiful 19th century 900 seat theater built in the round.

How To Get There

Pisa is approximately 50 minutes by train from Florence.

 

LUCCA

Lucca, the city of 100 churches, sits a half hour inland from the coast on the Serchio River. Known for its Romanesque churches, hidden gardens and olive oil, Lucca is a lovely place for a day trip, or to base your entire trip.

What To Do In Lucca

Perhaps the most famous thing to do here is to rent a bicycle and bike along the top of the city wall. The 4 km bike ride (or walk) gives you unparalleled views of the city, its hidden gardens and the surrounding landscape.

The Romanesque Duomo has several great works of art including Tintoretto’s Last Supper, Ilaria del Carretto’s Tomb and the Volto Santo, a wooden crucifix of the Holy Face.

The Basilica di San Frediano’s exquisite mosaic façade, glistens in the sunlight and is definitely worth seeing.

San Michele in Foro was first mentioned in 795 A.D. when it was part of the Roman Forum in Lucca. At some point after 1070 it was rebuilt, but what is most notable is the façade which was added in the 13th century.

San Michele in Foro

image via Agriturismo La Gioconda

The upper part has 4 levels of loggias (remarkable in themselves) atop which stands the 4 meter tall statue of St Michael the Archangel, flanked by 2 angels. Make sure you see the white marble statue of Madonna with baby Jesus in her arms in the south-west corner of the façade. Sculpted by Matteo Civitali it was commissioned to celebrate the end of the 1476 plague.

Piazza Anfiteatro is a lovely oval shaped piazza built around the original elliptical structure of a Roman amphitheater. During the summer events and concerts are held in the piazza, and year round it is a lovely place to have a coffee or a glass of wine.

piazza Antifeatro

Piazza Antifeatro via Italy Magazine

The Guinigi Tower is a Romanesque-Gothic tower in the heart of Lucca. Built in the 1300’s it is the most important tower in Lucca. You can’t miss it with its ancient Holm Oak trees growing out of the roof!

Guiniigi Tower Lucca

image via lovetotravel.nz.co

The roof garden is definitely worth the 4 euros and 200 stairs you must climb to reach it. It is a lovely place to take in the views of the city as well as to hang out in the garden. Interestingly the kitchen of this centuries old former home was on the level below, with the roof serving as a kitchen garden for the cooks.

If you are tires and hungry after the 200 stairs and your day walking and biking around Lucca, make sure you try the famous buccellato, a sweet bread with raisins that is a local specialty!

How To Get There

Lucca is approximately 90 minutes by train from Florence.

RELATED POST: THE BEST PLACE TO WATCH SUNSET IN FLORENCE

VIAREGGIO

Whether you want to escape the heat or just enjoy a little ocean breeze, a day trip to Viareggio makes for a lovely break. One of Italy’s traditional seaside towns, Viareggio’s beach stretches 20 kms along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

You don’t come here for art, history and culture, you come for a day on the sand. Most of the beach is private beach – you pay to spend the day at one of the many lidos lining the waterfront, but you will have sunchairs, a sun umbrella, restroom facilities and a restaurant/snack bar. The lungomare, or beach promenade is full of eateries and little shops catering to the beach trade.

How To Get There

From Florence by train it will take you 1.5 to 2 hours

BARGA

If you want to escape the crowds and experience something extra special head to the heart of the Serchio Valley in the province of Lucca to Barga. This absolute gem is known for its artistic and historical importance and has also received awards for being one of the most beautiful villages in all of Italy.

Image result for barga italy

The village’s ancient traditions date back to the Longobard era in the 6th-8th centuries. The layout of the town with its narrow winding streets and irregular shaped buildings has remained virtually unchanged since then, adding to its charm. Barga became a prize fought over by Pisa and Lucca during the middle ages, and later by Florence too.

What To Do In Barga

Take time to visit the beautifully restored castle, The 11th century Duomo, the Church of San Francesco (1471) and take time to enjoy the view from the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the Arringo, the stretch of lawn between the Praetorian Palace and the cathedral.

On the second Sunday of every month there is a second hand/antiques fair in the town’s historic center, starting at 8am. Barga is also famous for its Jazz Festival and its annual Opera Festival.

How To Get There

From Florence take the train to Pisa (or Lucca) then the Lazzi bus which will take you to Lucca Piazza Verdi then on to Barga, dropping you just outside the medieval gates at the Fosso stop.

 

 

 

This one is recommended by royalty!

Have you ever wondered how celebrities such as Meghan Markle can fly around the world all the time and not get sick? How they can jet back and forth across the world and not get jetlag?

Meghan Markle Prince Harry

image credit: Vaughan Ridley/Getty Images

Meghan Markle told us the answer 2 years ago on her blog, The Tig. I didn’t see her original post but I did catch the recap on Bustle, in a post they did about Meghan Markle’s top 4 travel essentials (linked at the bottom of this post).

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

meghan markle beauty tips

Prior to hooking up with Harry, Meghan was working in Toronto, living part time in LA, and traveling the world and writing travel guides for her blog.

When you travel you are eating foods your digestive system isn’t used to and sometimes may struggle with. You are drinking different water, and moving at a different pace than usual, (whether that is lying on a beach chair or hammock all day or whether you are running around tourist attractions). Your sleep schedule changes and you are exposed to new germs and sometimes more germs than usual.

In my opinion as a frequent international traveler there are 2 super important steps to staying healthy while you travel:

2 Steps To Staying Healthy When You Travel

My first is to use chlorox wipes and disinfect everything in and around my seat on the plane. Arm rests, seatbelt buckle, headrest, tray table, TV screen, and any buttons I may need to touch. Planes don’t get cleaned between flights, and they seldom if ever get disinfected. That means that regardless of where you are sitting on the plane, if the person occupying that seat before you had the plague, the flu, a sinus infection or any other contagious affliction you now own it too.

The second step to staying healthy when you travel is to proactively take care of your intestinal health.

Dr Ohhira Probiotics

Travel And Your Immune System

If I asked you to point to your body’s immune system, do you know where it is? 70%-80% is in your small intestine. While you are on vacation one of the best ways you can stay healthy is to support your immune system by taking care of your digestive system, in the form of taking probiotics every day.

I take a probiotic everyday anyway but was fascinated to see that Meghan Markle not only spoke about it in her travel blog but also named her favorite probiotic, the one she packs on every trip, Dr.Ohhira’s Probiotics .

I admit I hadn’t heard of them before so I did some research, reached out to the company and had them send me some information. Now I too travel with Dr Ohhira’s Probiotics – if they are good enough for a princess they are good enough for me!

Dr Ohhira Probiotics

Dr Ohhira’s are different from other probiotics.

These probiotics are the result of 30 years of Dr Ohhira’s  research.

They don’t require refrigeration and come in easy to transport blister packs, making them perfect for travel!

Dr Ohhira’s probiotics start with fresh natural spring water, then seasonally harvested GMO-free vegetables, fruits and seaweed to which 12 strains of live probiotics are added. They then ferment for 3 years, creating postbiotics. So in each capsule you have prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.

Dr Ohhira Probiotics

Why every probiotic is NOT right for travel and how to choose:

Around 10 million people a year experience digestive distress while on vacation that can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, bloating and fever. According to the CDC, it is the most common illness travelers suffer and can ruin a well-earned vacation.

Fred Pescatore, MD recommends packing a high-quality probiotic with LIVE cultures as part of your vacation preparation. “We spend so much time coordinating the details of our vacations that we often overlook planning for the prevention of any illness. And you can do this by taking a high-quality probiotic a week before you leave and continuing to take them throughout your trip”. Research has shown that probiotics can help boost your immunity, prevent traveler’s diarrhea and food poisoning caused by food-borne bacteria and minimizes the symptoms of other digestive issues.

Dr Ohhira Probiotics

“Travelers do not realize that 80 percent of gastrointestinal illnesses are caused by a bacterial infection and can often be avoided with proper supplements,” said Dr. Pescatore. “Environmental stress and traveler’s bugs can lower the number of friendly bacteria, disrupting the balance and causing digestive distress. Because Dr. Ohhira’s are live, viable and contain POSTbiotics, they can go to work immediately.”

Ohhira’s Probiotics are perfect for traveling because they are in blister packs and never need to be refrigerated (due to the natural fermentation process that occurs in ambient room temperature) so you can throw them in your suitcase, purse or even a shirt pocket.

Why Meghan’s advice needs to be updated given new science:

POSTbiotics!! Science now confirms that postbiotics are the most restorative and health-promoting aspect of probiotic supplementation.

Dr Ohhira has been a pioneer in probiotic health and research, and discovered years ago that the most vital part of probiotic supplements is postbiotics. These are produced during his 3 year fermentation process, and his probiotics are the only ones on the market that also contain these miracle postbiotics.

No wonder Meghan Markle always looks so good! Her blog post was from 2 years ago and she had already been using Dr Ohhira’s Probiotics for a while when she wrote it.

You can find Dr Ohhira’s Probiotics here on Amazon.com

The Probiotic Cure

When I got my box of Dr Ohhira’s Probiotics I also got this book, The Probiotic Cure: Harnessing the Power of Good Bacteria for Better Health. Probiotics are crucial to good health. This book looks at many common ailments and how you can reverse them or mitigate the symptoms using live culture probiotics.

Check out Bustle’s article 4 Travel Essentials Meghan Markle Won’t Go Anywhere Without

 

 Meghan Markle Travel Essentials