Off the Tourist Flow for Two of the Most Romantic Places in Italy

Casanova’s Venice, Juliet’s Verona, the romance of Bellagio and Italy’s Lake District. The seaside villages along the Italian Riviera, the scent of chocolate in Perugia, lemons in Amalfi and the fragrant flowers of Capri. The eternal allure of Rome and the breath taking beauty of the art and architecture of Florence. All have made Italy one of the Top Ten Romantic Destinations in the World.

The land of Italy is a land of romance, a land whose people have an ardent emotional attachment to the history and traditions of their country. The food, wine, art and design of Italy are all made with love. It’s easy to find your bliss there. Two of our favorite romantic places in Italy are off the tourist flow but well worth the effort to discover.

camera degli sposi
Ceiling oculus Camera degli Sposi

Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace) has been described as 500 rooms of Renaissance glory where the renowned court of the Gonzaga ruled the city of Mantova for over 300 years. A vast complex of buildings with palaces, courtyards, hanging gardens and painted rooms evocatively named the Zodiac Room, Hall of Mirrors, Apartment of Paradise, River Chamber and Apartment of Troy. Perhaps the most dramatic of all is the Camera degli Sposi (Wedding Chamber) also known as the camera picta with a ceiling fresco painted by Andrea Mantegna as a doomed oculus that is almost beyond imagination. Opening on to a painted blue clouded sky, assorted characters are part of a trompe l’oeil scene looking down into the room with curiosity and amusement while winged putti (cherubs) playfully cling to a balustrade, on the brink of falling into the room. The oculus remains a classic illusionist masterpiece and the 15th century frescoes in Palazzo Ducale’s Camera degli Sposi are mentioned on Forbes 10 Things to Do Before You Die list and 100 Places Every Woman Should Go. I would prefer to include it on 10 Things to Do to Make You Feel Alive and One of the Most Romantic Places in Italy. Due to the earthquakes of May 2012, a visit to the Palazzo Ducale has been modified. The Wedding Room will be closed until at least September of 2013.

Riviera del Brenta driving the Brenta Canal

The Brenta Riviera (Rivera del Brenta ) is a scenic strand of coastline along the Brenta River that links Venice to Padua. Favored by Casanova and Byron, architects such as Palladio designed summer residences (villas) along the river for wealthy Venetians who were looking for a diversion from the summer heat. They would take “designer” barges known as a burchielli floating along the Brenta Canal (naviglio Brenta), stopping along the way to party.  One can only imagine the trip along the Brenta among the wheeping willows, as the life of the canal revealed itself to you with magnificent villas, craftsmen’s workshops and fisherman along the banks of the river. And in the burchielli of the wealthy Venetians, noblemen entertaining their guests with comedians and musicians, slowly floating down the river in colorful, elegant barges decorated with mirrors and carvings traveling to their country villas. The 18th century Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni describing the villa season wrote “Tis time to set out for the villa. O’ longed for moment come at last. What anguish we’ve endured fearing we should never go“. Now that’s romantic.

It is possible to follow the historical route of the Venetian burchielli, viewing the villas along the way. There are replicas of burchielli and motor barges navigating the Brenta from Padua to Venice that can be rented but you can also drive route S11 that runs along most of the canals length. We did this with my Italian cousins and stopped at Trattoria Porto Menai dall’ Antonia along the canal in a town called Mira for a spectacular feast of scampi giganti griglia (giant shrimp, grilled) and other assorted seafood with prosecco to drink.

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