The Veneto needs no introduction, or if it does, maybe you shouldn’t let on—is it possible you’re not as well-traveled as you think?I know too many people who’ve been to Venice a hundred times and never made good on vows to drag themselves out of Harry’s Bar to tour the backcountry.
Is this you?If so, what a pity. Or you could look at it another way: You still have the discovery of the Veneto ahead of you.
If this slice of the former Repubblica Veneziana has always played handmaiden to Venice, so much the better. However breathtaking, Venice is a casualty of its own enshrinement. The Veneto has no such worries. Its main provinces—Padua, Treviso, Verona, Vicenza—are models of sustainable cultural tourism. Palladian villas attract the architecturally aware. Soave and Valpolicella vineyards draw wine pilgrims. And you would have to work very hard to find a restaurant proposing anything but regional home cooking, a canon with a core of risotto, polenta, beans, baccalà, and culty vegetable dishes like forced, blanched radicchio and castrated artichokes.
Beyond the Veronese frescoes and great food, luxury shopping and great food, and genius barchesse (read on) and great food, the Veneto has some extraordinary hotels. Many are grand, which here never rhymes with stuffy. Among the possibilities are a former shooting lodge with a hotly contested Byron connection, a Renaissance estate with a primo cooking school, and a 15th-century villa pumped with contemporary art. They’re unique to the Veneto, which no one has ever confused with Venice.
Villa Pisani, Vescovana
Of all Andrea Palladio’s houses, Villa Barbaro, in Maser, is probably the most popular. But to see its Veronese frescoes you have to cope with tour buses and wait your turn until someone liberates a pair of the slippers that are required of all visitors.
You can endure all that, or just spend the night in woozy majesty at Villa Pisani, where Mariella Bolognesi Scalabrin has some sensational Veroneses of her own. (The Pisani dynasty was one of the noblest in the Venetian Republic, which looked to it for ambassadors, generals, and doges.) If you want to pass the afternoon studying Veronese’s portrait of Cardinal Francesco Pisani, who built the villa in 1552, Scalabrin will hardly be the one to discourage you.
Wistful for an era when being well-born, landed, and Italian coincided with a life of little exertion, she runs her eight-room bed-and-breakfast with a light touch. Some might call her style disinterested, but it is the reluctance of the villa’s mistress to involve herself, her melancholy remove, that is so engaging. And chic.
Though not the work of Palladio, Scalabrin’s house—located 15 miles south of Padua—incorporates an alluring and hardworking device identified with the architect. Barchesse—arcaded barns—are attached to the estate’s residential block, designed as places to do farmwork that were out-of-doors yet protected. Today, they set the mood of a stay here: curtains of vines sweep the ground, an AirPort Internet terminal sits defunct in a corner, and winged garden furniture looks as if it was designed by the same madman who created Peggy Guggenheim’s eyeglasses.
What does one call Vescovana?A town?A village?A hamlet?None of these satisfactorily suggests the place, which has a single main artery, flanked by the sort of houses—cubic, stuccoed, unlovely—that no Italian province has the monopoly on. It takes 90 seconds to drive through Vescovana before it dissolves into fields. Commercial activity is confined to a fruit stand and a caffètabacchi. Whether because of these limitations or despite them, Vescovana is charming.