Asking an Italophile to choose their favourite place in Italy is like asking a parent to choose their favourite child. How do you choose between Florence and Siena, Milan and Turin or Venice and Verona? What makes Lake Como that little bit more special than Lake Maggiore? How do you decide if Sicily shades Sardinia or if Campania edges it over Alto Adige? It’s a tough call, but they do say that first impressions count and I’m going to go for the place that left me slack-jawed with wonder when I first set eyes on its unique charms.
Venice is one of those places that one is familiar with from countless films, travel shows and paintings. Think of Donald Sutherland and Don’t Look Now, Michael Palin at the start of his Round the World in 80 Days or Canaletto’s super-detailed masterpieces. Which means that when you see it with your own eyes there is an instant recognition that seems to heighten the thrill of being there in person; of smelling and hearing and tasting, as well as simply seeing.
So it was when I sailed with some fellow tour operators on a vaporetto from Mestri and along Venice’s Grand Canal on a sunny April day. All around were gondolas and other craft, zig-zagging through a maze of canals, against a backdrop of ancient buildings which for centuries have defiantly kept themselves above the water line. Even as I write this, Venice is suffering one of her occasional inundations, but the waters will recede and once again La Serenissima will sing.
We sputtered on down this timeless waterway, gazing wide-eyed at the Rialto Bridge, the dome of St Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace - the Doge’s Palace for goodness sake! This was Canaletto come to life, a vivid canvas of canals and campaniles, a scene which I can play back in my mind’s eye whenever I wish.
If Venice was the standout visit of our tour of the Veneto, there were plenty of other highlights. More Palladian villas than you can shake a cupola at, for example, from Emo to Barbaro, Pisani to Valmarano and of course La Rotonda, where we were privileged to be shown round by Count Valmarana himself.
There was Verona, the imagined home of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers and today a mecca for opera lovers – how surreal it was to wander round the back of the Roman theatre and see the huge sets of Aida in store before the next performance.
There was the lively university town of Padua, home to one of the most amazing pieces of art I’ve ever seen, Giotto’s 600-year old fresco which adorns the walls of the Scrovegni chapel.
And everywhere we went the most wonderful food and drink – risottos of every imaginable kind, seafood plucked fresh from the Adriatic and Soaves and Proseccos from the vineyards on the surrounding hillsides.
Finally, a gala dinner hosted by another Venetian aristocrat, whose ancestors had been Doges, in the grand surroundings of his family Villa. A fitting end to a fascinating tour of what was now my favourite region of Italy: Veneto.
Treat yourself to a place on our Palladian Villas of Veneto tour by clicking here.