A Tour of Italy with Author Kelsey James

by Kelsey James

I was a travel writer and editor early in my career and had the incredible good fortune to go to some truly stunning places around the world. Italy remains one of my favorite destinations—it’s beloved by so many tourists for a reason!—and it was a pleasure to attempt to bring some its wonders to life for my readers in The Woman In the Castello. While the town of Castello del Lago is fictional, there are a number of sights mentioned in the book that you can visit—as well as some that served as inspiration for the fictional settings, or that gothic fans may find thrilling. Take a trip with me to visit them all! 

Via Veneto in Rome

In the 1960s, the Via Veneto was the place to be for well-heeled Americans traveling to Rome, and the Hotel Excelsior (still in operation today as the Westin Excelsior) was one of the city’s top luxury hotels. This iconic street is still a major (and posh) tourist destination with high-end boutiques, culminating in the beautiful Villa Borghese gardens, where the heroine Silvia takes her daughter Lulu early in the book. It’s near many major tourist sights such as the Spanish Steps.

The Trevi Fountain in Rome

This destination almost needs no introduction. For Silvia, it’s meaningful as the spot where Anita Ekberg waded into the water in her evening dress in La Dolce Vita, a moment that helped make her an international icon. “The right movie, and the right scene, could do that for you, and it made this spot magic for me,” Silvia thinks. The destination has become so popular that it’s not particularly pleasant to visit when it’s mobbed by tourists, but if you can catch it at a quieter moment it’s a beautiful fountain to pause and enjoy a gelato. 

Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo

In the book, Silvia stops here to rest her feet after a demoralizing job search. She notices some dramatic, moody paintings in one of the side chapels—and while she doesn’t know who they’re by, I can tell you that they’re Caravaggios. One of the treats of Rome is how abundant its splendors are. You can find incredible masterpieces tucked into hidden nooks and crannies, and breathtaking monuments seemingly on every corner. Silvia observes: “Rome wore its history carelessly, its ancient churches and Roman temples and fountains as commonplace as the cats who wandered them. But I was astonished by it all.” 

The Roman Catacombs 

It will probably not come as a surprise, given my profession as a writer of gothic fiction, that I’m a fan of the macabre, and the Roman catacombs are certainly that. The Catacombs of St. Callixtus and Catacombs of St. Domitilla are some of the most famous. You won’t see bones or mummies, but there are a number of fascinating examples of early Christian art. 

Castello Orsini-Odeschalchi

This 15th-century castle on Lake Bracciano was a popular filming location during the Hollywood on the Tiber era, and ’60s horror movies such as Castle of the Living Dead, Spirits of the Dead, and Challenge the Devil were shot here. Today, it houses a museum featuring artwork from the Middle Ages and is still used as a shooting location for film and television. 

Set in 1960s Italy, this stylish, atmospheric debut spins a bewitching web of ruthless ambition, family secrets, and the consequences of forbidden love, as an ambitious American actress snags the starring role in a mysterious horror movie shooting on location in a crumbling medieval castle outside Rome…

Readers who enjoy the moody gothic allure of Kate Morton and Silvia Moreno-Garcia or the immersive settings of Lucinda Riley and Fiona Davis will be enthralled by Kelsey James’ spellbinding web of intriguing mystery, family secrets, forbidden love, and midcentury Italian flair.

“You’ll get lost in the pages of this lush, entertaining story.” —Ellen Marie Wiseman, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Willowbrook

Rome, 1965: Aspiring actress Silvia Whitford arrives at Rome’s famed Cinecittà Studios from Los Angeles, ready for her big break and a taste of la dolce vita. Instead, she learns that the movie in which she was cast has been canceled. Desperate for money, Silvia has only one choice: seek out the Italian aunt she has never met.

Gabriella Conti lives in a crumbling castello on the edge of a volcanic lake. Silvia’s mother refuses to explain the rift that drove the sisters apart, but Silvia is fascinated by Gabriella, a once-famous actress who still radiates charisma. And the eerie castle inspires Silvia’s second chance when it becomes the location for a new horror movie, aptly named The Revenge of the Lake Witch—and she lands a starring role.

Silvia immerses herself in the part of an ingenue tormented by the ghost of her beautiful, seductive ancestor. But when Gabriella abruptly vanishes, the movie’s make-believe terrors seep into reality. No one else on set seems to share Silvia’s suspicions. Yet as she delves into Gabriella’s disappearance, she triggers a chain of events that illuminate dark secrets in the past—and a growing menace in the present…