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. When he returned to Vicenza, the autodidact began producing his extraordinary buildings that marry sophistication and rustic simplicity, reverent classicism and bold innovation. It's no wonder Vicenza and surrounding villas have been declared one grand Unesco World Heritage Site.
Despite its outsized heritage, this charming town remains quietly unpretentious – a fine place to join locals lingering over simple lunches of local salumi (cured meats), game and handmade pasta. Centrally located and with good-value accommodation, Vicenza makes an ideal base for the rest of the Veneto.