If you are looking for a European tourist destination, consider the Veneto region of northern Italy on the Gulf of Venice. Venice is of course its best-known city and one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth. But the Veneto region has a lot more to offer. You’ll find many, many excellent tourist attractions and you won’t have to fight huge crowds. With a little luck you’ll avoid tourist traps and come back home feeling that you have truly visited Italy. This article examines tourist attractions in northern Veneto. Be sure to read our companion articles on southern Veneto, on that Shakespearean city of Verona, and on the university city of Padua.
We start our tour of northern Veneto in Marostica, northeast of Vicenza and northwest of Venice. Then we head basically east, first to Bassano del Grappa, on to Asolo, and finally southeast to Treviso.
Marostica, population about thirteen thousand, is known for two castles: the Castello Inferiore (Lower Castle) a rather unique setting for Town Council meetings and the Castello Superiore (Upper Castle) up the hill. But on the second weekend of September in even years such as 2008 these attractions take a back seat to the Partita a Scacchi (Chess Game) with human players dressed in medieval costumes. This practice first started in 1454. It seems that two local noblemen Renaldo D. and Vieri da V. fell in love with the beautiful Lionora P., the daughter of the Lord of Marostica. They were set to fight a duel for the hand of that fair lady. The future father in law, good for him, said no dueling in these parts; if you want to win my daughter you must first win a chess game to be played in the square near the lower castle. The winner will marry Lionora and the loser will marry her younger sister, Oldrada. The whole town showed up to watch the match. History does not record whether Lionora was rooting for the eventual winner or not. The not quite instant replay lasts from Friday night to Sunday and the moves are announced in the local dialect. Marostica is also famous for its cherries and holds a cherry festival every May and June.
Bassano del Grappa, population about forty thousand, was founded as a Roman agricultural estate more than two thousand years ago. It’s a pretty town with old houses and squares at the base of Mt. Grappa. This mountain provided cover to Italian partisans during World War II. In 1946 the Prime Minister of Italy awarded the city a gold medal for its military valor. This is commemorated every September.
The city boasts several unusual museums. The Poli Grappa Museum presents the ins and outs of Grappa, an internationally known distilled liquor. Tastings are free but you had better remember grappa is a lot stronger than wine. The Museo della Cermica’s (Ceramics Museum) interesting collection includes many pieces from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century. You can purchase local ceramics in many shops in the area. The Museo degli Alpini (Alpine Museum) honors Italian Alpine Troops. The Town Museum displays archaeological remains, several paintings by well-known historical local artists, and drawings by Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt.
Bassano del Grappa is home to several historic churches including the Eleventh Century Duomo (Cathedral) renovated several hundred years later, the Thirteenth Century Church of San Donato said to be visited by both St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua, the Twelfth Century Church of St. Francis, and the Fourteenth Century Church of St. John the Baptist restored in the Eighteenth Century.
The city’s best-known monument is the Ponte degli Alpini (Alpine Bridge) over the Brenta River. This lovely bridge was designed in the Sixteenth Century by the architect Andrea Palladio to replace one constructed in the Thirteenth Century. You may know that Palladio was said to be the most influential person in the history of Western architecture. Read more about him and his work in the companion article I Love Touring Italy – Southern Veneto. Palladio’s bridge was destroyed in 1748 and rebuilt three years later. What you see today was reconstructed after World War II from his own design.
Asolo, population about seventy five hundred, is known as “The Pearl of the Province of Treviso”, and as “The City of a Hundred Horizons”. Asolo is associated with the Italian verb “Asolare” meaning to pass time in a delightful but meaningless way. The famous British poet Robert Browning surely agreed with delightful, but not with meaningless; here in the Nineteenth Century he wrote Asolando, his last volume of poetry. Other famous writers including Elizabeth Barret Browning, Ernest Hemingway, and Henry James visited or lived this town.
A very different type of resident was Catherina Cornaro, the daughter of a Venetian noble family and the Queen of Cyprus from 1474 to 1489. She was exiled to Asolo so that Venice could claim Cyprus after the death of her husband James II, nicknamed James the Bastard. He died soon after their wedding and their son died before his first birthday, would you believe under suspicious circumstances? Some say when she left Nicosia the whole population was bewailing. During Cornaro’s exile in Asolo she was considered quite a patron of the arts. You can see some of the remains of the Castle that she inhabited. Other castle remains were purchased in 1930 by a certain Mr. Ringling of circus fame; he rebuilt it as the Asolo Theatre in Sarasota, Florida.
Atop the town sits a converted monastery that now houses a university: CIMBA (The International Consortium for Management and Business Analysis). Students from all over the world live, work, and study in Asolo while earning their MBA. CIMBA has a sister campus for undergraduates in Paderno.
Treviso, population about eighty thousand, has had a long and bloody history. It was close to the site of an important battle in World War I and the site of a concentration camp in World War II. During that war the medieval city was heavily damaged with quite a loss of life. In spite of the massive destruction its center is still something to see. Treviso is home to the famous designer Benetton and has enough canals to merit the nickname “Little Venice”.
Start your visit at the Piazza dei Signori (Square of the Gentlemen), the center of the medieval town, with several buildings of interest including the Twelfth Century Palazzo dei Trecento (Town Hall). Close by you’ll find the Pescheria (Fish Market) on an island in the canal.
Among the churches to see is the Late Romanesque-Early Gothic Twelfth Century Church of San Francesco (Saint Francis), used by Napoleonic troops as a stable. It contains several paintings and frescoes of interest and the tombs of Pietro Alighieri, son of Dante, and Francesca Petrarca, daughter of the poet Francesco. The Church of San Nicolò is a mixture of Thirteenth Century Venetian Romanesque and French Gothic elements. It is also loaded with historic frescoes. The Duomo di San Pietro (Saint Peter’s Cathedral) was built in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries on the site of a Romanesque church. Among its artwork is Titian’s The Annunciation.
What about food? Treviso is known for many specialties including various pasta and rice dishes with wild herbs and vegetables, such as risotto with wild asparagus (bruscandoi). When gourmets think of Treviso it’s often for the local radicchio, perhaps served in risotto. Other popular local dishes include bigoli, thick homemade spaghetti served with duck or sausage sauce, risi e bisi (rice with peas), and pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans). Meat and cold cuts are often served with peverada, a strong sauce made with liver and spices. Like several other areas, Treviso claims the famous Italian dessert, tiramisu.
Let’s suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Sopa Coada (Pigeon and Bread Soup). Then try Ravioli ai Porcini e Ricotta Affumicata (Ravioli with Porcini Mushrooms and Smoked Ricotta Cheese). For dessert indulge yourself with Focaccia alla Ceccobeppe (Flat Bread with Dried Fruit). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
We’ll conclude with a quick look at Veneto wine. Veneto ranks 3rd among the 20 Italian regions both for the area planted in grape vines and for its total annual wine production. About 45% of Veneto wine is red or rosé, leaving 55% for white. The region produces 24 DOC wines and 3 DOCG wines, Recioto di Soave, Soave Superiore, and Bardolino Superiore. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. Almost 30% of Venetian wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation.
Montello e Colli Asolani DOC is produced on the right bank of the Piave River north of Treviso. There are many styles made from a variety of local and international grapes. The best known is Prosecco, made from the white Prosecco grape with up to 15% of other white grapes, mostly local, but including Chardonnay. While Prosecco wine may be still or fizzy, it is usually sparkling. And it is usually not very special.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his website www.travelitalytravel.com devoted to Italian travel with an accent on fine Italian wine and food. Visit his central wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with weekly reviews of $10 wine and columns devoted to various aspects of wine including wine and food, humor, trivia, organic and kosher wine and lots more.
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