We’re all feeling a little hemmed in right now; not sure where to turn or how we can plan for the future.
For some of us, these may be the retirement years in which we planned to travel extensively; while for those of us who are still working, our holidays may be a lifeline, a break from routine, and an opportunity for some much-needed ‘me’ or ‘us’ time.
For us, Covid-19 has meant temporarily pausing what we love doing most, which is accompanying small groups on hiking adventures and food discovery trails in our favourite parts of the world.
But one thing is for sure – Europe’s dramatic mountains and rural paths will still be there when we return, and we’ll be the first back to our local hiking trails in Victoria, Australia!
In the meantime, we’re making the most of our free time and have embarked on a different sort of journey, without the angst of packing and planning, re-visiting some of the places we love best through literature.
In fact, travel and literature aren’t a million miles apart: both can change your outlook and help broaden your horizons, although in quite different ways.
Will a book make up for the absence of a trip abroad? Not necessarily, but as well as evoking memories of places you’ve visited in the past, it can open your mind to new places. The more you know about somewhere, the better you understand it.
So why not get ready for 2021, hunker down with a book, and take a journey, perhaps not round the world, but at least to foreign climes. Many of our favourites are set in Italy but perhaps some of them will provide inspiration for your next holiday, as well as providing many happy hours of reading!
Tim Parks is a British author and translator who has lived in northern Italy since 1981. Of his 14 novels, Italian Neighbours and Italian Ways probably best capture the essence of Italian life, detailing the almost imperceptible habits and routines that make Italy… well, so Italian!
British travel writer Eric Newby is another great source of information about Italy. After a year in a prisoner-of-war camp at Chieti, close to Pescara, Newby left the camp and evaded the advancing Germans, helped by the woman who was to become his wife.
His retreat into the mountains and forests south of the River Po is documented in his Love and War in the Apennines. A later book, A Small Place in Italy, is a memoir of the dilapidated house, I Castagni, which Newby and his wife acquired near Fosdinovo on the Ligurian/Tuscan border.
It would be impossible to discuss Italian literature without mentioning Elena Ferrante’s magnificent Neapolitan novels which follow the story of two girls, set against a vivid Neapolitan backdrop.
Despite the author remaining fiercely protective of her anonymity, the books have enjoyed meteoric success, with the first two of the four books now also available in film format. The characterisation makes for joyful reading, but the narrative also reveals a harsher side of Italy, a long way from the gentle rolling hills of the country’s central provinces.
Italy’s border regions are interesting for so many reasons. It takes just a minute to cross from one country to another but, generally, each region combines aspects of both countries, culturally, linguistically and in its culinary offering. Historically, these areas are fascinating.
Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical A Farewell to Arms takes its readers back to the First World War, telling the story of an affair between an English nurse and an American soldier. Set on the border between Austria-Hungary and Italy, the book immortalises the town of Kobarid, now known for its superb gastronomy, and a highlight of our Slovenia and Friuli tour.
Get an insight into Italy’s role in the Second World War from A Thread of Grace which documents the flight of thousands of Jewish refugees over the Alps from France into Italy when the Italians broke with Hitler, and the Italians’ remarkable generosity.
By contrast, hike today in the Maritime Alps and you’ll enjoy magnificent walking trails with high-altitude lakes, fields of wildflowers and crystalline mountain streams.
We lap up literature in any of the regions we hike in, and as we spend half of each year hiking in Australia, the description of a climb up Mount Buffalo in Kate Legge’s Kindred – A Cradle Mountain Love Story piqued our interest.
The book tells the story of a pioneering couple who really put Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain on the tourist map in the early 1900s. The novel depicts their passion for botany and the obstacles they encountered when trying to preserve the beauty of the area by establishing a national park.
Have you read any of these books? Do you have a favourite novel which transports you to another country or place? Have you ever read anything which has prompted you to book a holiday in that location? Please share your travel through literature experiences with the community!