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I Love Italian Wine and Food - Northern Veneto

By Levi Reiss
  If in the mood for a European tour, consider the Veneto region of northern Italy on the Gulf of Venice. Venice is its best-known city and one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth. But the Veneto region has a lot more to offer. You'll find several excellent tourist attractions and you won't have to fight huge crowds.
     Start in northern Veneto - Marostica, northeast of Vicenza and northwest of Venice. Then head east, first to Bassano del Grappa on to Asolo and finally southeast to Treviso.
     Marostica, population about 13,000, is known for two castles: the Castello Inferiore (Lower Castle) a rather unique setting for Town Council meetings and the Castello Superiore (Upper Castle) up the hill. On the second weekend of September in even years, these attractions take a back seat to the Partita a Scacchi (Chess Game) with human players dressed in medieval costumes. This practice first started in 1454.
     It seems that two local noblemen Renaldo and Vieri fell in love with the beautiful Lionora, the daughter of the Lord of Marostica. They were ready to duel for the hand of that fair lady. The future father-in-law said that if you want to win my daughter you must first win at chess played in the square near the lower castle. The winner will marry Lionora and the loser will marry her younger sister, Oldrada. The whole town showed up to watch the match. Historians have not noted whether Lionora was rooting for the eventual winner or not. The not quite instant replay lasts from Friday night to Sunday and the moves are announced in the local dialect. Marostica is also famous for its cherries and holds a cherry festival every May and June.
     Bassano del Grappa, population about 40,000, was founded as a Roman agricultural estate more than two thousand years ago. It's a pretty town with old houses and squares at the base of Mt. Grappa. This mountain provided cover to Italian partisans during World War II. In 1946, the Prime Minister of Italy awarded the city a gold medal for its military valor, commemorated every September.
     The city is home to many unusual museums. The Poli Grappa Museum presents Grappa, internationally-known, distilled liquor. Tastings are free, but you had better remember grappa is a lot stronger than wine. The Museo della Cermica's (Ceramics Museum) interesting collection includes many pieces from the 17th and 18th Century. You can purchase local ceramics in many shops. The Museo degli Alpini (Alpine Museum) honors Italian Alpine Troops. The Town Museum displays archaeological remains, several paintings by well-known historical local artists and drawings by Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt.
     Bassano del Grappa is home to several historic churches including the Eleventh Century Duomo (Cathedral) renovated several hundred years later, the Thirteenth Century Church of San Donato said to be visited by both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua, the 12th Century Church of St. Francis, and the 14th Century Church of St. John the Baptist restored in the 18th Century.
     The city's best-known monument is the Ponte degli Alpini (Alpine Bridge) over the Brenta River. This lovely bridge was designed in the 16th Century by the architect Andrea Palladio to replace one constructed in the 13th Century. Palladio was said to be the most influential person in the history of Western architecture. Palladio's bridge was destroyed in 1748 and rebuilt three years later. What you see today was reconstructed after World War II from his own design.
     Asolo home to some 7,500 people, is known as "The Pearl of the Province of Treviso," and as "The City of a Hundred Horizons." Asolo is associated with the Italian verb "Asolare" which means passing time in a delightful but meaningless way. The famous British poet, Robert Browning, surely agreed with delightful, but not with meaningless; here in the 19th Century, he wrote Asolando, his final volume of poetry. Famous writers including Elizabeth Barret Browning, Ernest Hemingway and Henry James visited or lived in this town.
     Atop the town, sits a converted monastery that now houses a university: CIMBA (The International Consortium for Management and Business Analysis). International students live, work, and study in Asolo while earning their MBA. CIMBA has a sister campus for undergrads in Paderno.
     Treviso, population about 80,000, has had a long and bloody history. It was close to the site of an important battle in World War I and the site of a concentration camp in World War II. During that war, the medieval city was heavily damaged with quite a loss of life. Despite massive destruction its center is still something to see. Treviso is home to the famous designer Benetton, and has enough canals to merit the nickname "Little Venice."
     Start your tour at the Piazza dei Signori (Square of the Gentlemen), the medieval town center, with several buildings of interest including the 12th Century Palazzo dei Trecento (Town Hall). Close by, you find the Pescheria (Fish Market) on an island in the canal.
     Among churches to see is the Late Romanesque-Early Gothic 12th Century Church of San Francesco, used by Napoleonic troops as a stable. It contains several paintings and frescoes of interest and the tombs of Pietro Alighieri, son of Dante, and Francesca Petrarca, daughter of the poet, Francesco. The Church of San Nicolò is a mixture of 13th Century Venetian Romanesque and French Gothic elements. It is also loaded with historic frescoes. The Duomo di San Pietro (Saint Peter's Cathedral) was built in the 15th and 16th Centuries on the site of a Romanesque church. Among its artwork is Titian's The Annunciation.
     What about food? Treviso is known for many specialties including various pasta and rice dishes with wild herbs and vegetables, such as risotto with wild asparagus (bruscandoi). When gourmets think of Treviso it's often for the local radicchio, perhaps served in risotto. Other dishes that the locals enjoy include bigoli, thick homemade spaghetti served with duck or sausage sauce, risi e bisi (rice with peas), and pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans). Meat and cold cuts are often served with peverada, a strong sauce made with liver and spices. Like several other areas, Treviso claims the famous Italian dessert, tiramisu.
     Let's suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Sopa Coada (Pigeon and Bread Soup). Then try Ravioli ai Porcini e Ricotta Affumicata (Ravioli with Porcini Mushrooms and Smoked Ricotta Cheese). For dessert indulge yourself with Focaccia alla Ceccobeppe (Flat Bread with Dried Fruit). Make sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
     We'll conclude with a quick look at Veneto wine. Veneto ranks 3rd among the 20 Italian regions both for the area planted in grape vines and for its total annual wine production. About 45% of Veneto wine is red or rose, leaving 55% for white. The region produces 24 DOC wines and 3 DOCG wines, Recioto di Soave, Soave Superiore, and
Bardolino Superiore. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. Almost 30% of Venetian wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation.
     Montello e Colli Asolani DOC is produced on the right bank of the Piave River north of Treviso. There are many styles made from a variety of local and international grapes. The best known is Prosecco, made from the white Prosecco grape with up to 15% of other white grapes, mostly local, but including Chardonnay. While Prosecco wine may be still or fizzy, it is usually sparkling. And it is usually not very special.

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet. He teaches a variety of computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his Italian travel website http://www.travelitalytravel.com which focuses on local wine and food.

Photo Credits
Italian Government Tourism Board

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