Hopping on the Virtual Vespa

We’re in for another treat today. This series on settings for books is becoming more and more interesting, as I welcome back my friend and fellow “Cat”, Katherine Johnson. Sit back and enjoy!


I’ve written two books set in Tuscany – The Silence which was published last year and The Secret which has just been published (June 1st).



I chose Tuscany as a setting for my Villa Leonida novels because of its beauty, the remote mountain villages and their multi-layered history. There are so many lovely areas in Tuscany and I wouldn’t want to claim any is better than another because they’re all amazing in different ways.

But some of the region’s best kept secrets lie far away from the art cities and Chiantishire. It seemed appropriate to set The Silence and The Secret in one of these lesser-known locations.

I had in mind the Lucca province in north Tuscany for my fictional village because I know the area and was intrigued by its wartime history.

If you hop on the virtual Vespa I’ll take you on a tour of this part of Tuscany.

I suggest we start with the city of Lucca, birthplace of Puccini. Although it doesn’t have the art marvels of Florence and Siena, every corner you turn in Lucca is a picture in itself. It’s a compact city with ancient buildings and beautiful squares, encircled by a fabulous set of walls topped with a promenade, perfect for cycling around.

P Napoleone, Lucca

P Napoleone, Lucca

But the best way to explore the narrow streets is by foot. Lucca’s a town where it really pays to look up – you’ll notice interesting architectural details, old shop signs and towers.



Evidence of the town’s Roman past can be seen in the forum and the amphitheatre – although the seats in the amphitheatre were replaced by houses in the Middle Ages, and the stage is now a square, with shops and cafes.

On Santa Zita’s day in April the town is filled with flowers to commemorate the town’s saint. In the summer Lucca hosts a music festival and becomes an open-air modern art gallery.


Bagni di Lucca

Bagni di Lucca

If you travel north of Lucca you come to the very tranquil Garfagnana. Explore the faded grandeur of Bagni di Lucca, make the steep climb to the cathedral in Barga for some amazing views, visit Castelnuovo or the Medieval walled village of Castilglione above. Look out for the church spire of the submerged ghost village in the lake of Vagli, visit Pietrasanta, known as Little Athens and packed with art galleries and workshops, and the nearby Carrara marble quarries where Michelangelo chose the marble for his statue of David. Or head out to the coast to soak up some sun, do some dolphin spotting or take a trip to an island.


Travel tips
Don’t arrive in an Italian village just after lunch or you‘ll find everything closed. It will come back to life in the early evening. Lots of festivals are held in the villages during summer evenings.
Check before you travel – some places and activities are only open at weekends.
The roads can be very twisty so what looks a short distance on a map can take much longer than expected.

The Secret 
Love, lies and betrayal in wartime Italy.
Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences. Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War, friendship is tested and loyalties are divided. But a chance encounter changes everything.
The girls’ lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house in their Tuscan village, while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher.
But neither marriage nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose Irena finds herself left behind.
Decades later a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby whose identity threatens to reopen old wounds. While Irena’s son is determined to find out about the village’s past, Martina’s daughter is desperate to stop him.

Secret cover

The Secret is available as an ebook and paperback here: http://mybook.to/thesecretjohnson

Katy Johnson
Katharine Johnson likes writing about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. She’s passionate about old houses and the stories they have to tell. She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire but spends as much time as she can in the Lucca area of Tuscany. When not writing you’ll find her exploring cities, drinking coffee, playing netball badly and walking her madcap spaniel

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Katharinejohnsonauthor/
Twitter https://twitter.com/@kjohnsonwrites
Website/blog https://katyjohnsonblog.wordpress.com


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5 Responses to Hopping on the Virtual Vespa

  1. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Jane Bwye hosts author Katharine Johnson who guides us around Tuscany and in particular the town of Lucca.. Both her books, The Secret and The Silence are set in the region.. so hop on Jane’s Virtual Vespa and enjoy.

  2. katyjohnson1 says:

    Reblogged this on Katy's Writing Coffee Shop and commented:
    I was thrilled to be invited to take part in Jane Bwye’s lovely series on settings today and have the chance to talk about the Lucca area in Tuscany.

  3. This sounds like a fabulous setting and plot. Can’t wait to read it. I love Italy and would LOVE to go back one day. This town is tempting me. Thanks Jane for sharing Katharine’s work here. I popped over from Sally’s Smorgasbord… 🙂

    • jbwye says:

      Glad you enjoyed the read, Lisa. I’ve never been to Italy, although it’s been on my wish list for some time.

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