> Regions > Liguria

Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera, Where Every Month Is Enchanted

by Annie Hawes

Fed up with cold, foggy London and the high cost of real estate, Annie Hawes is persuaded by her sister Lucy to travel to Italy and graft roses for the winter. The sisters arrive in rural Liguria with some formal Italian, no knowledge of rose grafting, and visions of Mediterranean men and sun. What they find is a town full of hard-working, wary olive growers smack in the middle of an olive oil depression who think these two young Englishwomen are nuts. Extra Virgin tells the story of the sisters’ acclimation–theirs to Liguria and Liguria to them–and how they fell in love with a crumbling farmhouse in the hills. Annie quickly finds that though they are only two miles from the Italian Riviera, it might as well be 100. Liguria is an old region full of time-honored peculiarities, especially in regard to espresso consumption (never, ever, after lunch; it will close your stomach) and swimming before summertime officially starts. “Seawater at the wrong time of year is even worse for your health than coffee at the wrong time of day, and the beach is only deserted because, as far as the citizens are concerned, if you put so much as a toe into the water before June you are certain to die within the week from exposure or pneumonia or both,” says Hawes. Eventually, the sisters are accepted by the townsfolk, though they find the idea of the women buying the farmhouse and running it themselves (there are 50 olive trees on the land) fantastical. Extra Virgin draws you in to the heart of Liguria and its inhabitants. Hawes has a knack for drawing characters and especially for describing the luscious meals that they are served–and eventually learn to cook. “Lucy and I are kindly allowed to make the tomato-and-basil salad,” Hawes says, “and do our best not to be offended by being complemented on how like a proper tomato-and-basil salad it is.” Pour yourself an espresso (as long as it’s before lunch) or a grappa (aids the digestion), and then sit down to enjoy Extra Virgin.

Bloodstone Castle

by Mirella Patzer

Based in Medieval Italy, Bloodstone Castle is an Italian romantic suspense fictional novel that takes place in Genoa, Savona, and Portovenere during the 10th century. The story begins with the birth of Morena and her dying mother’s gift of the legendary bloodstone which holds a clue of a long forgotten Roman treasure said to be buried beneath Bloodstone Castle. Eighteen years later, the father Duke Bartolomeo Dragone, is killed in an ambush by brigands. His dying wish is that Amoro end a feud and marry the Contessa Morena Monterossa of Portovenere. Amoro breaks the news to his mistress, but Laria had harboured hopes he would marry her and surprises him with her grief when she swears she will fight to keep him. Amoro goes to Bloodstone Castle to claim his bride, but his attempts are rebuffed by Morena, who intends to honor her betrothal to Ernesto, a man 20 years her senior. No sweet love story, Bloodstone Castle is an uncompromising tale of love, murder and betrayal, where the lives of the main characters are taken through a devastating chain of ordeals. If you like your heroes bloody but unbowed, Mirella Patzer’s novel will be exactly the kind of historical story you will love. Its characters will provide you with a roller coaster read with its array of twists and turns which plunge to the depths of ruthlessness and a love which refuses to die.

A Thread of Grace

by Mary Doria Russell

Mary Doria Russell’s extraordinary and complex historical novel, A Thread of Grace is the kind of book that you will find yourself haunted by long after finishing the last page. It opens with a group of Jewish refugees being escorted to safe-keeping by Italian soldiers. After making the arduous journey over a steep mountain pass, they are welcomed into a small village with warm food and clean beds. They have barely laid their heads to rest when news is received that Mussolini has just surrendered Italy to Hitler, putting them in danger yet again. This opening sequence is a grim foreshadowing of the heart-breaking journey these characters will experience in their struggle for survival. The rich fictional narrative is woven through the factual military maneuvers and political games at the end of WW II, sharing a little-known story of a group of Italian citizens that sheltered more than 40,000 Jews from grueling work camp executions. Rather than the bleak and hopeless feeling that might be expected, the novel has the opposite effect; it reminds us that just as there will always be war, crime, and death, so too will there be good people who selflessly sacrifice themselves to ease the suffering of others. Perhaps best of all, Russell succinctly opens and closes her writing with short pieces that bookend the story with the force of a freight train. Her moving finale wraps up her narrative in the present day, with a death bed scene that’s sure to rip the heart out of readers of every faith and ancestry.

Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera


Fred Plotkin brings together passion and scholarship, poetry, history, and vivid images of Liguria in Recipes from Paradise, a meticulous and loving record of the region known as the Italian Riviera. Literate and richly written, even florid at times, it documents the interplay of land and sea elemental to Ligurian life in fascinating detail. The alluring, authentic recipes include Stuffed Basil Leaves, Chestnut Gnocchi, and Polenta Incatenata, made with beans, cabbage, and potatoes. Ingredient lists give measures by weight (ounces), volume (cups), and grams, and oven temperatures in Fahrenheit and Centigrade. Some may find this thoroughness distracting, but it makes the book useful to anyone anywhere. More challenging than the careful measurements is the windy narrative form Plotkin employs in the steps for making the dishes; with so many words to wade through, the style may make finding your place difficult. Italophiles and cookbook literati, however, will not care about Plotkin’s verbosity as they are blissfully transported and enlightened by the recipes and descriptions.