Useful information for visitors to Veneto and Venice
Too bad that many visitors think only of Venice when it comes to Veneto region - for lovely though the 'Serene Republic' is, this area of north-eastern Italy, where the Bel Paese curves around the northern shores of the Adriatic to meet Friuli and then the Balkans, has much more to offer. With historic cities such as Padua (Padova), Vicenza, Verona, Rovigo and Treviso; the Adriatic coast to the east and Lake Garda to the west; Palladio's marvellous Ville Venete peppering the Venetian plain; national parks such as the Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi; and of course the Dolomite mountains (and skiing) there is no shortage of things to do and see in Veneto. It is, in fact, by far the most visited region in Italy, with 13.5 million tourists coming here each year.
Venice will be the main attraction for many visitors of course. This is a city like no other. Built on the mudbanks of the Venetian lagoon by fishermen, hunters and then refugees from the marauding Germanic tribes of the Dark Ages, Venice grew to become on the greatest and grandest maritime empires of the Middle Ages. It grew incredibly rich too, and the evidence is everywhere in this magnificent city. There is the superbly opulent Basilica di San Marco and the glory of St Mark's Square. There is the Doge's Palace, seat of power in old Venice. There is the Accademia, the Arsenal and La Fenice opera house. And of course there are the canals. To most visitors, Venice is evoked simply by the sight of a gondola drifting slowly beneath the Bridge of Sighs. An impossibly romantic city, and at times during the summer impossibly crowded too ... yet unmissable.
But Veneto region is, as we've said, so much more. Historic cities abound, much used by Shakespeare in his plays, though he never actually visited northern Italy. There is Verona, home of history's most famed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. You can in fact visit Juliet's 'house' and stand beneath her 'balcony'. Note the parantheses - the Montague-Capulet thing may have its roots in the internicine feuds of medieval Italy, but it's more fiction than fact. Verona in toto has been named a World Heritage Site by Unesco. And why not. We have the Roman amphitheatre, or Arena, home to the summer opera season. Verona abounds with Roman architecture in fact. There is the Roman theatre, the Arco dei Gavi and the Porta Borsari. From the Middle Ages we have the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore, and numerous other important churches.
Padua, the 'City of the Saint' (St. Anthony in this case) is a delight. Though this ancient Roman town was much bombed in World War II it has been sensitively rebuilt and has a superb medieval centre. Padua (Padova) is worth a visit for the Giotto frescoes alone. See the Scrovegni Chapel, the Palazzo della Ragione, the Basilica of St Anthony, St George's Oratory, the Prato della Valle, and a number of important churches. The city is surrounded by 11km defensive walls. The Orto botanico di Padova is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.
Vicenza is another UNESCO heritage site, and boasts a number of the Palladian Veneto Villas (Ville Venete) for which this part of the region, and the Brenta Riviera, is famous. The great Palladio and his words dominate - check out the Palzzo Thiene, Palazzo Chiericati (home to the town museum) and the Teatro Olimpico.
Heading north, we have Belluno, capital of the Dolomites, and occupying a stunning position at the foot of those mountains. An ancient town, hard against the border with Friuli region, it has a superb 15th century Duomo, with belltower by Filippo Juvarra. See the 16th century churches of San Rocco and Santa Maria dei Battuti, and there are some fine Baroque buildings.
Padova province has the lovely town of Montagnana, sitting within one of the best preserved defensive medieval walls in Europe. We have Bassano del Grappa, home to the eponymous liqueur, which sits on the banks of the River Brenta. A lovely little town, its best known sight is the wooden Ponte degli Alpini, built by Palladio in 1569 and still standing. See too the lovely walled town of Marostica; there is Asolo with its stunning mountain setting, and dubbed both 'the Pearl of Treviso' and 'the city of 100 horizons'. And an historical must-see is Este, home to the family of the same name, who went on to dominate much of northern Italy in the early Middle Ages.
The Villa Venete are spread right across the Brenta Riviera, some 1400 of them deemed to be of special historic and cultural interest. We have national parks in the massif of Cansiglio in the north-eastern Veneto; and the Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi, towards Belluno, and with beautiful woods, mountains and lakes. The region edges the lovely Lake Garda, with resorts including Bardolino, Malcesine and Garda itself. And skiing is beautifully taken care of in the upscale resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo, in Belluno province.
Rivers in Veneto include the Piave, Brenta, Livenza, Adige, Po and Bacchiglione. There are thermal spas at Abano Terme, and you can hit the beach at the Venice Lido, Jesolo, Caorle, Bibione or Eraclea. Veneto has good wines including Soave, Bardolino, Torcolato, Recioto, Amarone, Prosecco, Tocai Rosso,Garganega, and Valpolicella.
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