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A source of inspiration
The history of the Veneto is anchored in its the quest for and its protection of the most vital substance on Earth: water. The importance of this source was fundamental for the region’s growth as one of the most sought-after fonts of culture and power. Though the area has shifted its focus from sheer survival to curating its immense wealth of unique artistic and environmental treasures, this transition to modernity was carried on its waters.
Where once its ports teemed with sailors and traders of commodities like paper, lace and glass, now the area hosts visitors disembarking to marvel at its breathtaking beauty. They come for: its famous lagoon; its long, sandy beaches; the hilly vineyards that produce prosecco and other renowned wines; the jagged dolomite peaks; its cities of art like Verona, Vicenza, Treviso, Belluno and Rovigo; its mineral-rich thermal baths in the Euganean spa towns are where visitors have soaked since protohistoric times; and the Brenta Canal, a rural thoroughfare leisurely leading from Venice to Padua with banks lined in 15th century Palladio villas. The innate art and symbolism of the area inspire illustrious stories and masterpieces. Half of Shakespeare’s works are set in the Venetian region, the land of phantasmagoric scenes and multicolored masks.
At the heart of the Venetian Republic, the Doge’s Palace served as administrative headquarters and a residence for its leaders. Gothic in style, the private apartments occupy one wing of the house and were integrated with each doge’s personal furnishings brought from their own houses. The other areas were created to function as the seat of the government. There were various reception areas, halls and meeting rooms, as well as chambers and antechambers for the Censors, Council and Court. Three prisons were used to hold the numerous convicts: one above the building, one below it and the new one connected to it by the Bridge of Sighs. So many prisons were needed because being sent to jail in Venice did not take much. A simple note slipped into the “Mouth for Secret Accusations” in the Hall of the Compass could decide one’s destiny. The most famous figure held at the Doge’s Palace was Giacomo Casanova. The legendary lover’s life of crime led him to be sentenced to the Piombi prison. The event that rendered the character infamous he later detailed in his book – on Halloween night 1756 he escaped from the palace. He climbed out his cell and onto the roof, then down the golden staircase where he met a guard who mistook him for a politician and let him out into Saint Mark’s Square. As Casanova embodied certain Italian ideals, the legend then recounts that he stopped for an espresso in the piazza before fleeing away by gondola. After the fall of the Venetian Republic the Doge’s Palace fell into disrepair until the Italian government invested in major restorations and turned it into a museum.
The oldest botanical garden in the world was founded in 1545 at the University of Padua. More than 7,000 plants are grown to be studied, including medicinal plants and exotic, poisonous and carnivorous species. In 1997 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Goethe visited the garden and mentions a dwarf palm in his book, “The Metamorphosis of Plants.” For this reason the palm is referred to with the name of the writer. As it was planted in 1585, it is officially the oldest plant there. It is located in a small greenhouse, along with a ginkgo tree and a magnolia from the middle of the 17th century considered to be the oldest examples of their kind in Europe. As Padua benefitted from the commercial exchanges while under the Republic of Venice, it was able to procure some of the earliest examples of exotic plants. The University continues in its aim to preserve biodiversity, maintaining some truly fascinating rare varieties.
A masterpiece, the early fourteenth century chapel is considered to be the most complete series of Giotto’s frescoes. The church’s simple architecture allow total attention to be focused on its sublimely adorned walls. Royal blue contrasted by light forms, poetic scenes evoking pathos, the story of God and man. Giotto even integrated the ancient Roman technique of painting imitation marble. It remains a mystery how Giotto learned to do it.
Founded in 1222 as an open-minded alternative to the University of Bologna, the University of Padua is the Europe’s second oldest university. As the Republic of Venice established the school as its sole gymanisum, it gave great leeway in allowing the school to develop in academic freedom.
The departments were originally housed together in a single building on a street of butcher shops. The Palazzo del Bo took its name from its humble beginnings (“bo” from the word “bovine” in northern Italian dialects). When the school expanded into additional buildings towards the end of the 1400s, the botanical garden and the anatomical theater were eventually built quickly took on international importance. The former was the first of its kind; the latter was a six-tiered hall used to secretly dissect human bodies at night. As the approach used to study modern anatomy was prohibited by the Church, the building remained windowless until the mid 1800s, just thirty years before it stopped being used. The developments made to the field of medicine, as well as in the school’s other faculties, attracted students from around the world.
The school of astronomy is unique in that Galileo taught there for over 18 years, taking the first steps in creating the modern scientific method. The philosophy department saw the first female, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, in the world graduate in 1678. In 1848 the university found itself on the frontlines of World War I. Upholding their scholarly standards for freedom of thought, the chancellor, vice chancellor and numerous students, fought against Fascism and Nazi occupation. Their deaths were recognized when the university became the only school in Italy to be awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valour. Organized tours bring visitors through the most important buildings and phases of the university, to highlights like Galileo’s lectern, the Anatomical Theater and the Palazzo del Bo.
In Italian, “fenice” is the word for phoenix. Just as the great bird arose from the ashes, the Fenice Theater in Venice has done the same. The opera house was first constructed in 1755, before it needed to be rebuilt several times due to fire damage. The most recent calamity was arson by the company responsible for the theater’s restoration. Unable to meet the deadlines set for the project, the men in charge set flame to the building as an attempt to avoid the heavy fines leavied on them for falling behind in their work in 1996. Once again, the fenice took form from the ashes and maintained an identical aesthetic as the original, though the company added state-of-the-art stage machinery. The iconic theater once again represents an important symbol for Italian theater, as many renowned works debuted here. Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi chose the venue for their premieres. For those unable to stay for an evening of opera, day tours take place throughout the week and in multiple languages.
Believed to be the oldest city in northern Italy, the Trojan prince Antenor led his people from Turkey to the area in 1183 B.C. His stone sarcophagus was found in the city center in 1274, remaining intact despite the disastrous years of Hun, Gothic and Lombard invasions. It survived as a medieval city-state until it was annexed by the Venetian Republic. Padua again experienced tumult when it was chosen as the main command post for the Italian army during the First World War and suffered as a front in World War Two. During the second half of the twentieth century the city blossomed into a lively art city. A key driver of the transformation was the university and the great minds it has brought together since the 1200s. Numerous public spaces assisted in the growth of the city, facilitating interaction amongst its people and serving as a core for their social events. The elliptical square, the Prato della Valle, is one of the largest in Europe. The bustling market offers local products and the historic Caffè Pedrocchi has been dubbed the “place where ideas were born.” The Basilica of St. Anthony is an important stop for pilgrims, as the saint was interred in the Baroque building.
Vicenza, the “City of Palladio”, is rightly recognized by UNESCO as the place in which an unparalleled movement in architectural history was born. Sixteenth century Venetian architect, Andrea Palladio, created public and private buildings based on ancient styles, which is fitting, as the city itself was founded in second century B.C. and the inspiration for his work was literally surrounding him. Over twenty buildings display classical elements borrowed from the Greeks and Romans, integrated into more modern structures and then copied across the globe. The most notable Palladian model was the house-temple. The villas have a monumental staircase leading to an entrance under a pediment flanked by columns extending from the portico to the wings, often featuring imposing towers to complete the aesthetic – bookends – completing the story the structure holds. This type of formation was both functional for the management of the surrounding land, as well as symbolic, meant to exalt the glory of the owner. In the center of Vicenza visitors can also see the Renaissance architect’s green copper roofed Basilica Palladiana and his Olympic Theater. Elegant shops and charming cafés are interwoven in the unique cityscape.
Glide on history’s liquid mirrors as you navigate and reflect on the Venetian lagoon. The unique urbanscape of the “Queen of the Adriatic”– a city composed of a collection of islands interlaced with iconic bridges and canals – necessitates the substitution of usual, wheeled modes of transportation for boats. Water taxis and “buses” zip visitors around the Grand Canal, under the Rialto Bridge and past some of the most beautiful, colorful villas built flush to the water’s edge. The aquatic anatomy of Venice fascinates those unaccustomed to seeing policemen, firemen, postmen and garbage collectors arrive via the sea. The adaptations and creative developments in Venice stem from its role as a maritime merchant hub, combining the raw materials and ideas coming in from the Mediterranean with the ability to master technical skills. Venetians revolutionized glassware, eyewear and books. As inventors of punctuation, italics, various typefaces and the paperback, a better reading experience accessible to the masses was born in Venice. By 1500 “La Serenissima” published one third of the world’s books while also becoming one of the first virtual economies, facilitating trade through the usage of its ducat coins and accounting system. The coordinated structure ensured orderly business transactions at the Rialto Bridge, which was the nexus of world trade at the time. As the geographical and symbolic core of international commerce, the Rialto greatly benefited from a partnership with the other two centers of power just a stone’s throw away. The Arsenal supplied ships for its traders and housed its fleet, which protected the city and ensured its naval power. The seat of government was located in the Doge Palace, which was key in facilitating the fluidity of trade. The Hall of the Great Council, inside the Doge Palace, impacted the culinary creations of the city. Featuring the work of two local painters, Bellini and Carpaccio, whose use of color inspired Harry’s Bar owner Giuseppe Cipriani to concoct a drink and a meat dish drawing on their palettes to please famous guests’ palates since 1931. The bar is conveniently located right off of St. Mark’s Square, where the dazzling golden Basilica guarded by lions can be found. For coffee lovers looking for historical flare, Caffe Florian – which is also in the square – is believed to be the oldest café in the world. After sipping some fabulous espresso, many start their day trips to the islands of Murano to see its glassblowers, Burano to see its world-famous lace and Torcello, which briefly served as a refuge for the city’s inhabitants after the Roman Empire fell. As evening descends and the day excursions end, visitors marvel at the gondolas, lights and music as they head to their favorite bacaro for cicchetti, the Venetian version of tapas.
Verona was the second Roman settlement in Italy, which can readily be recognized when visitors arrive at the Piazza Brà square and see a Colosseum-like Roman amphitheatre at its core. The Arena continues to serve as a venue for entertainment, with a world class opera series and other events held there throughout the warmer months. For visitors with little time for a show, it is also possible to take a tour of the structure. Verona also offers fantastic shopping in its Via Mazzini street. For the romantic, Romeo and Juliet’s house is just a stone’s throw from the main square. The Galleria d’Arte Moderna “Achille Forti” offers an annually changing exhibit that includes not only work by the featured artist, but is transformed into a place imitating the style and the context of the space and time in which the artist worked. When the La Trec exhibition took place, the artwork was found amongst an 19th century Paris café setting. Visitors could feel closer to the artist and his inspirations, going beyond the art to experience his or her life and times. The city Shakespeare loved so dearly will quickly capture your heart.
To the north of Verona lays the largest of Italy’s lakes. The enormity of Lake Garda creates a Mediterranean microclimate where olive, lemon and palm trees can flourish on the sunny side of the Alps. Known by the Romans as Lake Benacus, it not only offers one of the world’s best and most sought-after olive oils, but also combines opportunities for some of the world’s best water sports and mountain sports. With myriad possibilities for sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, hiking, climbing and biking, visitors are able do it all. The towns and villages on the lake’s shores are connected by the breath-taking Gardasana road. Drivers and motorcyclists revel in the beautiful drive as they wrap around the lake. The remarkable panoramas afforded were used for the opening scenes of the James Bond film, “The Quantum of Solace.” With just a half hour driver from Verona, visitors can enter paradise.
The Euganean Hills are dotted with medieval villages, walled cities, castles, palaces and patrician villas. The area is a popular destination for admirers of art and architecture, as well as those seeking to spend their vacation in nature. Hikers and cyclers easily find trails and paths that meet the level of difficulty they are looking for and lead them to discover the fascinating places the region has to offer. Many stop at the captivating Garden of the Villa Barbarigo Valsanzibio, at the beautiful Catajo Castle and in Arquà Petrarca, a town with a perfectly preserved medieval centre. Another destination is the splendid 15th century Abbey of Praglia, where monks still sell personal care products, herbal teas and liqueurs, honey and sweets. For those looking for a unique event space Villa dei Vescovi has been the sought-after ideal location for weddings and MICE-like meetings for centuries.
Just outside of Verona, a stop at a rice farm provides unique insight into the harvesting of the crop that northern Italy is famous for. The town of Isola della Scala is proud to share its agricultural history with visitors both during at a tour of its seventeeth century rice mill and its month-long rice festival every year. Visitors coming for a tour of the Ferron family mill can see how rice was refined before technology made the process simpler. Following the visit, groups can sample various products.
See the section Festivals & Events for more information on the Rice Festival of Isola della Scala.
Verona sits between two distinct, esteemed wine areas, Valpolicella to the north and Soave to the east. Valpolicella is a wine area known since the fifth century by the ancient Greeks for its excellent variations of red wines. In fact, its Amarone wine is produced using partially dried-grapes in the “greco” (Greek) style. Valpolicella, a wine taking its name from the region, is a light-bodied, fragrant wine made in the novello style (similar to Beaujolais Nouveau), table-ready a few weeks following the harvest. The Valpolicella wines are the base for another type of modern wine, Ripasso, which combine the pomace of leftover grape skins and seeds of Amarone and the dessert wine, Recioto. The vineyards of Valpolicella rank just under those of Chianti for their total amount of Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines.
Nearby Soave also offers DOC wines, though the area favors the creation of white wines. Soaves are based on Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave grapes, the former variety is one of the most ancient Italian varieties. Soave is known for its Recito di Soave, the first Veneto wine to be given the DOCG classification (DOCG stands for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita”, a more restrictive, higher category of wines with a Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin). The ancient wine allows the best, outermost grapes to partially dry before they are fermented. The wine is sweet because the fruit receives the most sunlight, raising its sugar content. Recito draws its name from the form of Garganega grape clusters which have an ear-like shape (“recie” in the Veneto dialect means “ears”). A tour to the winemakers, vineyards and cellars in both areas is a fantastic way to taste the flavors of the sun-kissed hills around Verona.
The Arena in Verona is, like the Colosseum in Rome, a large ancient amphitheater in the heart of the historic city. Every summer it is transformed into a spectacular music venue for the Opera Festival, which takes places between June and August. Setting the stage for renowned works by some of the world’s greatest composers, the refined art form in the impressive theater is a “must” for all enthusiasts.
The Fiera del Riso Rice Festival in Isola della Scala takes place once a year between the middle of September and October. It features various gastronomic competitions, shows, historical exhibits and sports events, to the delight of the visitors. The highlight is, of course, trying the array of risottos available for sampling. With over 150 stands, the event is the largest festival of its kind in Italy and lasts for a nearly a month.
Medieval Marostica draws visitors to its market square the second week of September to witness the life-sized chess game held there. The duke first ordered the game to be played in 1454 to determine the fitter of the two knights courting his daughter, Lionora. The beholders of the competition were so entertained by the event that they began the tradition of doing yearly re-enactments. Today visitors can see human pawns – bishops, mounted knights, wooden castles – move across the enormous chessboard as the game enfolds. Following the original, Lionora celebrated the victor by illuminating the castle with candles. Now a fireworks show adds the final flare to the end of the event.
Considered to the oldest Carnival celebration in Europe, Verona has continued to host its unique Baccanale del Gnoco festival on the Friday before Marti Gras since 1531. The celebration was born from a flood-caused famine that lasted more than a decade. When the bakers witnessed the plummeting decline in the bread business they decided to stop selling their goods and flour. The local population revolted. Wealthier citizens in the San Zeno quarter, in an attempt to quell the uprising, distributed the staple foods they could find and a tradition was born. Gnocchi, originally made using only flour, were adapted to make use of the more readily available ingredients. The recipe for potato gnocchi has been perfected over the centuries and still pleases the six thousand party-goers who come together each year to get their fill as they watch the floats roll by. The “Papà del Gnocco” (the “Father of Gnocchi”) is a special figure at the center of the festivities. Sitting on a donkey, his job is to keep the event flowing as he brandishes his scepter, which is essentially a giant fork with a “gnocchi” being pierced and held in its tines. Children, especially, love the figure.
On the second Sunday in September the Riviera Fiorita Festival celebrates history and culture with a procession of historic boats and eighteenth costumes. Mid-morning rowers gather in front of the Villa Foscarini to begin the parade. Re-enactments of historical moments that took place on the waters of the canal animate the festivities. One of the spectator’s favorites is shows the momentous occasion when French King Henry III met with the Doge of Venice at Villa Vontarini in 1574. The weather tends to be mild and the scenes are set in special late summer light.
In mid-October Verona’s city center is transformed into an open-air wine bar for the epic Hostaria Verona event. The picturesque old town serves as a unique setting in which one can choose from over 150 wines to sample from the numerous stands sprinkled throughout the elegant squares and narrow streets. Veneto wineries proudly present their best wines, accompanied by tasty, local specialties.
The historical regatta on the Grand Canal takes place every first Sunday in September. The festival includes a colorful procession of gondolas and costume-clad gondoliers. Dressed in outfits from the fifteenth century, participants of all ages demonstrate their pride in Venetian traditions. A race with expert rowers follows the parade, to the excitement of the cheering crowd. To experience the event with “front row” seats, reserve a table along the canal well in advance.
The dense pocket of Palladian constructions in the small city of Vicenza transports visitors back in time. The Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, used the artistic forms of ancient Greece and Rome as inspiration for his stately buildings. The tour will take you to see some of the masterpieces that spurred a movement that was then copied all over the world. Then move on to Asolo, the “City with a Hundred Horizons.” Asolo is surrounded by rolling hills and is noted for its charming atmosphere. Recognized for the way it successfully retained its historical appearance, it is now considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Artists, poets and painters have been drawn to it and imbue their work with its charming scenes. Gourmands also seek it, as it is listed as a Slow Food city and a “Città del Vino” (Wine City) for its Montello, Colli Ascolani and Asolo Prosecco Superiore varieties. The atmospheric taverns tucked into historic arcaded ways serve delicious dishes paired a great glass or two. Continue your tastings in Bassano del Grappa, it takes its name from mount Grappa. Stop at a grappa distillery there before snapping some photos at its unique bridge over the Brenta River.
Handsome fifteenth to eighteenth century villas line the banks of the Brenta Canal. The waterway was built to connect Venice with Padua, while creating a sought-after area where the affluent of both cities could build their summer homes. Many residences developed in the Palladian style, which exalt the importance of their owners and visually please the passers-by. The aesthetic that emerged on the Brenta Canal was adored by many greats of history, including Casanova, Galileo, Byron, Goethe, Napoleon, the Hapsburgs and the Savoys. Today, visitors can opt to take a boat trip along the Riviera, enabling them to fall in love with the nostalgic beauty of the historic houses as they drift past. A few of the villas welcome visitors: many stop at Villa Pisani, a palatial building with 114 rooms and marvelous frescoes; other villas have been transformed into hotels, restaurants, museums and shops.
“The Riveria Fiorita” event takes place the second Sunday of September. Please see further details in the Festivals & Events section.
Beginning the excursion with the mid-sized medieval city of Treviso, we will see how Venice’s smaller neighbor benefitted from many of its same structures and styles. Complete with canals, cobble stoned streets and frescoes, a walking tour here will lead you to the delightful and very accessible highlights. As the city is still off-the-beaten track, crowds are rare; this makes for the easy viewing of its key sites. Our tour will take you past the San Pietro Cathedral and the San Nicolò Church, an impressive example of Italian red brick Gothic architecture (to see its interior, an additional cost will need to be applied). The day will then continue with a drive along the Prosecco Wine Road, starting at Conegliano and on through the gently rolling hills of Valdobbiadene. In 1966 the route became the first wine road in Italy. As of July 2019 the vineyards have gained recognition as a UNESCO world heritage site for their exceptional historical value and excellent continuance of the unique traditions used in cultivating their special wine. The province of Treviso, where the entirety of the day will be spent, is known as the “Kingdom of Flavors” for its delicious specialities: the sparkling white Prosecco wine, cheeses, cold cuts, chesnuts, mushrooms and produce. As we wind through the verdant countryside dotted with villas and castles, we will have the opportunity to stop at a local winery and cheese producer for a visit and tasting of the world-class products.
A boat tour of the Venetian lagoon generally includes the three most important islands: Murano, Burano and Torcello. Murano is world-famous for its glasswork. Visitors disembark and walk around the factories to see glassblowers manipulate the fiery, bubble gum-like material to create art. The mesmerizing process is followed by a visit to the nearby island of Burano, known for its lace. For centuries Burano was highly regarded for its intricate patterns and pastel-colored houses. Torcello is the lesser known of the three, but has an interesting history that reflects the far-reaching impact of the fall of the Roman Empire. When Rome lost its power, the people of Venice flocked to Torcello for protection. The island refuge now features a magnificently mosaicked eleventh century cathedral, Santa Fosca. The tour concludes back on the big island.