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Italy: The Best Travel Writing from The NY Times

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

ITALY is a country that perhaps more than any other stirs the imagination. Not only is it incredibly beautiful, it’s also steeped in history and as such, has captivated visitors and inspired writers for centuries. But if ever there was any doubt, you need look no further than Italy: The Best Travel Writing from The New York Times and you have all the proof you need.

This beautiful book, with an introduction by Umberto Eco, takes readers on a visually stunning journey the length and breadth of the Apennine peninsular – from the Alpine wilderness in the north to Calabria in the south; from the Gargano Peninsular in the south-east to the Pontine Islands in the west. It’s all here in glorious colour – places with names that are as familiar as our own; others you won’t even have heard of.

Take for example, the Pontine Islands and in particular, the island of Ponza which is largely overlooked by travelogues and tourists alike – the latter thankfully so. However, in 2004, Michael Mewshaw wrote about his visit to the island and in such a way that you will inevitably find yourself in one of the small towns where multicoloured “sugar cube houses” tumble towards the sea, the colour of which ranges “from Robin’s egg blue to azure, turquoise, cerulean and cobalt.”

On the other hand, in 2001, Susan Allen Toth wrote about the “tranquil side of Capri”, a side seldom seen by the boat loads of tourists who flock there daily all summer long. Yet far from the madding crowds are trails “criss-crossing the hills, and a maze of intriguing lanes” where soon, you are “surrounded only by lemon trees, tiny sunbathing lizards and bees humming among the fragrant flowering bushes.”

I’ve made special mention of Ponza and Capri because I’ve had the good fortune to explore both islands and know first hand, that what is written is true – as the accompanying images will themselves bear witness. These are, though, just two examples of what Italy has to offer.

In fact, and as you would no doubt expect from the title, all 46 essays are written by the best travel writers assembled by The New York Times and include historical facts, philosophical ruminations, humorous anecdotes, cultural insights and useful travel information – everything you need to know about a particular region or place.

Finally, a word about the images which are truly outstanding. Some, of course, will be familiar but don’t let this deter you. As I’ve said before, no two people see a subject in quite the same way and a different perspective is all that’s needed to make it unique. And then, of course, there are the seasons. Here we have Venice in the snow and they don’t come much better than that.

If you already know and love Italy, or even if you’re just thinking about a first-time visit, this is a book that will rekindle memories and whet the appetite; a book to treasure always.