A wealth of art cities punctuates the fertile Veneto plain that stretches in a broad wedge north from the Po River to the foothills of the Dolomites. There is evidence of the presence of Romans and Venetians alike in the shape of fascinating amphitheatres and elegant palaces in cities such as Verona and Vicenza, both of which have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Moreover, amid vineyards of grapes, pressed for light sparkling Prosecco and aromatic Bardolino, are charming, little-visited villas with ornamental gardens. Each town has its distinctive character: Padua, a business hub but with a richly artistic and religious heart; Vicenza, famous for its goldsmiths and Andrea Palladio’s architecture; and romantic Verona, lazing on the banks of the mighty Adige River as it flows south swollen with snow-melt from the Alps. The highlights in each city can easily be visited as day-trips from Venice by train.
Piazza Eremitani, Padua • Bus Nos. 3, 10, 12 • 049 201 00 20 • Open 9am–7pm daily (booking essential) • Adm • www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it
The sky-blue vault studded with gold stars in this glorious Paduan chapel seems to hover over Giotto’s vibrant frescoes, which narrate the lives of Mary and Jesus. The Florentine artist (1266–1337) was summoned by Enrico Scrovegni to work on the chapel in 1305–6, to atone for the sins of his late father, a moneylender. Especially noteworthy among the 38 distinct scenes is the Last Judgment on the entrance wall, with its ranks of helmeted, haloed and shield-bearing angels. Book well in advance in summer. Visits last 30–35 minutes, including a 15-minute wait in the “decontamination” chamber.
Via VIII Febbraio 2, Padua • Bus Nos. 3, 12 • 049 827 39 39 • Guided tours: Mon–Fri & Sat am • Adm • www.unipd.it
The original lectern where Galileo Galilei held his lessons between 1592 and 1610 can be seen on the guided tour of Padua’s historic university, founded in 1222 and second only to Bologna as Italy’s and the world’s oldest. The institution boasts the world’s first anatomy theatre (1594) where dissections had to be carried out in great secrecy as the church forbade such practices. Other illustrious scholars of the university have included astronomer Copernicus (1473–1543), Gabriel Fallopius (1523–62), who discovered the function of the Fallopian tubes, and Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia, the world’s first woman graduate.
Via Cappello 23, Verona • Open 8:30am–7:30pm Tue–Sun, 1:30–7:30pm Mon • Adm
Tourists flock to “Juliet’s House”, the 13th-century presumed abode of the Shakespearean heroine, complete with a pretty balcony (added in 1928) from which you may imagine her uttering that immortal cry: “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” The courtyard walls are filled with multilingual graffiti left by lovers from all over the world.
Piazza del Santo, Padua • Bus Nos. 3, 18 • Open 6:20am–7:45pm daily • www.basilicadelsanto.org
Popularly referred to as “il Santo”, Padua’s revered site of pilgrimage was built in the 13th century to safeguard the mortal remains of St Anthony, a Franciscan monk and miracle worker from Portugal. Devotees visit his gleaming tomb, encircled by burning candles, but his tongue is guarded in an intricate reliquary in the Treasury, recovered after being stolen. Inside you will find artworks by Sansovino, Tiepolo and Titian.
Basilica Palladiana: Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza • Open during exhibitions • Adm
In addition to the cafés in Vicenza’s main square, visitors can admire the buildings by Palladio, whose 16th-century designs went on to influence both his home town and architecture worldwide (see Andrea Palladio). The basilica has twin levels of colonnaded arches, opposite Palladio’s Loggia del Capitaniato. A statue of the architect can be found in the piazzetta at the western end.
Contra’ Santa Corona 25, Vicenza • Open 10am–6pm Tue–Sun • Adm
On the entrance portal of this lavishly decorated Baroque palace are carvings of writhing serpents, and Hercules is shown in the act of slaying the Hydra on the loggia. The gallery’s masterpieces include 120 awe-inspiring Russian icons and 14 fascinating paintings by Pietro Longhi depicting scenes from 18th-century Venetian life.
Piazza Brà, Verona • 045 800 51 51 • Open 8:30am–7:30pm daily (times may vary) • Adm • www.arena.it
This massive Roman amphitheatre dating from the 1st century AD measures almost 140 m (460 ft) in length. The impressive arcades and 44-level tiered seating for 22,000 people, that once rang with the cries of gladiator fights, now echo with arias from operas during the popular summer festival. Verdi’s Aïda has opened the festival every year since 1913. Visitors should note that the opening hours are shorter during the opera festival in the summer.
Piazza Matteotti 11, Vicenza • Open 9am–5pm Tue–Sun (Jul–Aug: 10am–6pm) • Adm
A castle courtyard draped with creepers was chosen for this Vicenza theatre, designed by Palladio and completed by his disciple Vincenzo Scamozzi. The performing area is based on a Roman model, while the stage scenery represents the city of Thebes, built for 1585’s inaugural play, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Scaled statues and varying stage levels create clever tricks of perspective.
Torre dei Lamberti, Cortile Mercato Vecchio, Verona • Open 10am–6pm Mon–Fri, 11am–7pm Sat & Sun • Adm
Originally Verona’s Roman forum, this square is still a great spot for discussing business over a coffee. Parasols shade souvenirs at the market, watched over by a winged lion atop a column, a vestige of Venetian domination. The 84-m (275-ft) Torre dei Lamberti offers great city views.
Lungadige Porta Vittoria 9, Verona • Open 9am–5pm Mon–Thu, 2–6pm Sat & Sun • Adm
Gigantic ferns, weird fish and an ancestor of the crocodile, all in fossilized form from the Eocene era 50 million years ago, are treasures hailing from Bolca in the Lessini foothills on display here. They testify to the tropical shallows that spread across the area prior to the formation of the Alps.
There is no doubt that the Capulet and Montague families existed, though they were probably more friendly than William Shakespeare made out in his 1594–5 tragedy. However, the world’s most famous star-crossed lovers may have come from Vicenza, the home town of Luigi Da Porto, author of the original 1530 account.
Where better to begin than the inspiring Verona Arena, where, as entertainment, wild animals once made a meal of gladiators? Afterwards, relax in the sun with a creamy coffee at Liston 12 Caffè and dig into a freshly baked jam-filled croissant (Piazza Brà 12, Verona; 045 803 11 68).
A short stroll leads past the boutiques in the traffic-free Via Mazzini, paved with pink-tinged local limestone embedded with ammonite fossils, to Casa di Giulietta to the right, or Piazza delle Erbe and its elegant palaces to the left.
Backtrack to Via Mazzini for lunch at Ristorante Greppia (Vicolo Samaritana 3, Verona; 045 800 45 77; closed Mon) for bollito misto (mixed boiled meat) served with a traditional peppery sauce.
To digest lunch, head over the Adige River via the ancient Ponte di Pietra to the Roman theatre on Via Rigaste Redentore – well worth a visit even if you’re not in town for a summer evening performance. Then follow the river or walk back through town and west towards the medieval Ponte Scaligero, part of the adjoining castle. The triple-arched construction was blown up by the German army in World War II, then rebuilt brick by brick by town members.
The bridge leads to Castelvecchio for a timely aperitivo with a glass of white Soave wine at any of the welcoming bars.
Via Cornuda 7, Maser, bus from Treviso railway station • Open Apr–Oct: 10am–6pm Tue–Sat, 11am–6pm Sun; Nov–Mar: 11am–5pm Sat & Sun • Adm • www.villadimaser.it
The best preserved villa (1560) by Palladio lies close to the pretty hill town of Asolo. This charming country house features all manner of Roman-inspired elements, from the nymphaeum and grotto to the circular temple akin to the Pantheon. Playful trompe l’oeil frescoes by Veronese adorn the six main rooms, counting amongst the most important works of art of the Venetian Renaissance, while the garden is punctuated with Classical statuary. Drop in to the estate’s wine cellar in a farm house next door for wine tastings.
Via Doge Pisani 7, Strà • Villa & park: open 9am–7pm Tue–Sun (Oct–Mar: 9am–4pm); maze: open Apr–Oct • Adm • www.villapisani.beniculturali.it
This splendid two-floor 18th-century villa designed for Doge Alvise Pisani has 114 sumptuously furnished rooms and a ballroom decorated by Tiepolo. Above the huge façade columns, scores of statues line the roof overlooking inner courtyards and a spacious park where the Venetian nobility would promenade on summer evenings. Be sure to explore the wonderful 1721 circular maze. The guest list has included one-time proprietor Napoleon, Russian and Austrian royalty, Mussolini and Hitler among others.
Via dei Nani 8, Vicenza • Open Mar–Oct: 10am–6pm daily; Nov–Feb: 10am–4pm daily • Adm • www.villavalmarana.com
Known for the jaunty statues of dwarfs on the garden wall, these cosy twin buildings, built by the Valmarana family, stand on a pretty ridge looking up to Monte Berico and its sanctuary. The Tiepolo father and son fresco team were invited here by Count Valmarana in 1757 to decorate the main part and the guest quarters.
Via Rotonda 45, Vicenza (bus No. 8) • Villa: open 10am–noon, 3–6pm Wed & Sat (Dec–mid-Mar: 10am–noon, 2:30–5pm); garden: open Tue, Thu, Fri & Sun same hours as villa (times may vary, so check website) • Adm • www.villalarotonda.it
The perfectly proportioned imposing Villa Valmarana with four temple façades sits on a hill overlooking the architect Palladio’s adoptive town of Vicenza. The house has been imitated throughout the world. If you want to visit the villa itself as opposed to the rather limited grounds, beware it’s only open two days a week.
Via dei Turisti 9, Malcontenta • Open Apr–Oct: 9am–noon Tue, Wed, Fri & Sat • Adm • www.lamalcontenta.com
Located on the bend of the Brenta Canal, but now rather too close to the Marghera industrial area, this wonderful residence designed by Andrea Palladio in 1571 is one of his best-known creations. It has a Greek temple façade, while the interior is decorated with frescoes. The name is said to refer to the “discontent” of a female member of the Foscari family, exiled here for adultery.
Galzignano, Valsanzibio • Open Mar–Nov: 10am–1pm, 2pm–sunset daily • Adm • www.valsanzibiogiardino.it
The Euganean Hills are the setting for this Baroque garden, designed for the Venetian Barbarigo family by Luigi Bernini, architect of the Vatican fountains in Rome. The villa, dating from 1669, is a private dwelling, but the 15-ha (37-acre) garden provides a boxwood maze, fountains, fish ponds, statues and hundreds of trees.
Via Stazione 5, Fanzolo di Vedelago • Open Apr–Sep: 10am– 6pm daily; Oct–Mar: 10am–5:30pm daily • Adm • www.villaemo.org
Another of Palladio’s light-flooded country residences, this villa was built for the Emo family in around 1560. A harmonious central block is flanked by graceful arched barchesse (wings), designed for storing hay and farm tools. The interior has lively frescoes by Renaissance artist Zelotti, also responsible for the Malcontenta villa decorations.
Piazzola sul Brenta • Open Mar–Oct: 9am–7pm Thu–Tue; Nov–Feb: 10am–4pm Thu–Tue • Adm • www.villacontarini.eu
A horseshoe plaza lined with terraced houses faces the façade of this 17th-century country villa, which was once the focus for a thriving farming community. A remarkable system of acoustics was invented so that musicians performing in the Sala della Musica on the first floor could be clearly heard and appreciated downstairs. An antiques market is held in the grounds on the last Sunday of each month.
Via Roma 35, Piombino Dese • Open May–Sep: 3:30–6pm Sat • Adm
This unusual, double-tiered creation by Palladio dates to between 1560 and 1570. The façade columns are both Doric and Corinthian in style, with acanthus leaves or scrolls around the capitals. The interior has frescoes by Mattio Borotoloni.
Via Valmarana 11, Mira • Open Mar–Oct: 10am–6pm Tue–Sun; Nov–Feb: 10am–4:30pm Sat & Sun • Adm • www.villavalmarana.net
Formerly guest quarters, these are extant “wings” of a 17th-century villa, whose main body was demolished in 1908. Close by are locks on the Brenta waterway, which have been excavated over centuries to divert the river away from the lagoon and eliminate the problem of silting.
Via Vandelli 2, Padua • Closed Tue
This pastry shop has been serving the finest fritelle (apple fritters) in town for many decades. It is located on the southern corner of the square by the Duomo.
Piazza dei Frutti 46, Padua
Strong mints, peppery Veneto mostarda chutney and even feather dusters, among many other things, are sold at this old-fashioned shop.
Via C Cattaneo 18, Verona
Here you will find everything for the female fashionista, created by top Italian designers.
Piazzetta Palladio 17, Vicenza
This inviting pastry shop is lined with tantalizing almond and chocolate delicacies, as well as special goodies such as the dove-shaped colomba cake at Easter.
Piazzetta Palladio 13, Vicenza
Run by a charming couple with a 40-year passion for millinery, this charming old-fashioned shop is a hat-lover’s heaven. It is in great demand for stylish weddings in the country villas (see Veneto Villas).
Via S Francesco 7, Padua
You could occupy yourself for hours by browsing the well-stocked shelves of English- and other European-language crime and mystery novels, fiction, travel, classics, children’s literature and reference books in this chain bookshop.
Corso Palladio 196, Vicenza
A gourmet’s paradise, Il Ceppo has mouthwatering takeaway dishes, pickles and preserves. Buy a catered picnic with wine or simply a crusty roll filled with Asiago cheese or sopressa sausage.
Corso Porta Borsari 3, Verona
A range of pastries and wholemeal breads is available here. Try the zaletto, a biscuit baked with pine nuts and sultanas, and of course Baci di Giulietta (Juliet’s Kisses) – almond paste shaped into pursed lips.
Corso Sant’Anastasia 34, Verona
Akin to an exotic museum, this antiques dealer dazzles with Chinese and Japanese marvels, Pre-Columbian pieces and traditional and contemporary carpets.
Via Cappello 30, Verona
This wonderful department store with a good range of casual clothes, cosmetics and home furnishings is right in the centre of town.
Piazza della Frutta 40, Padua • €
Light and buttery millefoglie pastries perfectly accompany the strong, sweet coffee as you sit outside on the lively market square. Light lunches are served downstairs.
Via VIII Febbraio 15, Padua • €
This 1831 Neo-Classical coffee house was long known as the “café without doors” because it never closed. Liberals of the 19th century would meet and argue here, though today it’s rather quiet.
Via dei Fabbri 13, Padua • 049 650 336 • Closed Sun • €
The appetizing menu at this rustic osteria changes daily. Typical dishes include grilled Piedmont cheese with polenta or spare ribs with chicory.
Contrà Pedemuro San Biagio 90, Vicenza • 044 454 78 97 • Closed Tue • €€
This central, upmarket restaurant offers more than the usual fare, including superb gluten-free cuisine. It also has an excellent selection of wines. Great value.
Contrà delle Morette 5, Vicenza • 044 454 37 04 • Closed Sun dinner, Mon, 2 weeks in Jul • €
There is an imaginative menu and vast wine list here. Try the bigoli all’arna (spaghetti with duck sauce).
Piazza dei Signori 26, Vicenza • 044 454 45 83 • Closed Mon lunch • €
With live music and DJs, hip Borsa attracts a lively crowd. Outdoor seating is on Piazza dei Signori as well as Piazza delle Erbe. It has an all-day menu and offers brunch at weekends.
Piazzetta Palladio 12, Vicenza • 044 432 77 90 • Closed Thu lunch • €€
This warm and friendly pizzeria-cum-restaurant serves excellent baccalà (salt cod) and boasts an extensive wine list.
Vicolo Samaritana 3, Verona • 045 800 45 77 • Closed Mon, 1–15 Jun • €
The unforgettable Greppia specializes in bollito misto, a selection of nine melt-in-the-mouth meats served with peppery Pearà sauce.
Via Arche Scaligere 6, Verona • 045 800 74 15 • Closed Mon, Sun dinner, 2 weeks in Jan • €–€€€
Established in 1879, this is one of the best restaurants in Verona. Fish dishes feature strongly on the menu.
Vicolo Scudo di Francia 3, Verona • 045 800 45 35 • €€
Dating to 1890, this renowned restaurant holds 2,500 wines in its cellar. The favourite dish among aficionados is pastissada de caval, a dark, spicy horse-meat stew.