Susan Van Allen packs her book  100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go with far more than interesting tidbits about bella Italia.

I will admit that I have come to dread the “100 This” and “1000 That”  books that are growing like mushrooms in the travel guide section of bookstores.  “A gimmick,” I think, as I pass on to something of more substance. But when the publishers at Traveler’s Tales offered me a review copy of this book, for Indie Travel Podcast, I was intrigued.

One: I love Italy. Doesn’t everyone?

Two: This seemed like something quite different from a publisher who can be counted on for delightful books.

Van Allen outdoes herself in this breezy book.  She doesn’t just give the independent traveler a bare list of Venus-and-Mary art, spas, shopping, adventure, gardens, food; she also includes itineraries for a perfect day, web addresses, tour guides and places to stay.  I was delighted to see favorites of mine like Slow Travel, Dream of Italy, and David Farley‘s book An Irreverent Curiosity, among many other old friends. I would have included Donna Leon and her mysteries set in Venice, but perhaps the book was overloaded with Venice information.

If you want a deeper understanding of, say, Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, or the mythology of Venus, Van Allen dives into the details,  particularly delighting in the bawdy bits.


Since I write about books, the author won my heart with her recommendations of books and movies that accompany nearly every chapter.  She says,

I love to read books that take place in Italy. They fling me around through its history, give me a chance to see the country through a different lens. They take me beyond guidebooks, bringing another layer to my experience of a destination Wondrously there’s that “reading as communion” thing that happens when these writers pour their passion for Italy on the page.

How perfect to have advice about “their” Italy from Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun), Erica Jong (Shylock’s Daughter, set in Venice), Marcella Hazen (Italian cookbooks) and Mary Taylor Simetti (who writes about Sicily, On Persephone’s Island).

My only criticism: You can find regions and cities in the regular index, but I would have liked to have a cross index by place in this book which is organized by interest and activity. Really, although the book is slanted toward women, Van Allen has written a complete guidebook that serves up a feast for anyone planning a trip to Italy, whether first-time or return journey, particularly the independent traveler.

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