Most visitors to the Veneto region of Italy seldom venture beyond its capital, Venice. This is not surprising as Venezia is one of the great destinations of the world. Its unique aspects are legendary. One cannot help be enchanted by its singular beauty, its past and present glory, and the sense of fragility it provokes. But for those who venture beyond Venice, a special region awaits! In fact, it's an art and gastronomy knock-out. There's an impressive variety of landscapes, through zones of intensive viticulture, past some of the world's most magnificent villas. Italy's most famous dessert, tiramisù, was invented in the Veneto. And the word ciao, as a salutation to say hello or good-bye, was coined here, too.
The Veneto's cities are distinct and beautiful. Verona is the home of Romeo and Juliet; Italy's most famous opera festival; stunning architecture; and some of the most intensive wine production in the country. Bardolino, Valpolicella, Amarone, Bianco di Custoza, and Soave are but a few of the varieties produced near Verona. The province of Verona is also known for its superb olive oil.
The city of Vicenza is most noted as the laboratory of Andrea Palladio (1505-80), perhaps the most important architect of the last half millennium. His work is everywhere in and around Vicenza. The province of Vicenza is also full of good wine and is the home of Asiago cheese and can boast delicious cherries, white asparagus, and grappa as well as noteworthy ceramics.
The largest city in the region, Padova ("Padua" in English) is the Veneto's economic center and is the seat of one of Italy's foremost universities. Padova is full of art treasures (including the incomparable Scrovegni Chapel - also known as the Arena Chapel - with its 38 frescoes by Giotto) and can boast one of the most magnificent food markets in all of Italy. In the province of Padova are the Colli Euganei, green hills filled with mineral water sources and home to the charming village of Arquà Petrarca.
Veneto can boast four UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites:
* the city of Venice and its Lagoon
* the city of Vicenza and the Palladian villas of the Veneto
* the Botanical Garden of Padova
* the city of Verona
Like Giotto's frescoes in Assisi, those in Padova exerted a powerful influence on and marked a turning point in Western art, introducing a naturalism into painting that departed from the formality of Byzantine art of the preceding 1,000 years. Indeed, Giotto is regarded as the father of Western art.
Just on the outskirts of Vicenza is La Rotonda, Palladio's most famous villa, featuring his trademark design inspired by the Roman temples. The interior lacks grand décor, but the exterior is the focus, having inspired Christopher Wren's English country estates, Jefferson's Monticello, and the work of a slew of lesser-known architects designing U. S. state capitols and Southern antebellum homes. It was begun around 1566, but Palladio did not live to see its completion.
Just down the way from La Rotonda is Villa Valmarana ai Nani. It was built by Palladio disciple Mattoni in the 17th century, and it is noteworthy for its series of frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo that, taken together, create an elaborate mythological world. In the separate guest house are the frescoes depicting an idealized country life by Tiepolo's son, Giandomenico.
On your next trip to Venice it's worth considering some of the Veneto's attractions. You're not likely to be disappointed.
Robert Driscoll is the founder and owner of Venture Out, an 11-year-old tour company that specializes in high-end, escorted, small-group vacations for gay travelers and friends. Venture Out's offerings include Italy, other European countries, and exciting destinations on other continents. Visit their web site of tours for the gay travel audience and friends to Italy and beyond.