Discovering Italy's Veneto Region
Departures leaves Venice to check out the best of the surrounding region—old and new.
The Veneto, the Italian regione of which Venice is the capital, stretches west from the Venetian lagoon to the shores of Lake Garda and north from the Po Valley Delta to the Dolomites’ chic ski resorts. A diverse region, it has natural splendor, historic cities like Padua and Verona, wineries that can compete with the best Tuscan and Piedmontese producers, authentic trattorias and some of the country’s best-regarded restaurants. It’s worth a week of anyone’s time, but visitors to Venice are often so focused on seeing the city that they miss out on the pleasures of the surrounding areas.
Thanks to local brands like Benetton and Luxottica, the Veneto is second only to Lombardy (the region centered around Milan) in its share of Italy’s export revenue. All the textile factories, precision-tool plants, industrial jewelers, hide tanneries and furniture manufacturers tend to mass along freeway corridors between economic hubs like Treviso and Mestre or Vicenza and Verona. Which is why, outside the well-preserved town centers, it’s important to know exactly where to go to seek out the best the Veneto has to offer. The following nine spots highlight some of the region’s quintessential places and experiences; some, like the Verona Opera and the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, are old favorites, but most are true finds, waiting to be discovered.
Opera + Cooking: Verona
The Arena di Verona Opera Festival (arena.it), held every summer in the city’s Roman amphitheater, is perhaps the best-known and best-loved open-air opera celebration in the world. Poltronissima Gold tickets, the front-center seats, sell for up to $255, but real aficionados go for the banked Poltroncina Numerata di Gradinata section ($120–$135). Even the side-view Gradinata Laterale seats ($95–$110), where the press sits, are decent. Umbrellas are frowned upon, so bring a raincoat if bad weather is predicted.
In Italy, cooking schools sprout like porcini mushrooms, but few have the credentials of Cooking with Giuliano Hazan. The son of Marcella, doyenne of la cucina italiana, Hazan is a fine chef in his own right, and his weeklong courses, which take place at Villa Giona, a 16th-century estate a few miles north of Verona, emphasize fresh and simple Italian cuisine. In the morning, participants—at most 12 per course—shop at Padua’s produce market or visit artisanal Parmesan makers and culatello ham curers; afternoons are given over to hands-on lessons. In addition, Marilisa Allegrini, a top Valpolicella producer, offers wine tutorials. Courses start at $4,695, including six nights’ accommodation and all meals; giulianohazan.com.
Cucina Grande: Pedemonte + Rubano
The Veneto’s strong culinary traditions and relative affluence have made it one of the top regions in Italy for gourmet restaurants. The best tend to be in the country, within an easy drive from the main cities. In Pedemonte, outside Verona, the hotel Villa del Quar, a converted 16th-century manor, has the Michelin two-star Ristorante Arquade (dinner, from $120; 12 Via Quar; 39-045/680-0681; hotelvilladelquar.it), where chef Massimo Sola creates complex dishes like seared tuna and eggplant in a raspberry-mint vinaigrette with cinnamon-scented burrata. Near Padua, in the town of Rubano, Le Calandre (dinner, from $160; 1 Via Liguria, Località Sarmeola; 39-049/630-303; calandre.com) is one of only six restaurants in the country to have earned three Michelin stars. Chef Massimiliano Alajmo’s adventurous dishes, like cappuccino di seppie al nero—cuttlefish stewed in their own ink, served in a transparent cappuccino glass with a top layer of potato purée—are much more than party tricks. This is contemporary Veneto cuisine at its finest.
Giotto’s Masterpiece: Padua
Painted between 1303 and 1305, Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel frescoes, scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus, are some of the strongest examples of early narrative painting in Italy, if not the world. Since 2002, when an intensive restoration was completed, the chapel can only be viewed at set times by advance booking—though outside peak times (weekends in spring, early summer and autumn), walk-ins rarely have to wait more than an hour. Each reservation gives visitors only 15 minutes with the frescoes, so those who want more Giotto face time should sign up for a double slot. At 8 Piazza Eremitani; cappelladegliscrovegni.it.
Tiepolo Frescoes: Vicenza
Palladio’s Villa Rotonda may take the prize for architecture, but for sheer art, neighboring Villa Valmarana ai Nani wins hands down. Here, in 1757, Count Giustino Valmarana commissioned Giambattista Tiepolo and his son Giandomenico to decorate the walls. The father frescoed the main Palazzina with stories of classical and chivalric heroes, while in the adjacent guesthouse, the Foresteria, the son created a series of rustic and carnival scenes. The current owner, Carolina Valmarana, offers tours of the property and even lets out two stylish apartments—a one-bedroom and a three-bedroom—for short-term stays. $ Apartments start at $1,300 per week; 39-04/4432-1803; villavalmarana.com; villavalmaranaflats.com.