Eventually, at the height of the Venetian Republic, Veneto’s landscape had become a quiet and popular summer retreat for wealthy, influential Venetians, who, over the course of time, managed to fill what they called the “Terra Ferma” with their signature of unabashed prosperity. From the grandeur of the city of Vincenza and its impressive Palladian villas, to the medieval flavour of Padova or Shakespeare’s fair Verona, Veneto is definitely a fascinating region to explore.
Where better to begin your trip than the region’s capital. The city is best known for housing twenty-three buildings designed by the famous architect Andrea Palladio. Rightfully called the “city of Palladio”, he and his pupils built houses directly inspired by antiquity. Easily accessible by foot, some of Vicenza’s most famous Palladian buildings include: the awe-inspiring Basilica Palladiana, centrally located in Vicenza’s Piazza dei Signori, Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, home of the Museo Palladio, Palazzo Chiericati, home of the town pinacotheca (gallery) and the renowned Teatro Olimpico (Olympic Theatre), the oldest surviving enclosed theatre in the world.
Tucked away in the city’s outskirts, the Palladian Villas of Almerico Capra (a masterpiece of beauty and simplicity also known as La Rotonda), and Valmarana, equipped with four rooms painted by Tiepolo, and Villa Di Maser (also known as Villa Barbaro), decorated by Veronese, are all well worth a visit. His masterful touch to the city’s landscape is one of the reasons why this quaint city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
No trip to the Veneto region would be complete without a visit to the romantic city of Verona, the setting of an Italian folk tale from which Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is based. Why not relive the romantic tale by visiting Juliette’s house and call out to your lover from the balcony! Or perhaps leave a love letter which will eventually be responded to by a member of the voluntary love-letter answering secretaries which promote the Shakespearean legend!
Verona is particularly famous for its Roman amphitheatre, the Arena di Verona, located in the city’s largest piazza, the Piazza Bra. Completed around 30 AD, it is the third largest in Italy after Rome’s Coliseum and the arena at Capua. Once famous for its gladiator matches, today it is internationally recognized for its large-scale opera performances. From June to September (2012), this summer you could be privy to one of six operas: Don Giovanni, Aida, Carmen, Roméo et Juliette, Turandot or Tosca!
Lago di Garda
Continue your sojourn by resting up on the beaches of Garda, the largest and, arguably, the most beautiful lake in Italy. It has inspired travelers throughout the ages, including the German poet Goethe. If you begin in Desenzano del Garda, the southwestern corner, this location is known as the porta del lago (the gateway to the lake) because it is the best place for transport connections around the lake and beyond. There are numerous ferries which begin here that can take you on various tours around the lake.
Be sure to check out the village of Sirmione which is known for its castle, Rocca Scaligiera, and a maze of Roman ruins. Not to be missed is Riva del Garda where the photo-worthy Varone waterfalls are located. Conclude your stay by seeing the lemon trees of Riviera dei Limoni, the name given to the west coast, comprising the towns from Limone sul Garda to Salò. Never will you see lemons as big as the one’s growing here and their perfume will follow you wherever you go!
Padova and Villa Pisani
Famed for its university founded in 1222, Padova (or Padua) is a principle city in Italy’s Veneto region. Easily reached from Venice (about 30 minutes by bus), it makes for a more inexpensive place to stay for those satisfied with only day trips into la Serenissima. An important landmark to check out in the city is the Arena Chapel (also known as the Scrovegni Chapel) whose interior frescoes were made by Giotto during the fourteenth century. These frescoes are particularly famed for their stunning blue and gold leaf starry skies which went on to influence a generation of Italian painters.
An important monument housed in the city is Donatello’s equestrian statue of Gattamelata, which portrays the Renaissance condottiere Erasmo da Narni. The statue is centrally located in the Piazza del Santo, next to the beautiful Gotich-Byzantinesque Saint Anthony’s cathedral. The statue is known to be the first Renaissance equestrian statue inspired by the grandeur of Classical equestrian portraiture. Other than artistic ventures, be sure to take a walk along the Prato della Valle and to check out the Orto Botanico di Padova. Founded in 1545, it is known as the world’s oldest academic botanical garden. A short and worthwhile excursion from the city is Villa Pisani in Stra. This eighteenth century villa, completed by the architect Francesco Maria Preti, is best known for its illusionistic ceiling painted by the famous Venetian artist Tiepolo in the ballroom. The site is quite large so it might be fun to pack a picnic and enjoy a nice leisurely day in the area!
Take in the Dolomite Mountains in the charming city of Belluno. The city was once known as a major trading site in ancient times between the Republic of Venice and northern Europe. Eventually the city became a summer capital for wealthy Venetians because of its natural beauty and unique climate. For travellers who enjoy outdoorsy activities, this is a great destination as the Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi provides various hiking possibilities, from beginners to expert. In terms of architectural sites, be sure to check out the Duomo created in the fifteenth century by the Venetian architect Tullio Lombardo.
Also worthy of at least a day trip is the city of Treviso. Surprisingly, it markets itself as a città d’acque and although it can hardly be compared to the lagoon that is Venice, water is still a very important feature of the townscape. The town centre is home to clothing empire Benetton, which has a large flagship store behind the Palazzo dei Trecento. If you are looking to do some shopping, head to Via Calmaggiore which stretches from Piazza dei Signori towards the Duomo. The street is characterized by rows of arches which mimic those found in Venice. The principle museum in Treviso is the Museo di Santa Caterina, a former church and convent which has recently been restructured to house the Civic Museum, the town’s art gallery and archaeological collection.
Only 30 km north from the town of Treviso, Conegliano is noted for its wine, chiefly the white, sparkling Prosecco (made from the grape of the same name). This perfect happy hour wine is found in abundance in the north and is used to make the popular Veneto drink known as Spritz. Definitely a bottle (or two) will be worth bringing home to the family. Interestingly, the city is home to Italy’s oldest and most prestigious wine school called Scuola Enologica. Besides sipping the days away, be sure to check out the remains of Conegliano’s medieval castle built in the tenth century, which belonged to the Bishop of the Vittorio Veneto Diocese. Although only the bell tower is intact, it now houses a small museum. The vineyards that fill the surrounding countryside up to the town of Valdobiadene are also reputed to display some of the finest landscapes in the country.
Written by Amanda Fulginiti