Saturday: What do you do on your first full day in Venice? You take one look at the crowds a and head for the hills! We had always wanted to visit some of the hill towns in the Veneto and while in Parma we booked a tour for today. We met the guide, Marco, at the car parking station of Venice and the tour was to depart at 9am. Marco was supposed to have eight people but two pulled out last night. Then he waited and nobody else arrived so after getting the all clear from his bosses, we set off a bit after nine - just the two of us and Marco!
We drove in a clockwise circle from Venice through more of the beautiful farming countryside and found out why it is so lush and green. Apparently from mid April to mid May it rained virtually every day. How lucky are we that we have enjoyed perfect weather. The first stop was the village of Marostica, a most charming little walled town famous for its cherries which were everywhere. The walls run down from an old castle set higher on the hill and in the main square is a huge chessboard. Every two years the townspeople re-enact an old legend by performing chess with costumed humans as the chess pieces. We had a short walk around and were impressed by every aspect that we saw - the people looked lovely, the town was immaculate and had very good shops (including a fabulous pasticceria which Marco recommended where we bought six sweet treats.
Then it was on to Bassano del Grappa with its interesting wooden bridge over the River Brenta. It is bigger than Marostica with more bustle, increased by the mobs of young students who were out celebrating the start of their summer holidays and the fact that it was market day and the squares were full of stalls. Again we walked around with Marco who showed us the main sights. Bassano is renowned for its ceramics and wrought iron and, of course, grappa. So we went to one family-owned distillery with an interesting museum and sampled a few types. The classic grappa has to be 40-60% alcohol so very potent. As well they make some more like liqueurs with flavours such as blueberry, coffee and chocolate. These were not so strong and easier to drink.
The approach to Asolo where we headed for lunch was up a curvy road through a forest. We had high expectations of this little medieval hilltop town from what we had read and it did not disappoint. The little historic centre with a fountain in the middle was circled with cafes and two storied stone buildings showing off colourful flowers boxes. There is a castle at one end and Asolo certainly lives up to its reputation as “the city of one hundred horizons”. Stunning views of vineyards and olive groves roll out below with gentle mountains in the background. We had lunch at Antica Osteria al Bacaro in their idyllic outdoor setting overlooking the castle and enjoyed some very local meats, cheeses and vegetables (white asparagus also in season).
Next stop was the Villa Barbero at Maser. This is one of Palladio’s masterpieces and parts are still lived in. Only part of the first floor was open to the public and photographs of the lovely frescoes were not allowed. Strange slipper-like things had to be worn over shoes so you ended up paying to polish the floor.
Finally, we made our way up the hills again and into the famous Prosecco area of Valdobbiadene. It was a spectacular drive through the vineyards which covered the hillsides and we stopped at the Ca’Salina winery. Here we were welcomed with wonderful hospitality and sat down to taste three of the superior DOCG Proseccos only made in this region - a very dry, medium and slightly sweet. We have a bottle to drink before we leave Venice and wish we could have bought more.
Full of good cheer we headed back to Venice where Marco dropped us off at 6ish. We decided to walk back home instead of battling with crowded vaporettos and arrived, as they say, “tired but happy!!”.