In the north east part of Italy, in region Veneto, there is a city that attracts each year 20 million tourists: Venice. No way, too classic, too popular! So let’s start again.
In the north east part of Italy, in region Veneto, there is a city that attracts each year around 3 million tourists: Verona. On the banks of river Adige, people lived ever since the Neolithic period on the site that is called today ‘the city of lovers’. Verona is the heart of the legend of Romeo and Juliet, the two worldwide famous lovers, thanks to William Shakespeare. This city offers the romantic traces of an impossible love, through the house and balcony were Juliet waited her beloved Romeo, or the tomb where the young woman is believed to be buried. The legend has prevailed the historic truth, but nothing stops couples from all over the world from marrying just in front of her tomb, to promise eternal love.
Verona is also linked to the spirit of adventure. Salgari, a citizen of Verona who lived in the 19th century, wrote about exotic adventures, creating ‘Sandokan’, the tiger of Malaysia, and also ‘The black corsair’ of the Caribbean sea, keeping generations of Italian and foreign young dreamers with the eyes on his novels and the mind recreating exciting sword duels.
If you have a bit of imagination and you like gladiators combats, the Arena in Brà square can be enough to make you revive the fights that were common during the Roman ages. Verona’s Arena is the third largest Roman amphitheater in the world. Now, the Arena is used as a famous theatre for operas and concerts. The atmosphere that this place gives to the audience during the artists’ performance is unique and priceless. There tourists can also admire the beautiful ‘Piazza delle Erbe’, the central square with the fountain and the statue of Madonna Verona on top of it. Another point of interest in Verona is the Basilica of San Zeno, one of the best examples of Romanic architecture. A place naturalists should not miss is ‘Giardino Giusti’ in Villa Giusti, considered one of the best renaissance gardens in Europe.
What about food and drinks? Don’t worry, I will tell you later. Just another bit of patience, then I promise I will tell you what to eat and drink, you will not be disappointed. Now, just a tip. For wine estimators, in November, each year, Verona hosts Vinitaly, the largest wine fair in the world. So, if you wish to taste wine produced in 120 different countries, this is the event for you.
However, region Veneto is much more! I cannot describe in a few words how astonishing the Dolomites mountains are, plus Lake Garda and various other landscapes of the region. I can, on the contrary, try to let you have an overview of other cities that you can find, moving from west to east.
Next stop: Vicenza. A bit of my heart is in this city. My parents married here and my uncle brought me to see Vicenza team at the stadium when I was young. That was my first football match!
I love this city and not because of its artistic heritage (it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994). The feeling is great when you walk along its streets flanked with artistic boutiques, lovely cafés and ice-cream shops. The city is enjoyable and you will not regret visiting it.
Vicenza is called the city of Palladio. Andrea Palladio was born in Padua, but most of his creations as architect are in Vicenza and surroundings. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most famous presidents of the USA referred to Palladio’s book on architecture as “the bible”. The White House is an example of Palladio’s idea of order and elegance in structuring buildings. Palladian architecture style was also popular in Great Britain. One of the main buildings made by Palladio in Vicenza is the Basilica Palladiana, in Signori’s square (Piazza dei Signori). The logge (Italian plural of loggia) in white marble of this impressive building left amazed also the German writer Goethe.
Between Tuesday to Sunday you can go and visit the Olympic Theater (Teatro Olimpico). This was the architect’s last work. He died before finishing it.
The theatre is still used for performances today. However, if you will not be able to attend one, just try and have a look inside. It deserves the few euros you will spend to see it.
For those who like to have a panoramic view of cities, like Montmartre in Paris, there is the possibility to go up to Monte Berico, the hill that dominates Vicenza. From there you can have a view of all Vicenza and the Altopiano (plateau) of Asiago, 50 km far from the city. On top of Asiago’s plateau there is a shrine to commemorate all dead soldiers from the first world war. All around, you can find indelible traces of that tremendous event that has changed the life of lots of people in the world, including my family, since my great grandfather died there.
Next stage of this tour of Veneto is Bassano del Grappa. It is a small city not too far from Vicenza and on the route to Asiago’s pateau, in the north of Veneto.
Nothing is better than taking an interesting shopping spree in this city, especially around Ponte Vecchio, the wooden bridge originally built by Palladio. There you can take a sip of a small glass of ‘Grappa’. Try this particular alcoholic drink to get into the swing of the little bar and its chatty, amusing local people, who sometime can become a bit ‘imbriaghi’, a word for ‘drunkards’ in the region’s dialect.
The last stop of our journey in region Veneto is Padua (Padova, in Italian).
Padua is the most ancient city in Veneto. It has the second oldest university in Italy, founded in 1222, where Galileo Galilei also taught. Famous artists of the past have worked here, from Giotto to Donatello, from Mantegna to Tiziano, and many others. Padua gave the birth of the famous architect, Andrea Palladio.
Padua offers visitors the sight of one of the biggest squares in Europe, Prato della Valle. It is composed by a fascinating green island surrounded by a canal and two rings of statues. If you like art, you cannot miss the fresco painting in Cappella Scrovegni by Giotto. In the center of Padua there is this historic masterpiece of painting. In 1304, Enrico Scrovegni decided to make build and paint this chapel in order to obtain the absolution for his dead father, famous as a loan shark.
The art in Padua does not stop here, since you can see more in Piazza del Santo, starting with the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, who is called ‘the saint’ by the locals. In this square you will also find an equestrian bronze sculpture created by Donatello to honour the condottiero (mercenary) Erasmo of Narni, known as Gattamelata. Just like in Verona, Padua also has a ‘Piazza delle Erbe’, worth seeing. All around Padua you will see lots of university students, going and coming from Palazzo del Bò, now head office of the university. In this building there is the oldest anatomical theatre, where students can view dissections of animals and human bodies. Creepy? If you feel scared and agitated, my suggestion is to calm down and take a seat at the Pedrocchi Café, one of the biggest cafés in the world. Don’t have a plain coffee. Choose instead a Zabaione Stendhal, a version of the Italian egg yolks dessert made to recall the famous French author, who was crazy for zabaione.
What should you eat and drink during this tour?
As an aperitif, you cannot miss the typical spritz. Whether you are in Padua, stronghold of this drink, or in another city in Veneto, you deserve to have a spritz sitting on a chair in one of the various bars scattered all other the city. It is a combination of Prosecco wine and Aperol or Campari. Originally it was just white wine mixed with sparkling water.
As first course, you can choose between several rice dishes, one of the most famous is rice made with ‘red Radicchio’, a special salad made in Treviso. I am actually drooling over the keyboard just thinking about this delicious dish. Vicenza is also famous for its ‘bigoli’, rolled handmade spaghetti served in duck sauce, and for its pasta with tasty brown beans: this dish is called ‘pasta and fagioli’.
The most common second course in Veneto is polenta, made with cornmeal. You will find it combined with baccalà (salt cod), with lentils, with cotechino (sort of salami). In Verona you could try the ‘pasticciata di cavallo’, a dish made with horse meat. This is a very old traditional dish. Vegetarians, on the other hand, could try the savoury white ‘asparagi’ (asparagus), a typical product from Bassano. And don’t try leaving region Veneto without taking a bite of the ‘Asiago’ cheese! Your palatal satisfaction should come before anything else!
For dessert, obviously you should take the famous Veneto dessert: Tiramisù.
I’d like to conclude with a few suggestions on wine as Veneto is a region that produces some of the best quality wines.
- White wines: Lugana, Soave, Prosecco, Cartizze (for aperitifs and with fish),Torcolato (fit with dessert since it’s a lovely sweet)
- Red wines: Bardolino and Amarone (one of Hemingway’s favorite wine)
I hope you enjoyed what you have read and wish it will encourage you to visit Veneto and its beautiful cities,Venice included.
Congratulations to Michaela Macupova who has won this week’s Where in the World Wednesday competition! A £25 alpharooms.com voucher is on its way to you.