Imagine the audacity of building a city of marble palaces on a lagoon – and that was only the start. Epic Grandeur Never was a thoroughfare so aptly named as the Grand Canal, reflecting the glories of Venetian architecture lining its banks. At the end of Venice’s signature waterway, Palazzo Ducale and Basilica di San Marco add double exclamation points.
When Palladio escaped an oppressive employer in his native Padua, few would have guessed the humble stonecutter would, within a few decades, transform not only his adoptive city but also the history of European architecture. By luck, a local count recognised his talents in the 1520s and sent him to study the ruins in Rome.
Lake Garda East Bank
Sitting in the Veneto region, the eastern shore of Lake Garda has a different character again. Its nickname, the Riviera degli Olivi comes from the silvery olive groves that line the shoreline and the lower reaches of Monte Baldo (2130m), a massive, muscular limestone ridge that stretches 40km between Lake Garda and the Adige valley.
The ‘valley of many cellars’, from which Valpolicella gets its name, has been in the business of wine production since the ancient Greeks introduced their passito technique (the use of partially dried grapes) to create the blockbuster flavours we still enjoy in the region’s Amarone and Recioto wines.
The Italian supermodel of ski resorts, Cortina d'Ampezzo is icy, pricey and undeniably beautiful. The town's stone church spires and pleasant cascading piazzas are framed by magnificent Alps. It doubles as a slightly less glamorous but still stunning summertime base for hiking, biking and rock climbing.
Touted by the locals as ‘little Venice’, Treviso is the home of the Benetton fashion dynasty (along with radicchio, a tart red lettuce) and is blessed with a pretty historic centre. This much-overlooked town dates to Roman times and was long the most faithful of Venice’s subject cities.
With the lake lapping right up to the tables of its harbourside restaurants and the vast ridge of Monte Baldo looming behind, Malcesine is quintessential Lake Garda. Alas, it’s picturesque setting attracts thousands of holidaymakers and day trippers, who flood the town’s tiny streets and drive locals into the hills.
Prosperous Bardolino is a town in love with the grape. More than 70 vineyards and wine cellars grace the gentle hills that roll east from Bardolino's shores, many within DOC and the even stricter DOCG quality boundaries. They produce an impressive array of pink Chiaretto, ruby Classico, dry Superiore and young Novello.
Southwest of Padua, the Euganean Hills feel a world away from the urban sophistication of Venice and the surrounding plains. To help you explore the walled hilltop towns, misty vineyards and bubbling hot springs, click onto www.parcocollieuganei.com or grab information at the Padua tourist offices. Trains serve all towns except Arquà Petrarca.
Southeast of Verona, Soave serves its namesake DOC white wine in a story-book setting. The town may be entirely encircled by medieval fortifications, including 24 bristling watchtowers, but these days strangers are more than welcome to taste the good stuff across from the old-town church at Azienda Agricola Coffele.