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.
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.
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.