Vacation Getaways – First Stop, Italy

Here at Woman Around Town we’re pleased to announce what will be a new ongoing series. We all could use a break to recharge. We all have that dream getaway planned.  So we will be doing a series of great destinations to visit profiling books and movies that offer the best sense of appreciation for whichever place you have in mind. Whether it’s to get ideas about where to go and what to see for your own vacations, or if you just want the vicarious experience.  First stop – Italy! With its beautiful countryside, thousands of years of collected culture, beautiful peoples, ancient gorgeous cities, and of course Italian food, it is the stuff of dreams. Consider the following.

Five Great Movies to See Filmed in Italy

Roman Holiday (1953) Ann (Audrey Hepburn) is a crown princess frustrated by life in a gilded cage.  On a state visit to Rome, she pulls a runner and ends up cavorting around the city with reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck in his prime.) Naturally hijinks ensue.  This romantic comedy was an instant classic that garnered three Academy Awards; Best Actress for Hepburn, Best Screenwriting, and Best Costume Design. It is also a treasure trove of scenery porn of all the sights in Rome from Trevi Fountain, to the Mouth of Truth, to the Colosseum, the Tiber River and more.

La Dolce Vita (1960) Frederico Fellini directed and co-wrote this drama about gossip journalist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) and his fruitless quest to find love and meaning. It begins in Rome with a helicopter transporting a statue of Christ and ends with the death of a leviathan on the beach of Fregene. In between these two bookends there is a LOT of partying; in fact this movie set a new standard for on-screen dissipation and decadence. La Dolce Vita won the Oscar for Best Costumes, the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

Don’t Look Now (1973) Adapted from Daphne DuMaurier’s short story by the same name. Married couple John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) still mourning the death of their daughter travel to Venice where John will restore a church. (The real life San Nicolo dei Mendicoli which was actually undergoing renovations during the time of filming!) Laura meets two elderly sisters one of whom claims to be psychic-and that she can ‘see’ Laura’s lost child who wants to warn them of imminent danger. John is initially skeptical but soon he starts to experience sightings of his own. While on one level a supernatural thriller it is also a treatise on grief and the impact it has on a marriage. It is now regarded as a key work in horror cinema and its use of its Venetian locale highly praised.

Enchanted April (1992) Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) directed this adaption of the Elizabeth von Armin novel of the same name.  Four very different women in 1920’s England leave their grey, rainy, homeland to let a castle in Italy for the month of April. During their stay they find themselves rejuvenated in the beauty of their surroundings and make major life discoveries. Starring Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Joan Plowright, Polly Walker, Al Molina, and Josie Lawrence, it now holds an 82% fresh rating on the Tomatometer. It was filmed at the real Castello Brown in Portofino, Italy, (where author von Armin once stayed,) and and the Castle’s gardens are an idyllic paradise.

Il Postino (1994) Massimo Troisi co-directed, co-wrote, and starred as Mario an Italian postman who strikes up a friendship with famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Phillippe Noiret). Neruda not only instills in Mario a love of poetry, but also gives him pointers on courting the beautiful Beatrice (Maria Grazia Crucinotta). It was filmed on the breathtakingly beautiful island of Procida off the coast of Naples. It won the BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language, and was nominated for five Academy Award nominations and won for Best Score. Tragically Troisi delayed heart surgery for filming and the day after completing filming he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Five Great Books Set in Italy

Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) By E.M. Forester. On a trip to Italy with her friend Caroline, beautiful widow Lilia falls in love with the significantly younger Gino and decides to stay.  She marries Gino and has a son only to die in childbirth. This is when Caroline and Lilia’s former brother-in-law Philip both travel to Italy in hopes of bringing the boy back to England.  Things get complicated. This brilliant debut novel put then 26 year old Forester on the map.

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961) by Irving Stone. Considered the definitive biographical novel on the life of Michelangelo.  Stone spent years living in Italy to research the book visiting sites Rome and Florence, working in marble quarries, and even apprenticed himself to a marble sculpture. Stone would be lauded with several honors by the Italian government for his achievements in documenting the nation’s cultural history and The Agony and the Ecstasy was made into a major Hollywood film starring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison.

The Birth of Venus (2003) by Sarah Dunant.  This sumptuous historical, romantic novel is set in late 15th century Florence during the height of the Renaissance. Alessandra Cecchi is the daughter of a wealthy merchant with a passion for literature and the arts.  She’s attracted to a mysterious young painter commissioned to paint the walls of her family’s chapel but is sold off in marriage to the wealthy and prominent Cristoforo. She comes to care deeply for her husband but her attraction to the painter grows too.  All this takes place against the political turbulence of the times caused by the rise of Savoronala.

The City of Falling Angels (2005) by John Berendt. This non-fiction work by the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tells the story of some fascinating persons living in Venice, Italy, such as glassblower Archimede Seguso whom Berendt met while living there following the fire that destroyed the famous La Fenice Opera House in 1996. Berendt also chronicles the lives of certain American and English expatriates who resided in Venice including Henry James and Ezra Pound.

My Brilliant Friend (2014) by Elena Ferrante. The first of the acclaimed series of Neapolitan Novels chronicling the lives of Elena Grego and Lila Cerullo from their childhood to adulthood in Naples, Italy. The story begins with Lila’s disappearance in 2010 and Elena begins writing down everything she can remember about Lila starting in the 1950’s. The series has become an international bestselling phenomenon with a devoted following. A stage adaption has opened in England and a TV series is in the works.

Top photo of Rome’s Trevi Fountain from Bigstock

About Winnefred Ann Frolik (155 Articles)
Winnefred Ann Frolik (Winnie for short) was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She completed the International Baccleareate program at Schenley High School and then attended the University of Pittsburgh where she completed a double major in English Literature and Creative Writing. After graduation she spent a number of years working in the non-profit sector and it was during that phase in her life she moved to D.C.  Winnie co-wrote a book on women in the U.S. Senate with Billy Herzig.  She enrolled in a baking program in culinary school and worked in food services for a while. She currently works in personal services while writing for Woman Around Town and doing other freelance writing projects including feeble personal attempts at fiction. Her brother is a reporter in Dayton, Ohio so clearly there are strong writing genes in the family.  She lives in Pittsburgh, PA, with two demanding cats.