Veneto's Charm; Lovin' Life After 50, 2009
By By Ann Kuperberg
Italy’s Veneto region is famous for its colorful city, Venice, but the area’s charm extends way beyond that popular spot. There’s Padua, with its three “withouts,” Vicenza with Palladio’s creative architecture, Asolo and its winding arcades and Bassano del Grappa with its flavorful liqueur.
Padua received the phrase, “city of three withouts” because its residents refer to their patron saint, Anthony, simply as “the Saint.” The city’s oval-shaped park, Prato della Valle, second largest in Europe next to Moscow’s Red Square, has no grass and the Pedrocchi Café adjacent to the university, is said to have no doors because it’s always open. One can spend days wandering around the university where Galileo taught, Copernicus took classes and the first woman to ever receive a university degree is honored. Today, doctoral graduates wear laurel wreaths given by family and friends and publicly read scrolls relating all their misadventures. The nearby old market stalls still display produce, flowers, etc below Padua’s medieval Court of Justice.
Great art works appear at Saint Anthony’s Basilica, the Scrovegni Chapel and Duomo. The city recently built a memorial to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, using a steel beam from New York’s World Trade Center encased inside the structure.
Vicenza is a much quieter city. Its central piazza with two-story Palazzo della Ragione illustrates the importance of the great architect Andrea Palladio, whose creative designs all around Vicenza identified the city as a World Heritage Site.. His Villa La Rotonda was a model for Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and his 1570 Olympic Theater is the world’s oldest surviving indoor theater. Performances are still held today using the permanent scenery Palladio constructed.
To appreciate the real Veneto, with its small hill towns, places where English aristocrats went on their “Grand Tour,” one must travel north to Asolo. There, on a hilltop overlooking the Dolomite lower slopes, stands Queen Caterina Cornaro’s castle just off the small town square. Perhaps, though, Asolo is more famous because Robert Browning lived and died there or because Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, other writers and actors sipped coffee at Centrale Café overlooking a fountain whose water still comes from a Roman aqueduct. Today, director chairs with celebrity names stand on the café’s patio inviting visitors to absorb the scenery. The road from Asolo to Bassano del Grappa is covered with some of the 2,500 historic villas once owned by rich Venetian merchants who built land-management centers. Some mansions are still occupied by their descendants. Nevertheless, they’re breathtaking in size and beauty.
Bassano del Grappa prides itself on production of the powerful after-dinner drink, “grappa,” but offers a tranquil setting with its covered bridge over the Brenta River. The bridge, designed by Palladio, was rebuilt many times due to floods and war. One bridge entrance has a small museum and plaque in tribute to its World War I mountain fighters.
Beside good wine and liqueur, great food, beautiful pottery and scenery, Veneto’s inhabitants are friendly and low-key.
One way to enjoy these sights without renting a car is to take a tour of the area. Grand Circle tours at a reasonable pace with retirees in mind.
Posted with permission of the author