Few people are ever really ready to leave Venice, but when the time comes, take a train
to Treviso, or rent a car and spend a few days exploring three smaller and far less crowded art cities.
Treviso, like Venus,
rises from the water. It was first built by the Romans, most likely the ones whose 2000-year-old bronze swords
were found in the riverbeds where they had been thrown in homage to the river deities. After being an important
center throughout ancient and medieval times, Treviso is today a delightfully authentic and very prosperous
provincial capital that sits at the confluence of the Sile and Botteniga Rivers. The latter slips under the
16th-century walls at Ponte della Pria, splitting into the Roggia, Buranelli and Cagnan Grande, three gleaming canals which flow between the buttressed and corbelled houses, the cobblestoned alleys, and tiny bridges, watering the city's flowering gardens.
A walk through Treviso's quiet alleys is the perfect antidote to the noise and commotion of St. Mark's and
the Rialto. Start at the Ponte della Campana, a bridge on the street of the same name. Here you will find
a row of benches facing the banks of the Cagnan Grande, where you can settle in to relax and adapt to the
city's pace, which seems to follow the rhythms of the waterways. Ducks float past, seagulls swoop overhead,
and grannies bustle by on the way to the fish market just beyond the portico to your right. Here, the river
glides beneath the houses and under a series of small arches, on its way to power an endlessly rotating waterwheel.
At your left is another portico, graced by a 15th-century frieze. The bridge itself is enlivened by rows of
potted geranium, and in front of you is the belltower of 13th-century San Francesco church. Nothing so extraordinary
here as to merit a guidebook of its own, and yet the friendly charm of this town has inspired many a visitor
to say, "I could live in Treviso."
When you are ready to move on from the bench, walk around the corner to Vicolo Molinetto, named after the waterwheel. Here is where you'll see the tiny island that hosts the fish market. Two more waterwheels, and gardens that seem to emerge from the canal itself, are visible at Portico Rinaldi. The canals are navigated only by geese and swans nowadays, but in olden times they were busy with barges, towed here by oxen and horses from the river's mouth in the Venetian Lagoon.
The heart of the city is Piazza dei Signori, which resembles an outdoor sitting room flanked by the magnificent pink-brick Palazzo del Trecento, built in 1217, when the local noblemen might often be seen here, playing chess beneath the porticos. Nearby, the Cathedral houses works by Titian, along with a medieval crypt. The churches of San Nicola and Santa Caterina, as well as the Episcopal Seminary, all offer stunning 14th-century frescoes by Tommaso da Modena.
The very best way to end your morning in Treviso is by having lunch at any number of wonderful little osterie, trattorie or ristoranti. The local cuisine is renowned throughout Italy, and it is the best place to try the famous radicchio rosso, which is called treviso in America and is quite different from the radicchio sold in American food stores.
Route 53 leads west towards Vicenza, a mecca for lovers of great architecture. This is the embodiment of the
Renaissance humanists' theory that a city should be a select meeting-place for great men and everything within
it should intrinsically reflect a resulting sense of dignity. If you liked San Giorgio in Venice, you will
be in heaven in Vicenza. Here, too, water plays a part in the urban fabric, but it is more as a backdrop to
the spectacular buildings, which inevitably draw the eye upward to their beautifully adorned and impeccably
proportioned façades. Students will detect practically every style of Italian architecture here, but above
all else, Vicenza is the showcase for Andrea Palladio.
Anyone who loves architecture, or even just anyone who has remodeled their house lately, has at least heard of Andrea Palladio, one of the most innovative and widely copied designers of all time. As extravagant as he was meticulous, he almost single-handedly swept 16th-century Italian architecture into a New Age that is still admired today in the four corners of the globe. Palladio often worked in Venice, and several shining examples of his genius are major attractions of the city by the lagoon, but more than any other place on earth it was Vicenza, a rather insignificant town on the way to Verona, that became the artist's showcase. The good citizens of Vicenza were eager to show off their prosperity and cultural superiority, and who better to turn their ducats into doorways than the Messiah of Classical Proportion and Modern Power. What eventually emerged was an urban complex that was as homogeneous as it was spectacular.
Vicenza was not born along with Palladio. Its roots predate the Romans, who really were the first to bestow
prosperity upon it. One of the most important features of any settlement, for the Romans, was a strategic
location and that is what Vicenza had, being nestled at the feet of the Alps, a perfect threshold, as it were,
at which to stop those barbarian marauders who continually insisted upon swooping down from the North. As
a loyal part of the Roman Empire, it remained relatively untouched until 300. After the Romans retreated it
suffered 500 years of barbarian invasions, and the last straw came in 899, when the Hungars razed the town
to the ground. It was right after this that the wonderful city walls, still intact in all their crumbling
glory, were thrown up. These bastions allowed Vicenza to achieve enough stability to attract the protection
of several Italian cities, the last of which was Venice. Between 1550 and the end of the 18th century, under
Venetian rule, Vicenza was both peaceful and prosperous. The ideal conditions for patronage of the arts.
The town offers many superb monuments preceding Palladio, which is quite astounding if we consider that it
was almost blown off the map by World War II bombings, mainly at the hand of the Allies. Much of what we see
and admire today was carefully reconstructed after 1946, which makes it even more remarkable, given that it
looks almost entirely authentic. Part of the lovely façade of the Duomo is a perfect example: first built in 1467, its topmost segment was rebuilt in 1950. See if you can tell! I find the façade
to be a wonder, because it is far too large for the tiny square it dominates, and so its flat surface seems
to be toppling toward you as you stare up at it. Inside, the second chapel on the right has some lovely 17th-century
frescoes. The main altar was conceived as a very grandiose affair, because it was commissioned for one of
the most crucial curial meetings of all time, the Council of 1539 convened to deal with Martin Luther and
his followers. Commonly known as the Council of Trent, it was originally to be held in this church.
the oldest structure of note in Vicenza is the paleo-Christian basilica of SS. Felice e Fortunato. Dating
back to the 4th century, it was built atop an even earlier pagan sanctuary, to commemorate the two saints
martyred in Rome. Along with the rest of the town, it was decimated by the Hungars and then rebuilt, in 963,
as an almost completely faithful replica of the original. The belltower was added in the 12th century. Many
relics from the 4th to 6th centuries still survive inside, most beautiful of which are the 4th-century mosaics
on the floor of the basilica.
works, these from the 15th century, are harbored inside the rather plain looking Abbazia di S. Agostino. My
favorite is the so-called Golden Altar, attributed to Battista da Vicenza (1404). Nearby, the segment of city
wall that runs from Viale Mazzini to Porta S. Croce is perhaps one of the best preserved and most interesting.
It incorporates the church of San Rocco, erected to thank the saint for (finally) saving the city from several
plagues, the worst of which killed 10,000 local inhabitants. The many masterful paintings in this church make
it worth a visit.
Another pre-Palladian rarity is the Casa Pigafetta, a playful example of the elaborate late-Gothic style. Built in 1481, it was the expensive whim of a local family whose motto - "Il n'est rose sans espine" (There is no rose without a thorn) is above the door. It is thought to have been designed by Stefano da Ravenna and is certainly the only building of its kind in the whole Veneto region. If you stare at it long enough you might think you've been transported to Noto, in eastern Sicily.
Amidst the firmament of Vicenza's beautiful buildings, the constellations are undoubtedly
those designed by Palladio. Palazzo Thiene is perhaps the most complete masterpiece - gazing at it, try to
imagine the sheer spectacle if it had been as its creator intended: eight times the size! Today it is the
headquarters for the local bank, but you can visit its many rooms. Across the street is another Palladian
gem, Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, and the city also boasts 21 other works by the Master, including Palazzo Iseppo
da Porto, the "Basilica" (considered Palladio's first great building) in Piazza dei Signori, the Loggia Bernarda,
Palazzo Chiericati (considered one of the Master's finest), Palazzo Da Monte Migliorini, the door and dome
of the cathedral, Palazzo Civena-Trissino (whose owner gave Andrea di Pietro della Gondola the surname by
which posterity has known him - after the Greek goddess Pallas Athena), Palazzo Capra, Palazzo Valmarana Braga
Rosa, the church of Santa Maria Rosa, Palazzo Da Schio, Palazzo Pojana and, last but certainly far from least,
the Teatro Olimpico. Thanks to the intense rivalry among the wealthy residents of this sleepy backwater, which
impelled each of them to own a more illustrious home than his neighbor's, the entire town of Vicenza is now
listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Whatever you do here, be sure to visit the Teatro Olimpico before
you leave. Nothing like it exists on this planet.
way out of town, drive up Corso Padova to the remarkable complex called Monte Berico. In the first place,
you can stand in the square and look down to admire Vicenza's homogeneous urban design. Then you can admire
Palladio's greatest masterpiece, La Rotonda, which crowns his career just as it crowns this very beautiful
slope. Originally the site was reached via the flight of 192 steps that originate at an arch also designed
by Palladio. La Rotonda was commissioned by a Cardinal who retired to this haven, and its rooms can be seen
on a tour or when you attend one of the many cultural events that take place here. Also on the square is the
Basilica: be sure to peek inside to see Veronese's exquisite Banquet of Gregory the Great.
And still, the wonders of Vicenza are not done! Before the sun sets on this marvelous day that you have given yourself, walk for a few minutes down the Via Valmarana to tour the villa of the same name. It is not only one of the loveliest villas of the Veneto, but it also houses an astonishing fresco cycle by Giambattista Tiepolo, considered one of the most important paintings of the entire 18th century.
Leaving Vicenza on autostrada A4, take the Montebello exit and head south to Lonigo to visit the Rocca Pisani, a 16th-century villa set high atop a ridge. It's hard to say whether the villa or the view is more breathtaking. You'll find an extremely picturesque castle in Soave, the town that gives its name to the wines produced in this area. Click here for photos of Soave.
From here, Route 11 will take you straight to a perfect overnight destination, Verona. Although there are alot more tourists here than Treviso or Vicenza, and the city's small size makes them seem even more apparent, this is nonetheless a delightful city to visit. You drive into the center along the banks of the Adige, an alpine river whose powerful current is very different from the playful streams we've seen earlier in the day. At Ponte Aleardi you turn left and park the car (for Verona is strictly off limits to vehicles) and in the blink of an eye you are standing before the monumental and strikingly well-preserved Arena, a Roman amphitheater built sometime around 30 AD. Originally it hosted gladiators and wild animals, but today it is used for opera and concerts in the summer. A host of outdoor cafes faces its massive stone walls, so we suggest you relax with an aperitif before heading off to dinner and a
good night's rest. Click here to browse lodgings in Verona's historic center.
In the morning, a logical - and very picturesque - place to start your day is at Porta Borsari, the best-preserved ancient Roman gate to the city. From here, walk down Corso Cavour to the 14th-century Castelvecchio, a monument which could be considered the quintessential Italian castle. Stroll across the drawbridge and the three-arched bridge (an engineering wonder) to have a look back at the city from across the river. Back at Porta Borsari, you can continue on to Piazza delle Erbe, the lively marketplace that sits atop the site of the original Roman Forum. Perhaps it is most famous in today's world as the birthplace of the big green market umbrella. In this part of Verona, almost every building is picture-perfect, but Palazzo Manzanti, with its recently-restored 16th-century frescoes, stands out. Beyond the Costa Arch at the end of the square is Piazza dei Signori. Also known as Piazza Dante, after the statue in its center, it is lined with the delicate 15th-century Loggia del Consiglio, the 17th-century Baroque Domus Nova, and the 13th-century Palazzo dei Scaligeri. Through another arch is a tiny courtyard with an impressive gothic staircase. Nearby are the Scaligeri Tombs, one of Italy's greatest medieval monuments.
They may be closed for restoration, but you can peek through the wrought-iron gates.
Verona is the city of Romeo (whose "house" is on Via Arche Scaligere) and Juliet (whose "balcony" on Via Cappello is a veritable tourist mecca), but it is also home to an inordinate number of interesting churches. If you're lucky, you'll lose the tourists as you wander through the city's alleys and squares to visit them. You'll want to see Sant'Anastasia, with its baptismal font held up by suffering hunchbacks, and its fairy-tale fresco by Pisanello; the Romanesque cathedral, where Titian's Assumption hangs above the first altar on the left; the 12th-century San Giovanni in Valle; the "duplex church" San Fermo, with its Gothic altar, its exquisite 14th- and 15th-century frescoes and the unique Monument to Christ in the Brenzoni Chapel; and the unforgettable San Zeno Maggiore, a masterpiece of northern Italian Romanesque architecture where Mantegna painted an exquisite triptych of angels above the altar. San Giorgio in Braida is filled with art, including Veronese's masterful Martyrdom of St. George and Tintoretto's Baptism of Christ. If you just can't get enough fine art, there is a first-class collection in the Castelvecchio Museum, and if you still want more, the Miniscalchi Museum has vast displays of drawings, paintings, armor, weapons, porcelains and bronzes. In the end, though, the most enjoyable thing about Verona may be strolling through its manicured public gardens, secret streets and alleys.
By Kristin Jarratt
Local food specialties are:
Sopa coada (a meat-and-bread soup)
Prosciutto veneto (cured ham)
Trota (river trout)
Radicchio rosso alla griglia (grilled radicchio)
Risotto al radicchio (rice with radicchio)
Baccalà (salt cod with polenta)
Bisi (fresh peas)
Asparagi bianchi di Bassano (white asparagus)
Tartufi neri (black truffles)
Grana padana (a local cheese similar to parmeggiano)
Ciliegie di Marostica (wild cherries)
Some restaurants you might like are:
Beccherie, Piazza Ancilotto 10, Treviso. Tel. 0422/540-871. Closed Sunday evenings and Mondays. Moderately expensive. Reservations recommended; dining in the garden in warm months.
La Colonna, Via Campana 27, Treviso. Tel. 0422/544-804. Closed Sunday evenings and Mondays. Moderate. Picturesquely located right in front of the big waterwheel.
Il Cursore, Stradella Pozzetto 10, Vicenza. Tel. 0444/323-504. Closed Tuesdays, the last week in July, and August 1-15. Inexpensive. A very popular traditional local place.
Antica Casa della Malvasia, Contrà delle Morette 5, Vicenza. Tel. 0444/543-704. Closed Sunday evenings and Mondays.
Antico Ristorante agli Schioppi, Contrà Castello 26, Vicenza. Tel. 0444/543-701. Closed Saturday evenings and Sundays.
Trattoria alla Colonna, Largo Pescheria Vecchia 4, Verona. Tel. 045/596-718. Closed Sundays. Inexpensive.
If you'd like to extend your stay by a few days, consider spending one of them on a lazy boat ride from Treviso, along the Sile, all the way to the Lagoon in Venice. For information, call 0422/788-663 or 788-671.
Or climb into the car and drive to Lake Garda, a quieter, more intimate place than its sisters Como and Maggiore. Be sure to visit Malcesine, a jewel with deserted winding alleyways so silent you may even hear the whisper of waves on the nearby shores.
Lovers of Palladio will of course want to visit the many country homes he built for the burghurs of Vicenza. You can stop in at the tourist office in town (Piazza Duomo 5) and get a very informative brochure with descriptions and locations of Villa Gazzotti Grimani Curti, Villa Thiene, Villa Valmarana Bressan, Villa Caldogno, Villa Trissino Trettenero, Villa Chiericati Da Porto Rigo, Villa Saraceno, Villa Pojana, Villa Pisani Ferri De Lazara, Villa Trissino, Villa Forni Cerato, Villa Godi Valmarana Malinverni, Villa Piovene Porto Godi, Villa Angarano Bianchi Michiel, and others. Be sure to ask which are open to the public.
If you are planning to visit Verona, we recommend you buy a VeronaCard, valid for one day at a cost of 8 Euro, or valid for three days at a cost of 12 Euro. The card gives you free entry to museums, churches and monuments in the city, plus you can travel free on AMT bus services. You can buy cards at museums, monuments, churches, tobacconists in the town centre and on Lake Garda and at all participating sales points.
Click here for information
about advance reservations at the Verona Arena. They are mandatory!
On the fourth Sunday of the month (except in July), there is a flea market in Borgo Cavour, Treviso, from 8 am to 8 pm.
La Rotonda is open to the public March 15-October 15 on Wednesdays, 10 am-12 pm and 3-6 pm.
Villa Valmarana ai Nani is open to the public March 15-October 15, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-12 pm and 2:30-5:30 pm.
The Arena is open for tours 9 am -7 pm (9 am-3:30 pm during opera season).
We just returned from another wonderful trip to Italy. We have an apartment in Treviso, which is about 20 minutes by train from Venice. The center of the city in Treviso is reached easily by foot from the train station in about 5 minutes. For the very best pizza, try St. Augustino's. The crust is light and crispy and the middle of the pizza is not soggy. We have been to this restaurant many times over the past 10 years and the pizza is consistently good and affordable. Treviso is a must see if you are anywhere in the vicinity. It is a laid back town with cobblestone streets everywhere, great shopping, very affordable restaurants, and great architecture. You do not need a car to visit this city. All you need is a train ticket and a good pair of walking shoes. Also, on Tuesdays and Saturdays they have a great outdoor market.