A Romantic Remembrance of Italy

The terraces of Lake Como and Bellagio, the lagoons and calli of Venice, Juliet’s balcony and strolling along the Adige in Verona, castle turrets, beautiful and historic cities, romantic gardens, inspiring statutes and works of iconic art, breathtaking landscapes that can’t possibly be real. Italy is a country of allure and romance. Mysterious and adventurous; a country of special places where physical boundaries seems to meet the spiritual world. It is easy to develop a deep and often unexplainable emotional relationship with a country that promises so much. Travelers come to Italy with all sorts of expectations. The best leave with memories that last a lifetime and play over again to make you happy and smile and return for more.

I have many romantic remembrances of Italy like those described above but there is a scenic strand of coastline along the Brenta River that links Venice to Padua that I fantasize about with a longing.  It is known as the Brenta Riviera (Rivera del Brenta ).  Architects, such as Palladio, designed summer residences (villas) for wealthy Venetians who were looking for a diversion from the summer heat of Venice.  They would take “designer” barges known as a burchielli floating along the Brenta Canal (naviglio Brenta), stopping along the way to party. A floating version of a palazzo “schifanoia”  like the Renaissance palace in Ferrara built for the Este family for diversions (delizie), a sort of banqueting house whose only purpose was for fun and recreation.  The name “schifanoia” is thought to originate from “schivar la noia” meaning literally to “escape from boredom” and avoid the tedium of city life.

burchiello

The barges were able to navigate through the shallow river and were pushed by oars from St. Mark’s in Venice (Piazza San Marco) through the Venetian lagoon to Fusina then pulled by horses along the Brenta. It is possible to follow the historical route of the 18th century Venetian in historical replicas of burchielli and motor barges navigating the Brenta from Padua to Venice viewing the villas along the way including Villa Foscari (La Malcontenta) Villa Widmann in Mira and Villa Pisani in Stra. I have driven S11 that runs along most of the canal’s length. We did this with our Italian cousins and stopped at Trattoria Porto Menai dall’ Antonia along the canal in Mira for a spectacular feast of scampi giganti griglia (giant shrimp, grilled) and other assorted seafood with prosecco.  My drive and sightseeing along the canal was the beginning of an evocative romance with the Brenta.

burchiello Stra-Villa-Pisani

One can only imagine a trip along the Brenta in the burchielli of the noble Venetians,  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 as the life of the canal revealed itself with craftsmen’s workshops and fisherman along the banks.  The 18th century Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni describing the anticipation of 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”.     A romantic notion of Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

A Well-Laid Picnic

cropped-picnic-fiat1.pngA picnic in the Italian countryside in your classic Fiat 500 or ______. Just fill in the blank and your picnic basket with salumi, salame and a crusty loaf  of bread. My choice would be a rustic Tuscan pane and a selection of Italian cold cuts like mortadella, capicola and finocchiona (if I could get it). Add a few bruschetta toppings, a selection of mostarda, some fruit and formaggi (a truffled pecorino would be very nice). For dessert, a melon with prosciutto and biscotti to dip into my flask of Vin Santo. Speaking of wine no self-respecting Italian meal would be complete without vino. So bring along a bottle of wine and to quench your thirst include a bottle of aqua minerale (San Pelligrino or Panna would be a good choice) and Italian soda.

Planning an Italian inspired picnic. Of course you’ll need a cutting board, corkscrew, cheese knife and a nice cloth and plates. Although there is no reliable etymological translation for the world picnic in Italian, an outdoor meal eaten al fuori (outdoors) in the countryside or a garden is widely described in Italian literature and a well-laid table was encouraged to heighten the experience.

Our Italian family were known for a well-laid table set in the Italian countryside.

Our Italian Family in the Veneto
Our Italian Family in the Veneto

Here is a picture of them circa 1919 relaxing in the countryside near Vicenza. To me it represents the idyllic Italian lifestyle and pleasures of “villegiatura”, leaving the life of the city for a villa in the country. Even though our Italian family did not have a villa along the Brenta Riviera they still enjoyed picnics in the Veneto. An Italian inspired picnic is my way of bringing Italy home and capturing a small slice of “la dolce vita”.

Here are a few ideas for your picnic panini –

Mortadella di bologna, emmental, rucola, senape
Bologna mortadella, emmenthal cheese, arugula, mustard

Parma Panini
Prosciutto from Parma, buffalo mozzarella, tomato, extra virgin olive oil

Salame, provolone, rucola, rafano, olio extra vergine d’oliva
Salami, provolone cheese, arugula, horseradish, extra virgin olive oil

Mozzarella di bufala, pomodoro, basilico, olio extra vergine d’oliva
Buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil, extra virgin olive oil

Travel Like Mozart

You think you know Italy. You’ve traveled to Rome, Venice and Florence. You’ve been to Siena, Cinque Terre, the Amalfi coast and Como. You’ve been to Pisa, Parma and Pompei and basked under the Tuscan sun. Seen the towers of San Gimignano and drunk the Brunellos of Chianti. Bravo fellow Italian traveler you’ve just began to discover Italy!

There’s much more to see and learn about Italy and like the proverbial onion or tip of the iceberg you need to dig deeper and peel away the layers of  “show and tell” travel to discover Italy beyond the beltway. Mozart toured Europe as a child, something that was not commonly done at that time. Traveling with his father and other members of his family he performed for various courts and dignitaries. Journeys that exposed him to many different styles of music (notably Italian and German) with lasting impressions that influenced his destiny as a composer. Mozart made three trips to Italy with varying degrees of pleasure and success but uncontested in the wealth of ideas that strongly influenced his artistic development.

mozartOn your next trip to Italy, travel like Mozart, go further afield and look for something completely different. Besides Assisi visit La Verna, a Franciscan retreat in the centre of the Tuscan Apennines, where Francis received the stigmata. Discover that there’s more than wine in and around Chianti, visit San Giovanni d’Asso near Siena for truffles with a side trip to an Italian terme. Drive the historical route of the Brenta Riviera and visit the Palladian villas  of the Veneto near Vicenza. Stop at Trattoria Porto Menai dall’ Antonia along the canal in Mira for a spectacular feast of scampi giganti griglia (giant shrimp, grilled) with prosecco to drink.

You may have seen the Sistine Chapel but the mosaics of Ravenna will leave you with an equal sense of wonder. Leonardo’s Last Supper is amazing but Giotto’s interpretation, located in the Scrovegni chapel on the estate grounds of a Paduan money lender’s son who in atonement for his father’s sins sought redemption through art, is in many ways as intriquing as Leonardo’s masterpiece in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Discover antica farmacia (pharmacies) where healing ingredients from nature create an Italian sense of benessere. They can be found all over Italy if you know where to look. Visit Ferrara, Verona, the Gonzaga court of Mantua and Bellagio for a romantic view.

Learn new things  about Italy to add to what you already know and come up with something completely different in your travels. I guarantee you’ll never think of  Italy the same afterwards and never think about having a cappuccino after 12 noon.

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_Venice
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.