Which Italian Region attracts the most tourists? Tuscany? No, it’s Veneto, home to the ever popular and breathtaking town of Venice. But is there anything in Veneto beyond Venice? Yes indeed, it’s easy to see why Veneto is the number one tourist destination, it has everything. Great wine with vineyards nestled in amongst rolling hills, magnificent country villas, classic towns with stunning architecture, fabulous food and stunning alpine scenery. So let’s get right into it.
Veneto Facts and Figures
The region of Veneto is in the North East of Italy. Judging by road traffic alone you can tell it is densely populated (like the rest of Italy) but surprisingly, it has large tracts of land, mainly around the alps, where you can find some solitude.
Curious minds want to know, so this prompted research on the industries in Veneto. We knew tourism would be a large industry here, which of course is dominated by Venice. Attracting 14 million visitors per year, Venice is the most popular tourist spot in Italy and therefore more tourists visit Veneto than any other Region in Italy. Tourism in Veneto beyond Venice is also popular. The Dolomites (think hiking, skiing and magnificent scenery) also attract their fair share of tourists. Tourism, however, is not the biggest industry in Veneto.
Industry in Veneto beyond Venice and Tourism
So what is? I was surprised by the level of manufacturing in Veneto. I didn’t think anything was made in the west anymore! Not so. Think Italian fashion. Textile giants Diesel, Replay and Benetton all hail from Veneto. And heavy industry brands Aprilia (motor cycles), DeLonghi, Electrolux and Geox all have significant facilities here. Europe’s biggest eye-wear manufacturer, Luxottica, has its headquarters in Agordo. And most of this growth in manufacturing has been in recent times.
But manufacturing is the second largest industry. It is in fact agriculture is the #1 industry here.
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Agriculture has always been a significant industry in Veneto and this is no surprise. Outside of the cities it is the dominant activity. The countryside is lush and green. During the summer, there was some humidity, it was warm, the soil looked healthy and there was consistent rain. Everything you need for good growing conditions. And what are the major farming activities?
Corn, wheat, potato, rice, radicchio, asparagus, cherries, figs, peppers and chestnuts are the main crops grown. Wine grapes for Bardolino, Amarone and Prosecco are everywhere. More wine is exported from Veneto than any other region. Other fruits are also grown and shellfish farming and fishing (diminishing as fish stocks decline) round out the major agricultural products.
So while leading Italy in tourism numbers, in Veneto, tourism is a distant third in terms of industry in the region.
Cycling in Veneto (and Italy) is a passion
We were stunned by the level of road cycling around Veneto. Mornings, evenings and weekends the roads are crowded with cyclists. Dressed to the nines in their spandex, they cycle hard. On the weekend it was not uncommon to see large groups of riders (almost peloton size) cycling very hard and for long distances. It is an impressive sight.
The main lead up road race to the Tour de France is in fact the Giro d’Italia, which passes through Veneto. Each year, the Ultracycling Dolomatica is held. 600 kilometres up and down 16 passes around the Dolomites. There is a 16000 metre gain. That is twice the height of Mt Everest!
You can find out more information about cycling in Veneto here.
Villas in Veneto
The sheer number of impressive villas (country mansions with large tracts of lawns and gardens) in Veneto is also staggering. You can’t fail but to notice these as you drive around. And you are able to visit some of them.
There are indeed 4,000 villas within Veneto including the Palladian Villas (UNESCO World Heritage) in Vicenza, see below. Between the years 1500 and 1800, a huge number of Venetian “patricians” settled into the countryside of the hinterlands moving out into Veneto beyond Venice. This was Venetian policy at the time as Venice expanded onto the mainland. You can read more about these villas here at the Instituto Regionale Ville Venete.
Some of the better known villas you can visit include:
There are also some great cities and towns around Veneto. And with the exception of Valdobbiadene, you can take a train to any of these cities.
Shakespeare’s, tragic, play “Romeo and Juliet” is set in Verona. It is a work of fiction and yes you can visit Juliet’s balcony. But this is not the main reason to visit Verona.
Here on Piazza Bra you will find “Arena” which was built in the 1st Century (AD) and is the best preserved Roman Amphitheatre to this day. For the last 93 years, there has been a summer opera season (Festival of Opera). The festival this year includes 6 different operas held over 54 evenings. If you have never been to an opera then go if you have the opportunity. Sitting in a 2000 years old arena watching a famous and lavishly produced opera? It doesn’t get much better than that!
Verona is another town where pedestrians rule with large areas of the town blocked to traffic. It is very pleasant just wandering around the streets taking in the magnificent architecture. Some other great highlights to look out for include:
- San Zeno Maggiore Church
- Piazza delle Erbe (there is a nice market contained within the piazza)
- Ponte Pietra (overlook the river with a drink at the nearby excellent bar or delicatessen)
- Museo di Castelvecchio
- Ponte Scaligero
Don’t underestimate this town. It might sit in the shadow of Venice but it has its own charms and is well worth a visit. It is close and easy to get to from Venice or a great place to base yourself and visit Venice.
The historical centre boasts a wealth of medieval, renaissance and modern architecture. It contains another car-less old centre where you can just wander around cobbled streets. You will come across medieval palaces, magnificent churches, vibrant piazzas containing great markets where you can buy what we thought was the best produce in Veneto (at Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Fruta set either side of the stunning 13th century Palazzo della Regione).
Padua is also a very important religious and arts centre. It contains a big university which gives it a very relaxed vibe. The University of Padua is in fact the second oldest university in the world behind Bologna, dating from 1222. Galileo taught at this university. How would you like him as a teacher? It was also the first university in the world to award a degree to a female graduate, Elena Lucrezia Piscopia, in 1678!
Places to visit in Padua include:
- Scrovegni Chapel
- Prato della Valle
- Museo di Storia della Medicina
- Botanical Gardens
A little further inland from Padua is Vicenza. It is smaller than Padua but contains many charms. One of the world’s great architects, Palladio, has many of his great works in this charming town.
Walk to the Piazza dei Signori. Gaze in awe at the Basilica Palladiana (on the right in the picture below) and the superb Loggia del Capitanio, (the first building on the left in the same picture). The unknown architect (at the time) cut his teeth on these buildings. Many other magnificent works from the architect are in Vicenza and it is here that the UNESCO Palladian villas are located. These are truly magnificent villas overlooking Vicenza. If you are in the area you should visit at least one of the villas.
Not far from the villas is the impressive Santuario di Monte Berico. It is definitely worth a visit and nearby there are great views over Vicenza. Like Bologna, there is a great walk from the city up to the sanctuary using the “porches”. They look like porticos and are religiously-based. They provide great shelter on this rather pleasant walk.
Apart from Palladio, the other great symbol of Vicenza is bacala (stockfish) and baccala (salted stock fish). The “Venerable Brotherhood of Vicenza Bacala” was established to protect the “good, local cuisine of Vicenza” and specifically this dish. There is an official recipe promulgated by the Brotherhood and a prize is awarded each year to the best restaurants specializing in the preparation of Bacala. The Brotherhood also promotes the virtues of the dish in overseas locations. You will find the official recipe on the Brotherhood’s website.
Nothing wrong with a bit of local ingenuity!
You want some wine to go with that Bacala? Here are 3 varieties unique to the Vicenza area:
- Lessini Durello
- Rosso di Barbarano
Bassano del Grappa
Another spectacular town! Bassano del Grappa is quite a small town, on the Brenta River. It is another glorious place to just wander around and get lost within the well-preserved defensive walls. The piazzas towards the centre of the town contain very good shops and some excellent restaurants.
It is also quite close to the “prealps” and is where a 10 day hike commences – the panoramic route from the grappa to the consiglio (TV1). We walked a few sections of the trail and it was very pleasant.
As you have probably gathered, it is also the epicentre for the production of grappa. There is a museum in the town devoted to this gem of a drink and you can learn more about it in Italian Wine, Grappa and Tiramisu: Unwinding in Veneto.
Valdobbiadene (Prosecco Route)
The aforementioned hike travels along the ridges of the prealps overlooking this little town, the starting point of the “Prosecco” Route. This area amongst the prosecco vines is just drop-dead gorgeous. However, you will need a car to access the area. As it is the home to prosecco, we will be covering this area in an upcoming post.
Cortina and the Dolomites
Looking for some mountain scenery? The Dolomites are a highlight of Italian (and European mountain scenery)! What a place to hike or just marvel at the spectacular scenery!
The hiking highlight here is to walk around Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, which is well serviced by bus connection from Cortina. In this area there are a number of classic walks including:
- Tre Cime Circuit
- Paterno Circuit
- The Paterno Tunnels (expert only)
We combined the first 2 hikes into a “figure 8” hike. It took the better part of a day to complete.
The Tre Cime Circuit takes 3 to 4 hours to complete. It is the classic Dolomites walk and it is busy with lots of people including family groups. But the scenery is so majestic the crowds don’t matter. It was just spectacular! And one thing we love about hiking in Europe is there are rifugios along the way where you can buy food and drink (yes you can take a break from your hike and have a beer to contemplate) and just sit down and enjoy the stunning scenery.
Cortina is the main town in the area. There are many hotel and restaurant options here. The Dolomites are the second most visited tourist area in Veneto beyond Venice.
Surrounded by canals is pretty Treviso. Many people stay here and catch the train to Venice as it is quite close and cheaper to stay. It is surrounded by canals.
There is an impressively, large Duomo here and the area immediately surrounding it contains many good shops. It is another good place to just wander around.
If you have a car, there are a number of “wine routes” you can tour around:
- Prosecco & Conegliano and Valdobbiadene Hills
- Montello and Asolo Hills
- Lison-Pramaggiore DOC
If you intend traveling along any of these routes, there is an excellent booklet entitled, “Province of Treviso – The Wine Routes”. It contains details of the routes along with other sights (villas, churches, great scenery) that you will encounter along the way. Look for it in Information Centers.
We will be talking in more detail about the prosecco route in an upcoming post.
This is the last stop in our little tour around Veneto Region.
There are so many highlights that Venice deserves its own post, so check out A Perfect Day in Venice.
More about Italy
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