The Veneto is celebrating Unesco’s decision to declare the Dolomites a Unesco World Heritage site. Along with the Veneto’s four Unesco cultural sites, the region now possesses its first site of outstanding natural beauty. The Dolomites join Sicily’s Aeolian Islands on the prestigious Unesco List. The majestic mountains, often dubbed an open-air museum, form the backbone of the Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige regions. These glorious jagged peaks are already beloved by skiers and hikers. But the challenge is to make the Dolomites even more accessible while preserving them for humanity.
The Veneto is infinitely versatile, embracing lakes, Adriatic beaches, ski resorts and art cities. This is one of Italy’s artiest regions, linked to legendary painters such as Bellini, Titian, Tiepolo, Tintoretto and Veronese. These were all artists of colour and light, who reflect the chameleon qualities of the shimmering lagoon city of Venice.
But only one architect’s name trips off the tongue: Palladio. The 500th anniversary of Andrea Palladio’s birth was celebrated worldwide last year but the festivities continue in the Veneto. Italy’s most influential architect is recalled in new cultural trails around Vicenza and Treviso, the places most associated with Palladianism.
Palladio’s magnificent churches light up the Venetian skyline. His palatial villas line the Brenta Canal, and adorn the countryside around Vicenza and Treviso. No architect has better captured the spirit of gracious country living. Palladianism is still a popular choice for Hollywood stars or lovers of clean lines everywhere.
Venice, flanked by Palladian churches, can play cultural one-upmanship better than most cities. Even the cafés of St Mark’s Square are awash with famous ghosts, and tourism is as ancient as the city itself. Built on 118 tiny islands, this former maritime republic once held sway over an empire stretching from northern Italy to Cyprus.
The backstreets around the Rialto Bridge are riddled with hole-in-the-wall wine bars (bacari) that haven’t changed much since Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Bargain in the Rialto and be whisked back into an era of spice-traders and money-lenders, when this was the greedy heart of the Venetian Republic. Allow yourself to get lost, a quintessential Venetian experience. Then feel the spirit of city by wandering the back alleys, popping into churches, or sitting at a waterside café whenever the whim takes you.
Scour the Rialto market to avoid fishy surprises at dinner. If inky cuttlefish and soft-shelled crabs from Murano (moeche) are on the menu, relax. Sit in a grand café and sample a spritz, the local aperitif (“spriss” in Venetian dialect). The lurid orange drink combines dry white wine, soda water and Campari or Aperol. If you like it, you’ve fallen for Venice. If not, carry on with the bar crawl till you’ve seen sense.
Verona, Shakespeare’s setting for Romeo and Juliet, appeals to lovers of all ages. You can now even get married on ‘Juliet’s Balcony’. The celebrated Arena di Verona opera season (www.arenadiverona.it) attracts opera buffs to the Roman amphitheatre. The sophisticated centre is a people-watching parade, from café-studded Piazza Bra to Piazza delle Erbe, once the site of the Roman forum. Verona is also a citadel of consumerism, awash with sunglasses, shoes and jewellery.
Further north, Cortina D’Ampezzo is an equally chic ski resort, a magnet for the fur-coat-and-Ferrari brigade. Sporty Lake Garda, west of Verona, feels more like a sea than a lake but mixes the great outdoors with the dolce vita. Windsurfers and sailors soon succumb to wine-tasting and bathing in sulphurous springs.
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Where to eat and drink
We love the ‘Tigella Bella’, an alternative restaurant in a marvellous location in Verona.
Go to top of “Basilica Palladiana Terrace”, sip a glass of wine and admire the fantastic views of historic Vicenza.
Look out for the many ‘Bacari’ in Venice that only the local resident use. You can grab a glass of wine for just Euro 1.20 with a fabulous selection of ‘tapas’ style dishes to go with it.
A marvellous restaurant is The Met in the Hotel Metropole in Venice which has 2 Michelin stars. Tip from Italian Country Cottages
Arguably the best, creamiest, smoothest cappuccino in theVeneto is from a gorgeous little pasticceria-cafe, La Vicentina, inVicenza's town centre. Tip from Headwater Holidays
What to see
Visit the famous covered wooden bridge (the “Ponte degli Alpini”) in Bassano del Grappa, near Vicenza, and try the local delicious grappa liqueur.
There is a quiet museum in Venice which is really worth a visit - The 'Wallace Collection' of Venice at Ca D' Oro in Canareggio. Tip from Italian Country Cottages
The quietest church in Venice with the best interiors is the newly restored San Sebastiano with all the Veronese canvases newly cleaned. Tip from Italian Country Cottages
Don’t forget to stop off at Canova's temple and workshop in Possagno about 60 km northwest of Venice. The famous sculptor is renowned for his marble sculptures that delicately rendered nude flesh. Tip from Philip of GO/CTE
Whilst in Venice, take a trip to Chioggia, a well kept secret. A miniature version of Venice with characteristic narrow streets, its the busiest fishing port in the region. Commercial fishing boats are moored along the waterfront, shellfish farms dot the neighbouring waters of the lagoon, and the city's fish market is a sight not to be missed. Tip from European Waterways Ltd
Buy the Treviso card with validity of 24 (€12), 48 (€17) or 72 (€22) hours (prices correct at time of posting) allowing free access to Museums, the Palladian Villas (Maser and Emo), the Canova museum, bike sharing service in Treviso, transport and discounts in restaurants, shops, wine shops, hotels, B&Bs etc.
From Venice’s Marco Polo on the mainland:
Airport Bus 5 leaves every 15 mins peak/30 min off peak and terminates at bus station Piazzale Roma. 20 mins and costs Euro 5 single. From here, continue with the Vaporetto
Alilaguna ferry (alilaguna.it) Both Linea Arancio and Linea Blu, leave from the airport to San Marco every 30 minutes. Takes about 75 minutes and costs Euro 25 return. The Linea Arancio also stops atRialto and several other inner city stops en route.
A water taxi is about €100 for a 15-minute trip.
Head for St Marks Square early morning before the worst of the crowds. Book yourself an entry slot for the Basilica (no queue) www.basilicasanmarco.it and once inside, visit the museum of St Mark’s (Euro 4) upstairs to see the bronze horses and the fantastic views.
In Venice, a vaporetto (boat) ride along the Grand Canal is one of the world's great voyages. Take the slow Vaporetto no. 1 and travel the Grand Canal. Then do it again at night. Gliding down the Grand Canal is something you will never tire of.
There are various Venice passes that allow unlimited use of public transport, museums and shop discounts http://www.veniceconnected.com/ Plan a vague itinerary before you go and pre purchase passes online. Well worth the effort and savings.
Check the Museum Pass prior to purchasing to see what is included, you may find the private museums of greater interest of which you will have to pay seperately.
Hop on a vaporetto (line 1 or 2) to Rialto, timing your arrival to coincide with a hopelessly romantic first sighting at sunset. From Rialto, saunter through to La Bottega ai Promessi Sposi (Cannaregio 4367, calle dell’Oca, 0039 41 2412747; about £25 pp) for excellent, simple fare – seafood and meat. Closed Wednesdays.
Dont leave Veneto without visiting the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua. This chapel's renovated Giotto frescoes are breathtaking. Giotto was the first artist to portray Christ as a real person and the story of his life covers the walls. The entire wall above the entrance is covered by his terrifying depiction of the last judgement. Book ahead: Piazza Eremitani cappelladegliscrovegni.it, adults €13, children €6