I was feeling restless and disappointed because somehow the tiny, twisting
streets of Padua didn’t hold the
charm I had expected them to. Everything seemed so dark and moldy and, well,
old. My planned visit with St. Anthony was thwarted by barriers completely
surrounding his Basilica. The church was closed while undergoing a bit of a
Actually, I hadn’t planned on visiting Padua.
I had planned on spending most of my vacation days in Tuscany,
but since I intended to end my trip in Venice,
I decided to use a couple of days to explore a little of the Veneto.
I consulted my map, marked my trail and headed for the Autostrada. My rental car, a shiny sapphire blue Ford Fiesta, was equipped with an air
conditioner and stereo cassette player. I slipped in a tape of Andrea Bocelli’s
music and sang along as the kilometers sped by. Within a few hours I was
nearing my destination and still hadn’t figured out where I was actually going
to spend the night. The Padua exit
caught my eye and I left the Autostrada and drove into the city.
But, as it turned out, Padua wasn’t
for me. After driving around for a while, I decided it was time to get out of
town and, on impulse, followed a sign pointing to something called
"Riviera del Brenta."
The road, route SS 11 between Padua
and Venice, follows the Brenta
River. Within minutes I found
myself transported to a pastoral Eden
as the little towns of Stra, Mira and Dolo came into view. Dotted here and
there were dozens of magnificent villas. It was as if I had been magically
transported back to the time, between the 16th to 18th centuries, when rich
Venetians commissioned great architects like Andrea Palladio to design summer
homes for them along the Brenta.
When the summer heat became oppressive in Venice,
the nobles would have themselves rowed across the lagoon and up the Brenta to
their palatial villas along its cooler shores. The mansions were designed and
decorated by masters of Italian art and often visited by royalty, popes,
artists and other illustrious guests. They celebrated the summer with ritual
floating processions, sumptuous dinners, parties and balls that often lasted
Even though it was late in the day I noticed people wandering around the
gardens inside the walls of the Villa Pisani, in the small town of Stra.
I decided to park the car and have a look.
Available tourist information mentioned that the 18th century home, also known
as the Villa Nazionale, was built for Doge Alvise Pisani. It was used by
Napoleon and was the site of the first meeting between Hitler and Mussolini.
The famed Tiepolo frescoed ceiling was incredible and magnificent Murano glass
chandeliers sparkled in every room. Extending in all directions surrounding the
house, were gardens filled with ponds, fountains, statuary and greenery. The
Villa, viewed from a distance, looked like a grand confection of creme and
ivory gleaming in the afternoon sun.
Looking through the bits of tourist information, I found that many of the
villas are open to the public and there was a map indicating their location as
well as the days and times they were open. I also found a suggested itinerary
for easy to follow bike tours. However, what really caught my attention was the
little brochure for the Il Burchiello, boat tour that begins at the Piazza San
Marco in Venice and ends in Padua
or visa versa, on alternating days. The tour is a full day’s excursion that
includes lunch with stops at some of the most beautiful villas, including
Palladio’s incredible Malcontenta, and follows the classic itinerary of the
original Il Burchiello, made famous by Carlo Goldoni in his Commedia Dell’Arte.
Continuing along the SS 11, I saw a multitude of incredible villas and homes.
Each one had their own little boat dock along the river. It was easy to imagine
arriving by gondola and being welcomed by one’s staff into the bucolic setting.
Yes, I thought, it would be great fun to live in such a place.
A little further up the road, in Dolo, my eye caught a small discrete sign for
the Villa Ducale Hotel. I immediately made a U-turn and went to check it out.
Even though it was the middle of October, it was still considered the High
Season and the hotel was full, except for one cancellation. The price seemed reasonable,
and included a safe place to park the car, so I took it.
The hotel was built in the 1884 as the country home of Count Giulio Rocca, a
noble Venetian. It remained in the family until 1960, when it was turned into a
hotel. It was sold again in 1998 and the 11 spacious rooms, some of them
mini-suites with stone balconies, were totally redecorated using typical
Venetian-style furniture and decorations including lots of glass fixtures and
frescoed ceilings. It is completely surrounded by lush gardens with
old-fashioned pergolas, statuary and fountains. And, of course, right across
the road was its own little boat landing.
My room was large and beautifully decorated. Both the bedroom and bathroom had
huge windows overlooking the gardens. The evening sun was just setting,
shooting golden rays through the leaves of the gnarled old trees. I turned on
the radio, fiddled around with it until I found some classical music, filled
the big bathtub with steamy fragrant bubbles, opened a small bottle of red wine
and enjoyed a nice, comforting soak.
I decided to try the hotel’s restaurant and was happy I did. The dining room
was filled with interesting furniture, antique objects and more glass sconces
and chandeliers. As I looked around, it occurred to me that Count Rocca must
have owned a glass blowing factory. The floors were traditional travertine in
the Venetian style and the tables were covered in soft yellow damask and cut
glass vases held small bouquets of roses.
I considered the menu offerings while sipping a tall, cool glass of Prosecco.
The restaurant specializes in fish dishes, so I decided to try several of their
I began with an assortment of shellfish, including tiny shrimps, spider crab
and my favorite, canocce, a small local crustacean. I was thrilled when I saw
them on my plate and exclaimed "canocce!" The waiter was surprised
and inquired where I had learned the Venetian dialect for cicale del
mare. There really isn’t anything in America
that is similar. They are best described as looking like prawns, with broad,
flat bodies and mantis-like front claws. There are only a couple of small,
heavenly bites in each one.
This was followed by Spagheti con Seppie Nero, which is spaghetti tossed with a
sauce of inky black Cuttlefish. Although it looked rather strange, it was
For my main course, I ordered Coa de rospo coe patate, served with boiled
potatoes and sprinkled with fresh, chopped parsley. Coa reminded me of Monk
fish and tasted divine.
By this time I wasn’t sure if I wanted desert, but when I noticed someone
sitting nearby enjoying a dish of fresh raspberries and cream, I knew I wanted
a bowl for myself.
I finished my feast with a small fiery glass of grappa.
The complimentary breakfast was a buffet with an assortment of breads, rolls,
cold cut meats, cheese, yogurt, cereals and fresh fruits. After my feast of the
night before, I wasn’t very hungry, but I couldn’t resist a saucer of the fresh
berries, this time topped with yogurt.
The morning was somewhat misty and the sun made a weak attempt to burn through
as I made my way toward Venice. The
Brenta slowly meandered by and I stopped here and there to marvel at the views.
It was a Monday and, much to my disappointment, none of the villas were open. I
was reluctant to leave this land of enchantment and vowed to return…perhaps by
boat or gondola to tie up at one of the little boat docks and explore more of
the fabulous villas.
If you go:
Sita SPA - Regional Direction of Veneto
Tourism and Navagation Il Burchiello
Via Orlandini 3
35121 - Padova
Tel: 049.8206910 - Fax 049.8206923
Tuesday - Thursday - Saturday, depart at 9:00 AM, P.le Pontile Pieta ,San
arrive 6:15 PM, P.le Boschetti, Padua
Wednesday - Friday - Sunday, depart 8:15 AM, P.le Boschetti, Padua
arrive 6:20 PM, P.le Pontile Pieta, San Marco, Venice
For further information, please do a Google search on Burchiello boat tours.