Jane Mitchell, co founder at MumAbroad talks about discovering Italy without the children.
This was the longest break we had had from our three kids in 12 years. What were we going to do?
Christian, my Italian husband, planned the route (according to his love of wine, childhood memories and recommendations from our friends) and I had chosen the accommodation.
We dropped the children off at summer camp in the Parma hills first thing Monday morning and hit the road. We had an important first stop before reaching Veneto – Terlano – a small town in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige in the north of Italy, very close to the Austrian border. White wines from Cantina Terlano are a favourite of ours. Established in 1893 with just 24 local wine growers the cooperative today has about 120 members. The high mineral content of the Terlano soils gives the wines a striking freshness and full body to go with their long life. While most of us are used to drinking white wines when they are fairly young Terlano’s white wines are characterised by their ability to age: they are simply delicious.
We were given a private tour of the winery followed by a tasting of some of their best wines. We could have stayed all day but they had to get back to work and we had to move on and they kicked us out with a combination of German efficiency and Italian friendliness which characterises the area.
We drove on to Lago di Misurina in the Dolomites, in the northern tip of Veneto. After the stifling heat of Terlano the fresh mountain air was a welcome relief. The particular climatic characteristics of the area around the lake, make especially good air for those who have respiratory diseases. Near the lake is the only centre in Italy for the care of children with asthma. Along one side of the lake are about 10 hotels and we stayed in Hotel Lavaredo just a stone’s throw away from the wooden chalet where Christian had spent a summer over 30 years ago. He had spent the whole time playing football – he said the chalet and even the football pitch had not changed a bit!
Walking into the hotel was like being thrown back to the early 1980s; bright patterned carpets, chintzy curtains and huge displays of plastic flowers were everywhere creating that Heidi/The Sound of Music school of interior design. Despite my initial horror I couldn’t really complain – our room was spotless, the white bed linen was without a single crease, the white bathroom towels were bright and fluffy and you could opt for the 3 course evening dinner for an extra 11€. There was also a small spa where I had a great all over relax massage which was very welcome after the day’s activities.
With only one full day there and slightly unpredictable weather we decided to play it safe and did the classic hike around the Tre cime de Laverado (Three peaks of Laverado) which stand majestically to the south of the lake. It was a fairly easy going hike which took about 3 hours to complete. There are four rifugi (refuges) along the way so plenty of opportunity to take a loo stop and sample the local cuisine.
After two nights in the Dolomites our next stop was Bassano del Grappa, home of the infamous liquor which was originally used as a medicine and disinfectant. Most expensive bottles are around 30€. The shopkeeper insisted we try before buying even though it was 10 o’clock in the morning!
We stayed in a B&B Le 33 which I had found on Airbnb and it was an absolute gem – a 14th century palazzo right in the heart of the historical centre. We had a huge room, Le Suite, which overlooked the ponte vecchio (old bridge) which is the symbol of the city. Julie (French) is a chef and her homemade breads and jams at breakfast were an absolute treat. Antonio (a Bassano local) gave invaluable advice on what to see and where to park.
We stayed for 2 nights and our first night coincided with Bassano Sotte le Stelle (Bassano under the stars) – live music in the streets every Wednesday throughout July and many local shops were open too. The eclectic mix of music and shops made for a great evening. On our second night we were taken by friends to a ‘slow food’ restaurant Trattoria da Doro in nearby Solagna. Everything was simply delicious. The 2 words, research and tradition, contain the essence of what they do – using the best local ingredients Giovanni lovingly recreates the dishes of previous generations.
We used Bassano as a base and spent two days visiting the surrounding towns and beautiful Palladian villas designed by the architect Andrea Palladio dating back to the sixteenth century. Most of the villas are protected by UNESCO as part of a World Heritage Site named City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto. We visited Villa Barbaro in Maser built between 1550 and 1560. The interior features one of the most extraordinary fresco cycles of sixteenth century Veneto by Paolo Veronese and Villa Capra ‘La Rotonda’ just outside Vicenza which become one of the most inspirational architectural prototypes for the next five hundred years.
My favourite town, however, was Cittadella, the only Medieval town in Europe with an elliptic parapet walk. Il cammino sopra le mura (the parapet walkway) 15 meters high and almost 2km long, offers a unique way to see the city. There are four gates which roughly correspond to the points of the compass. After 20 years of restoration work the walkway was opened in 2013 and visitors can now walk the entire length of the walls. The view ranges over the countryside around the town including the Alpine foothills with the walled towns of Asolo (also known as ‘The Pearl of the province of Treviso’, and ‘The City of a Hundred Horizons’ for its mountain settings) and Marostica (famous for it’s live chess game featuring more than 600 performers which is held the second weekend of September of even numbered years since 1954).
Four nights down, one to go. We had spent days and nights visiting one beautiful town after another, indulging in one delicious ice cream after another, sampling one delicious pasta dish after another, sitting in one gorgeous piazza after another, listening to the stories of one local after another – but we had saved the best until last.
On our last afternoon we arrived in the fairly anonymous town of Canneto sull’Oglio and checked into 9 Muse Bed & Breakfast, a charming guesthouse with free on site parking. Catarina, the owner, was also our taxi driver that evening. We had the most exquisite dining experience in a 3 star Michelin restaurant, dal Pescatore.
The restaurant was opened in 1925 by Teresa Mazzi and Antonio Santini who was a fisherman on the river Oglio. At the outset it was a simple tavern called Vino e Pesce. Their son Giovanni joined the family business and when he married in 1952 his wife Bruna worked alongside Teresa in the kitchen. The restaurant became dal Pescatore in 1960 and in the 1970s Giovanni and Bruna’s son, Antonio and his new wife Nadia changed the organistion of the restuarant and the layout of the kitchen. In the restaurant today you will find Antonio along with his son Alberto in the dining area and Nadia along with their other son, also called Giovanni, in the kitchen. It truly is a family business.
We had the Menu d’Estate. You couldn’t fault the service or food but what will always stay in my mind is how Antonio took the time to talk to us, to understand us, who we were and why we were there and then adapted the menu and choice of wine to make it a personalised evening we will never forget. We returned to our children the next morning relaxed, refreshed and very full!
We had a glorious few days away but as seems inevitable when you are away from your children you can’t help thinking about the sites and places that they would have enjoyed. Aside from eating ice cream at every available opportunity I know our children would have loved walking the walls of Cittadella. Many of the small museums and re-enactment rooms (showing clothes, weapons and traditions) in the Captain’s House at the Porta Bassano (Bassano Gate) can be visited en route which would appeal to children of all ages. Educational workshops designed to teach children medieval crafts such as gothic writing, miniature painting and bookbinding can be booked in the tourist office.
Most important for us, to have a proper holiday means staying away from the bigger cities, the crowds and tourists and by doing that we discovered a Veneto full of charm and tranquility.