La Dolce Vita

With Venice ever more crowded, visitors are discovering the delights of Treviso writes John Stanley. Every year millions of people head to Italy in search of sun, culture, fine food and good wines and many expect it all to be found in one magical city - Venice. But increasingly, the welcome is less than fulsome as a local population of about 55,000 people grow tired of playing host to over 60,000 visitors every day. Earlier this year tourists were even confronted by residents with placards urging them to “Go away” and to stop destroying the floating city. There is, however, an attractive alternative destination just a little to the north which is finding favour with more and more visitors in search of an “authentic” Italian experience – Treviso.

With a population of around 80,000 people and visitor numbers a tiny fraction of those drawn to its more famous neighbour, Treviso offers the visitor a glimpse into real Italian life and it is a living, working town rather than a “theme park.” In the 18th century Venetian aristocrats chose Treviso and the surrounding area as their ideal vacation spot. Known as a città cortese (courteous city), it is the capital of the Province of Marca. There is plenty to see and do here. Like Venice, water is an important feature of this medieval walled town, with the Sile River a main artery running through its southern parts and attractive canals, rushing mill streams and waterwheels, some still working, to be found throughout the town. Narrow cobbled streets, museums, churches and houses adorned with frescoes all satisfy the tourist’s craving for the Italian “experience” well away from the madding crowds of Venice.

The Museo di Santa Caterina is a former church and convent which has been restructured to house the Civic Museum, the town’s art gallery and archaeological collection. The civic heart, Piazza dei Signori, is an attractive square with a street running along one side and cafés with outdoor tables along the other. Here you will find the historic town hall, the Palazzo dei Trecento. Tourists with a shopping gene will be interested to know that Treviso is the birthplace of Luciano Benetton, whose family still live here. Benetton’s flagship store dominates the central piazza while the main shopping street, Via Calmaggiore, stretches from Piazza dei Signori towards the Duomo, between the lengthy rows of arches which characterise Treviso’s arcaded streets.

Beyond the town walls you will find Treviso’s famous radicchio fields and the vineyards used to make Prosecco, a sparkling wine with DOCG status that prevents wines made outside the protected area using the name. The “prosecco route” runs from Treviso to Valdobbiadene. You can pick up a leaflet about the 10 km ‘L’Anello del Prosecco’ footpath connecting villages and vineyards (the Prosecco ring) at the tourist information office, which is in the Piazza Monte di Pietà, just behind Piazza dei Signori.

But Treviso is more than just a destination in its own right, it is ideally located for the visitor wanting to discover the true northern Veneto. This lush countryside offers visitors a glimpse back into centuries old woodlands, rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards. Hiring a car for a day allows you to explore the surrounding villages and to appreciate the regional national park of Sile, which encompasses the entire length of the river. Well served by its airport just two miles from the centre, Treviso also has frequent rail and coach connections with Venice. The quicker and cheaper option is the train and the station is just 10 minutes walk from the town centre. It takes just 30 minutes to reach Venice’s Santa Lucia station, while the more expensive ACTV coach service can take up to an hour.

Other centres suitable for day trips are within easy striking distance, too. By train Vicenza and Padua are about an hour away and Verona is two hours. For the more adventurous Treviso is also a gateway to the Dolomites, which lie to the north. These are traversed by a number of long-distance footpaths called alte vie (high paths). Taking up to a week to complete, the trails are served by numerous rifugi (huts) where the footsore traveller can rest for the night and obtain sustenance. Treviso is a good starting point for accessing these impressive peaks, although it can take a four-hour drive to penetrate into one of the main climbing, walking and skiing centres such as Cortina d’Ampezzo.But you do not need to go that far into these rugged mountains to appreciate or enjoy their scale and splendour. The mountains, part of the Southern Limestone Alps, include the Piccole Dolomiti (Little Dolomites), which are located between the provinces of Trentino, Verona and Vicenza.

You could, for example, head north into Parco Nazionale della Dolomiti Bellunesi where a range of itineraries are available, from serious high altitude walks to more gentle lower circular routes and nature walks on the valley floors. There is a wide variety of programmes to help the visitor become acquainted with the region’s flora, fauna and history. This could be the gentle introduction you need to nudge you onto the higher peaks and the Alte Vie on a return visit if you find the Dolomiti weaving their spell.

Our host in Treviso is Francesca. Our host in Siena, Italy is Rosalba.

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