“La Dolce Veneto” - Venice and Beyond!
By Jane Finn
Despite the fact that I studied art history and Dave architecture at university, after Rome and Florence, we were on historical and cultural ‘overload’. We knew that like fine wine and great food, we needed a break to experience the ‘dolce vita’ and not rush our Venice experience. Firmly believing that the charm of the Veneto community extended well beyond the lagoon, we grabbed a rental car at the Maestro station and headed for the countryside and a couple of rounds of golf before venturing off to Venezia, reportedly the most visited city in the world.
Travelling by car was much easier then I expected since Italians drive on the same side of the road as North Americans and the GPS system made navigating a synch (well almost!). Gradually the urban landscape gave way to the rolling hills of the Vicenza valley and 65 kms later we were in the heart of the Grappa Mountains and Valboddiandene wine country. It was early afternoon when we arrived at the Asolo Golf Resort but the staff was welcoming and more than helpful in ensuring that we enjoyed not only our stay but everything the region had to offer.
As we headed to our guesthouse, we couldn’t help but notice the lushness of the golf course on one-side of the winding drive and the orderly rows of grapes on the other – ‘nine and wine’ in total harmony. After taking a few minutes to appreciate the stunning views from our balcony, Dave headed out to play the gold course while I checked out the heated outdoor pool and indulged in a massage.
On a fall weekday, play was swift. He was back in just over two hours and then we were off to explore the walled, medieval town of Asolo nestled on the hillside in the shadow of the snow-capped Dolomites. An easy 15 minutes from the resort, the car seemed to find its way automatically to Piazza Garibaldi – the town’s main square and free parking. ‘Asolare’ means to pass the time leisurely and the best way to do that is on foot.
Patronized by poets, writers and artists such as Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, Ernest Hemingway and John Malkovich, Asolo has been dubbed ‘The City of a Hundred Horizons’ and for good reason. The quaint streets are magical featuring porticoed walkways, palaces framed by Gothic arcades, mullioned and trefoil windows, ornate balconies laden with flowers even in late September and Palladian villas buildings decorated with frescoes. The Duomo, Queen’s Palace, Museum, the Bot (an old Roman aqueduct), the Duse Theatre, bottegas and embroidery workshops are all within striking distance of the piazza but give yourself enough time to hike up to La Rocca, the massive fortress that dominates the town. On a clear day, it is possible to see across the plains to the Venetian lagoon and certainly worth the effort!
But after that, it’s time to indulge in some culinary delights and we would highly recommend the Ristorante Due Mori. Ask for a table on the terrace and enjoy the sunset light while sampling the agnolitti alle erbe spontanee (pasta filled with herbs) which is divine and the house specialty, grilled meats especially the tasty chicken cooked on a traditional open flame. We should also mention that Due Mori’s red house wine was excellent and exceptionally well-priced.
The next morning as the sun peeked out from over the ridge to illuminate the mist that had settled in the valley around the Foresteria, Dave hit the green course while I caught up on emails and planned what next! The name Asiago jumped out at me from the map and after consulting the guidebooks I learned that it was indeed the home of the world famous cheese as well as a naturalists and sports enthusiast’s paradise. After challenging the course at Asolo, if you are in need of a further adrenaline rush, Asiago definitely fills the bill. Here you can leap from the bridge at Val Gardena to conquer Europe’s highest bungee jump, hidrobob, paraglide and ski in winter. The less intrepid among you can also opt to sit back and sip rich, red Amarone while watching the action. Decision made and we were off before lunch to explore the unknown.
Are you familiar with the expression, “it’s the journey, not the destination”? This is absolutely true when you set out without a preconceived notion of what you will experience and fully engage all your senses.
Our first surprise was Bassano del Grappa, affectionately known as the gateway to the Alps. It was festival time and as we wound past the three main squares brimming with people preparing to welcome visitors, we couldn’t help but remark that this had to the prettiest towns in the Veneto region. No doubt about it, the architecture was amazing and the quaint shops and cafes beckoned but the view crossing the Brenta River was so stunning and unexpected that it literally took our breathe away. In unison we both said ‘stop the car’ and jumped out to snap more than a picture or two before grabbing double-scoop gelatos and settling in to really absorb the amazing views and the ambience of this charming and vibrant town.
Heading towards the mountains we noticed that the sky was filled with what appeared to be a flock of very large, colourful birds. On closer inspection we realized that these were paragliders winging their way home from the mountaintop. Without hesitation, we made a course correction and found the landing site. For next hour time stood still as we watched in awe and amazement as unlike Icarus, one by one they safely returned to earth. Note to self, on our next trip I would definitely book a tandem flight so I too could soar like an eagle!
Onwards and upwards, the road via Conco was a steep, a winding section of switchbacks that kept the driver’s eye on the road but provided the passenger with panoramic views from all directions of the valley and plains below. We were starting to wonder how much further it was to Asiago when suddenly road levelled off and found ourselves on a plateau dotted with ‘malagas’ or sheppard huts. Immediately we were struck by the strong Austrian/German influence that dramatically contrasted with anything that we had seen so far on our Italian tour.
The weekly market was in full swing and we quickly joined in with the locals in the search for the freshest and finest products of the region, in addition to a bargain or two. As we meandered from stall to stall, the vendors were more than patient with my halting Italian and were delighted to help us select fresh and aged cheeses, hand-cured prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and fresh bread to dine later, al fresco on our balcony at the resort. We then settled in for a ‘grande biera’ and waited for the sun to go down.
Asiago is one of those few places where heaven actually meets earth and it would be a shame if you left this alpine village without making a stop at the Asiago Observatory. Here you can almost touch the stars and while I can’t do justice in describing how we felt as we found constellation after constellation, I can highly recommend that you take the time to experience the magic yourself.
The next day we were rejuvenated and revitalized and ready for Venice, truly the world’s most pedestrian-friendly city. We spent three days exploring every inch within a 5 kilometre radius of San Marco Square and soon learned that every ‘wrong turn’ simply resulted in a new and unplanned adventure.
On our last night, as we sipped a perfectly chilled glass of Prosecco from the bottle we had procured at a vineyard on our return from Asolo, we reflected that like the immature champagne that the Italians describe as ‘very happy’, we were very happy that we had taken the road less travelled and the time to experience everyday life in Italy.
If we could offer one piece of advice, don’t restrict yourself to the ‘grand tour’ of Italy’s major cities. Remember: “The best things in life are the people we meet, the places we’ve been and the memories we create along the way.” Italy, your way, will inspire you to travel more and do more on your next golf vacation!
If you are a little less adventurous then us and want all the details confirmed in advance then contact Macana Golf & Leisure Tours at email@example.com and they will personalize a customized golf and wine tour package just for you.