Italy

Highlights

Venice, certainly, is the ultimate chocolate box of never-ending delights: Gothic and Baroque churches, extravagant palazzi, bustling campos, moonlit canals and the entire history of art in its galleries. But, when you breathe in the air of the Dolomites, stand on the outer ring of Verona’s Arena, shake your head in disbelief at the beauty of the vistas from Asolo or amble down the cypress-lined hill from La Rotonda, you will realise that Venice doesn’t have everything, after all.

Veneto is the proud and prosperous northeast shoulder of the Italian state. Wedged between the border region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to the east, the Dolomite mountains to the north, the powerhouse of Lombardy to the west, the marshes of Emilia-Romagna to the south and, of course, the Venetian lagoon to the southeast, Veneto offers visitors a marvellous multiplicity of things to see and do.

Venice

It is, of course, Venice that draws most visitors to the region. This unique city on water is steeped in the past. Its artistic treasures, architectural wealth and reliance on boats to move around, all hark back to an age when it was at the vanguard of Western civilization. Venice is not like the rest of Italy. Undamaged by the bombing of World War II and unsullied (bar belching Marghera on the edge of the lagoon) by the industrialization that has encircled most other towns, it has an unreal quality that is part of its appeal. You cannot turn a corner in Venice without seeing something wonderful. It takes time to adjust to the fact you are on an artificial island, standing on lumps of Istrian stone and pine logs driven deep into the mud. Until you head off to the lagoon’s other islands, it’s hard to imagine that much of it was once a mosquito-ridden swamp. And, until you walk round the calli and get lost a hundred times over, you just don’t realise how inspired the creation of this floating city is.

Venice ruled over the surrounding region of Veneto for over 400 years. Although this influence is very apparent, the people of Veneto have a different personality from their former rulers. Yes, they share the same entrepreneurial gene and are as deeply conservative in many of their views, but they also tend to be more outward- and forward-looking.

Padua & around

Padua, just 30 minutes from Venice on the train, seems to be a concrete jungle until you reach its Renaissance kernel. Its historic university, café society and rebellious past all contribute to making this a hugely sociable city, while Giotto’s frescoes in the Cappella degli Scrovegni mean it scores off the scale as far as art is concerned. Padua is connected to the Venetian lagoon by the Brenta Canal, or Venetian Riviera, where rich Venetians built Renaissance villas to escape the heat and intensity of the city and to lay claim to the fertile land. South of Padua are the Euganean Hills, a protected landscape that is beloved of walkers and vinophiles.

Treviso & the north

Just half an hour from Venice to the north is Treviso. This medieval, fortified and moated city knows how to make and to enjoy its wealth. It has a different pace of life from Venice and is a great place to rest, recoup, meander and eat well. Head north and you’ll pass broad, green cultivated plains where the northeast’s post-war economic boom is most obvious. But don’t expect ugly sprawling industry: here, small, clean factories intermingle with cherry orchards, vineyards and maize fields. The most northerly part of Veneto, just over two hours from the lagoon, is dominated by the mighty Dolomite mountain range, as vertical and frozen as Venice is flat and watery. Here the chic town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, playground for the rich and famous, is flashier than Milan and a little less Italian, too: a Germanic influence is noticeable in the Tyrolese architecture and the guttural dialect.

Vicenza & around

Back down on the plains, on the route that links Venice with Milan, lies Vicenza. One of the wealthiest cities in Italy, it is also one of the smallest and the most architecturally rich. The handiwork of Palladio is all around you, from the palazzi and public buildings in the city centre to the villas in the surrounding countryside, where La Rotonda, considered his most perfect tribute to the principles of proportion, symmetry and pleasure, sits in absolute harmony with the landscape.

Verona

And then there is Verona, suspended in fiction by an Englishman who had never visited and mobbed by tourists who come to see the balcony of a young girl who never existed. But the romance and drama of Verona is very real. The Roman legacy of its astonishing amphitheatre, teatro and other ruins under your feet has been complemented over the years by monumental churches and gracious palazzi to create a perfect stage set for an enchanting stay. Around Verona, the western Veneto is characterized by vineyards that cling to every hill and patch of fertile soil, fed by the Alpine waters of the Adige and its tributaries. The region stretches as far as the eastern shore of Lake Garda, where, in the summer, lakeside towns such as Torri del Benaco buzz with Veronesi escaping the heat and humidity of the city.

 

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