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Things to Do in the Northern Veneto

Cyndy Hawley (WV Cyndy)

Exploring the area near Bassano del Grappa

Because anywhere you go in Italy you are walking on at least two millennia of history, I firmly believe that you will find plenty to enjoy and to interest you wherever you happen to find yourself. There are many interesting things to do in the Veneto outside of Venice, particularly in the vicinity of Bassano del Grappa, about an hour and a half northwest of Venice. The Veneto is a beautiful and prosperous region where you'll escape the tourist hordes of Venice but not the winged lion which is often seen throughout the area.

Here, in no particular order other than roughly geographical, are things to do in the Veneto near Bassano. I've included relevant website links whenever possible, but I must warn some are better than others and some are only in Italian.

Palladian Villas

Visit two Palladian Villas near Bassano: Villa Barbaro in Maser and Villa Emo in Fanzolo. The BogleWood website will tell you just as much as you want to know about Palladio and not one bit more. The site also has the hours and days of operation of the villas, but plan carefully because their schedules may prevent you seeing them on the same day (Barbaro only open Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Emo closed Thursdays). Enjoy the architecture, the frescos and the vistas, and maybe stay for dinner at Le Sorelle or Yodo in Maser.

Antonio Canova's Tomb

Visit Canova's tomb in Possagno. Many (mostly northern) Italians consider Antonio Canova second only to Michaelangelo as the greatest sculptor ever. In the village of Possagno you can visit a museum of his birthplace and works. Canova was a contemporary of George Washington and Napoleon and, judging by the grandiosity of his self-designed tomb, Canova thought he himself was a "Great Man". You may have seen a tomb designed by, and bearing the name of, Canova at Dei Frari church in Venice, but this is Canova's actual resting place. Placed on a hillside and brightly lit at night, Canova's tomb dominates the landscape around Possagno.

Golf

Play a round of golf (greens fees from 45 to 60 euro) at the Asolo Golf Club, which is in Cavaso del Tomba and closer to Canova's Tomb than to the hilltown of Asolo (which we'll look at shortly). Dine on pizza or pasta featuring local white asparagus at casual Da Rodi Spaghetti Club up the hill from the golf club.

Swimming

Take at swim at Piscine Conca Verde, on the road back from Possagno toward Bassano, but tastefully hidden from view (Piscina La Conca Verde, Via Molinetto 45, Borso Del Grappa, tel: 0423-561220). Look for a small sign just before the turn-off to Mussolente. This huge and gorgeous pool complex has wading pools, lap pools and recreational pools, and, in typical Italian style, is immaculate. Remember to be just as fastidious and bring your own bathing cap and pool shoes.

Local Markets

Go to a market (mercato) (and don't go home empty-handed)! The largest market in the area is a straight shot east of Bassano on the SS 248 in Montebelluno on Wednesdays. Come in the morning and be prepared to park in a field and walk. Textiles are especially good to buy at the market, as well as the roasted chickens (pollo allo spiedo) and other prepared foods. Tiny Crespano, much closer to Bassano, has a tiny market too, but it's notable for being on Sundays, when other shopping is non-existent. The other merchants and grocers of Crespano are also open during the market. While you're in Crespano, have a gelato at Caffe Canova in the piazza, it's the best selection in the area.

Jewelry

As you leave Crespano returning to Bassano, shop for jewelry at the Smart Oreficeria, Via Molinetto 72, where appearances will deceive you. The shop appears to be a private residence, but inside you will find a large and varied selection of jewelry at the reasonable prices that locals pay instead of the wildly inflated prices on the Rialto in Venice. Oreficeria Smart carries both gold and silver items and their stock is much larger than at first appears, with many more items produced from the vault in an instant. They give discounts but they don't do the Tax-Free Shopping paperwork and they don't take credit cards.

Monte Grappa

Drive to the top of Monte Grappa. Follow the signs to "Cima Grappa" from the round-about in Romano D'Ezzolino, a town just east of Bassano. Monte Grappa was the scene of terrible fighting in World War I, and there is a huge war memorial/chapel/columbaria at the summit. In fact, many local towns, including Bassano, added "del Grappa" to their names to honor the war dead.

You're in the Alps here (also called the Dolomites or Dolomitic Alps), at about 10,000 feet, and Cima Grappa is way above the tree line. They say that on a clear day you can see Venice; I don't know about that, but you can certainly see the gleam of the Adriatic and the snow-capped Alps of Austria. If you go on Saturday or Sunday, watch out for ubiquitous, hardy, colorful bicyclists on the twisting mountain roads.

When you come down from the mountain, stop for dinner at Locanda da Monte Grappa, on Via Piave in Borso del Grappa; on weekends they do an abundant antipasto buffet.

Paraglide off Monte Grappa - not that I've ever actually done it! Extreme sports are not my specialty, but apparently, lots of other folks can't get enough. Look for the signs, to the left past Romano D'Ezzolino coming from Bassano. Also, if, unlike me, you're a tough and hardy bicyclist, there's a group specializing in bike tours of this very hilly area.

Asolo

Browse the upscale antiques market (mercato) in elegant Asolo, northern Italy's finest hilltown. Parking is very tight in Asolo; there's a central parking lot, but that's where the antiques market is held, so you'd better be prepared to park below Asolo and walk up. Asolo's antiques market is held the second Sunday and previous Saturday of the month, except July and August.

Have dinner below Asolo at La Trave in Pagnano d'Asolo and, after some superb polenta and pork chops, check out the old photos of the Asolo Theatre on the walls. The Baroque 18th century theatre was bought by John Ringling North, (of circus fame), dismantled and shipped, and now stands in Sarasota, Florida.

Visit Asolo when there is no antiques market. On Sundays, La Rocca, an old fortress at the top of the hill, is open briefly. It's a nice hike, but the views are almost as good from the central piazza, so why not sit at an outdoor table at the elegant Caffe Centrale and watch the elegant people come and go?

Bassano del Grappa

Walk across the historic bridge over the Brenta River in the heart of Bassano itself. This beautiful covered bridge is another design by the multi-faceted Antonio Palladio, and the views upstream toward the mountains will give you an idea of the power of the floods which have destroyed the bridge four times. Then walk a bit downstream to the Museo Ceramico/Palazzo Sturm for the best view back at the bridge. Even if you're not much for engineering marvels, you'll appreciate the beauty and history of this old bridge. The museum will interest the ceramics aficionado.

Walk through the gateway in the old wall in Bassano. Check out the trees honoring Bassano's resistance fighters, then take in a movie. Have a change of pace: dine at one of the Chinese restaurants in Bassano. It's Italian-style Chinese food, served in courses, familiar but different.

Ceramics

Shop for ceramics in Nove. This little town, just southwest of Bassano, is the ceramics capital of northern Italy. Nove doesn't do the hand-thrown pottery of Tuscany, but their small factories do produce goods for Lenox, Williams-Sonoma, and Vietri, among others. Look for Ceramica VBC on the right side shortly after entering town from Bassano, and Ceramica Ancora on the right side on the far end of town after crossing the central piazza. Both shops do business with American military families from Vicenza, so they have English speakers on-staff and their afternoon closings are shorter than most Italian businesses. The prices are fantastic, but keep in mind that you have to get it home and pottery is heavy. Visit the excellent local museum of ceramics just off the central piazza.

Marostica

Hike from the lower castle to the upper castle in Marostica. This town west of Bassano is famous for two things: the living chess game and cherries. If you're not there on the second weekend of September in an even numbered year when the chess game is held, and you're not there in May when the cherries festival (sagra) is held, the only thing to do is this very steep hike. Of course, you can drive from the lower to the higher in a few minutes, but where's the challenge in that? From the top there's a nice view of the huge chess board built into the piazza. Reward yourself for a good hike with dinner at the Mexican restaurant on the piazza.

I myself prefer Marostica when it has antiques market on first Sunday of the month. It's smaller and not as swanky as Asolo's antiques market, but there's usually a wonderful old prints dealer and a stand with a big selection of German, Bavarian, and generally Alpine clothing (don't forget, this is an Alpine area, where you may easily be mistaken as German rather than American).

Restaurant: Il Tinello, Solanga

Have a meal at Il Tinello, just north of Bassano in Solagna. It's a little hard to find and you'll drive over a fast-running irrigation canal on a one-lane bridge which may cause you wonder if you're doing the right thing, but you assuredly are. Look for signs to Il Tinello just where the four-lane SS 47 toward Trento becomes two-lane again. The restaurant serves a fixed price dinner; you tell them if you want meat, fish, or vegetarian and if you prefer red or white wine and they do the rest. You will probably be the only non-Italians in the place and you will not leave hungry! As with most restaurants in this part of the world, dinner will be your evening's entertainment, so don't even think about arriving earlier than 8pm, and call ahead for reservations. Il Tinello is also a country inn.

Vicenza

See some more masterworks of Palladio in Vicenza. Don't miss the Teatro Olympico. Pay the admission and go inside, because the permanent stage scenery is the highlight of the Teatro. Don't miss (as if you could!) the spectacular central loggia of Vicenza. Don't miss La Rotonda; if you visit on a Wednesday, you can tour the inside of this great house, otherwise you can only stroll the grounds, where you'll probably find art and architecture students sketching.

Brenta Canal Cruise

Haven't had your fill of Palladio? Take a Brenta Canal cruise from Padova to Venice and see more Palladian villas along the banks. You'll have to get up very early to get to Padova in time, but it's a train hub so it won't be hard returning from Venice. More info on the web at: www.antoniana.it and www.battellidelbrenta.it.

If the canal cruise prices put you off, do the tour by car. Drive the SS 11 along the canal from Padova, to Stra, to Dolo, to Mira, to Malcontenta, to Fusina, visiting villas to your heart's content.

Wineries

Taste some wine. The Veneto is the home of Prosecco, a delicious, usually sparkling white wine and the Italian answer to France's Champagne, and, to my palate, even tastier. The Strada del Vino Bianco runs through the vine-covered hills from Valdobiaddene east to Conegliano. It's as beautiful a drive as any through the Chianti Classico territory in Tuscany.

One the last weekend in May, especially the last Sunday, Italy celebrates wine with free tastings at many wineries. Designate a driver, then drive the Strada del Prosecco and look for signs that say "Cantine Aperte" (open cellars). Stop for tasty treats (and possibly tours) at big outfits like Villa Sandi and Mionetto, as well as smaller producers like Ca'Salina - all three in the Valdobiaddene area. Buy a bottle or two each place you stop and you can host your own tasting party! And while you're at it, taste some Grana Padana, the Veneto's premiere cheese. Grana Padana is delicious with Prosecco or any other wine red or white, and it will make you forget all about Parmigiano-Reggiano!

Junk Shops

Look for "Mercatini del Usati", little markets of the used! This is a new phenomenon in Italy, and these junk shops are springing up everywhere, some of them chains or franchises, some individually owned. You can find cheap prices on house wares, books and clothes. I miss hitting the yard sales when I'm in Italy, but the mercatini substitute nicely.

Castelfranco

Shop in Castelfranco. After all the hills in this part of the world, come back down to the flatlands for a little more shopping. Castelfranco has a walled and moated circular Historic Center (Centro Storico), surrounded on three sides by a lovely portico arcade populated by mostly high end shops. It may be out of your price range, but the window shopping is free. Walk around the moat and admire the statue of Giorgione, Renaissance painter and Castelfranco's most famous native son, then have lunch at Alla Torre, the restaurant at the foot of the clock tower in the old wall. For lower prices and no afternoon closing, shop at the Ipermercato in the Centro Commerciale (what we would call a mall!).

Restaurant: Alla Torre in San Zenone

Have dinner at an entirely different restaurant named Alla Torre in San Zenone near Fonte. Call to reserve a table "fuori", outside under the arbor. The views from this hill-topping restaurant are almost as good as the food.

Antique Market in Treviso

If you're up for another antiques market (mercato), check out beautiful Treviso on Borgo Cavour, the fourth Sunday of the month. Treviso is also an old walled and moated town, famous for the swans on its canals (as well as a leader in computer software technology). This is a large and varied antiques market in a very pleasant town.

Resources

Website links are in each section above.

www.initaly.com/regions/veneto/markets.htm: In Italy lists the hours and days of many of the markets and antiques markets mentioned here.


Cyndy and Cliff Hawley have traveled extensively throughout Italy, but have spent most of their time in the Veneto near Bassano where Cliff teaches in a study abroad program annually.

© Cyndy Hawley, 2005

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