The villa sits unbothered in a country setting that features a celebrated garden, all rigorous symmetry and geometry, planted in the 19th century by the last Countess Pisani—the colorful and cultivated Evelina. Born to an English doctor, who treated Byron, and a Turkish mother reputedly raised in the sultan’s harem, Evelina ordered her bulbs from England and received everyone from Henry James to one Margaret Symonds. In 1893, Symonds published Days Spent on a Doge’s Farm, her diary of holidays at the villa: "The garden is the sole creation of a modern English fancy, and has nothing to do with the old Pisani nobles. It is natural that the strong English instincts of the new Contessa should have made her shudder at the general sunbaked and unsoftened aspect of this huge farmhouse…She needed flowers, as English women do, and shade…then the roses would grow and the birds would come."
Breakfast is taken in full view of Evelina’s chef d’oeuvre, though Signora Scalabrin might try a little harder with the morning meal. The garden is seen to yet better advantage from the guest rooms, especially Irina, which is laden with needlepoint, velvet, satin, and lace, and has enchanting allegorical frescoes by Palladio’s collaborator Zelotti.
Critic Witold Rybczynski settles the score between the two artists in The Perfect House. "There is no doubt that Veronese…was the more accomplished painter," he writes. "But in many ways Zelotti was a better decorator…more sensitive to the architecture and more interested in the purely ornamental aspects of his art."
Stay at Pisani and never choose.
19-25 Via Roma; 39-0425/920-016; www.villapisani.it; doubles from $208.
Hotel Villa Cipriani and Albergo al Sole, Asolo
In the foothills of the Dolomites, 40 miles northwest of Venice, Asolo projects prosperity, privilege, self-satisfaction. It has a lot to crow about, so the air of superiority is forgiven. The great triumph of Asolo is what Guido Rosada, an archaeologist from the University of Padua, calls its rational simplicity. Certainly it is gorgeous, a snaking medieval burg with two good hotels, Albergo al Sole and Hotel Villa Cipriani; a Roman past; pitched, arcaded streets; a lively café life, centering on the 1796 Caffe Centrale; and a cultural legacy bequeathed by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Eleonora Duse, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and Freya Stark. All were compelled to live in Asolo.
Pope Pius X received the tonsure in the town’s cathedral in 1850, and a famous antiques fair is held the second Sunday of every month, except July and August. Landscapes seen from the walled perimeter put you in mind of Titian. Municipal fathers are happy to spend whatever it takes to keep Asolo sparkling. Palladio’s Villa Barbaro is minutes away. Others of his masterpieces—Godi, Cornaro, Emo—are within easy driving distance.
You can walk to everything you want to see in Asolo from both the Albergo al Sole and Villa Cipriani, though deciding between them is no simple coin-toss. A country house once owned by Robert Browning, the 31-room Cipriani was managed by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Hotel Villa Cipriani, before being acquired by Starwood. Hidden behind a high wall on the edge of town, Villa Cipriani is rather fuddy-duddy, a quality I actually admire. The retro bar has grid paneling, equestrian prints, and the stylish undersize armchairs native to this genus of hotel. The terraced garden fades into a meadow, and the views are of the Asolan countryside. Life came cruelly close to imitating art, or at least to the Anita Brookner novel I was reading, when I spied two bitter old English birds supping wordlessly on chateaubriand with béarnaise sauce in the dining room.