Art & Architecture of the Veneto
Palladian villas, historic towns, fine art and canals
Italy independent travel itinerary
The Veneto, in north-east Italy, is a region rich in fine art and architecture, with good wines, Palladian villas, elegant historic towns and ruined castles. There's lots to see, but most tourists visit only the region's capital, Venice. This suggested itinerary explores the highlights of the mainland Veneto, staying in four attractive inland towns before the grand finale of Venice. Either of the two Venice airports is a practical choice for the tour.
Architecture highlights include visiting Palladio's Vicenza, including an excursion to his countryside masterpiece, La Rotonda. Padua's principal artistic attraction is the Scrovegni Chapel frescoed by Giotto, but there are also other great frescoes in the town and a bulging art gallery. Saved until last, Venice is of course amazing in every respect, with its unique architecture and so much art still in situ in the city's churches. If the timetables work for you, and you don't mind the extra cost, I've suggested a one-day cruise along the Brenta canal as being a novel way to reach Venice from Padua.
Both Venice airports are convenient for this trip: Venice Marco Polo Airport is closest to Venice and served by more international flights, while Venice Treviso is used by Ryanair, and would be more practical for the start of this tour.
Travel and accommodation
The towns on this itinerary are linked by easy and cheap public transport. All have fairly compact city centres and a car won't be of use when exploring the towns. However, if you want to explore the countryside and visit numerous villas, hiring a car for a few days will be undeniably helpful. Just bear in mind that driving and parking in towns can be difficult, restricted and expensive, and check whether your chosen hotels have free parking.
The towns all have a choice of hotels at varying budgets, from smart little boutique hotels to large business-oriented chains. Check the location closely when making a booking - if you are relying on public transport, opt for somewhere in the centre or close to the railway station. Drivers may prefer a more rural base.
Duration and timings
The towns are all close together and linked to one another by public transport. I've planned the tour in a circle, but it is very flexible and can be changed easily to suit your tastes. How long you stay in each town on this tour is entirely up to you. Read my in-depth articles to learn more about each destination. Treviso and Bassano are the least packed with museums and sights, but they make nice relaxing bases for day trips, so how you allocate your time may depend on whether you have a hire car and how busy a holiday you're looking for.
The tour would make an enjoyable two-week holiday, exploring at your leisure. If time is more restricted, consider dropping a couple of the overnight bases. You could visit Bassano, for example, as an excursion from Vicenza rather than spending the night there.
Ryanair fly to Treviso Airport, which is just outside the town. Buy a ticket in the airport and catch a bus on the road outside to reach the town centre. From Venice Marco Polo Airport, catch the ATVO 'Fly bus' to Mestre station, then a train to Treviso.
Treviso is a really pleasant small town with arcaded streets, a museum and some fine artworks in churches, including sweet frescoes by Tomaso da Modena. Since its airport mainly serves Venice, Treviso itself isn't very touristy and is a good town for pottering.
> Hotel Carlton - handy for the station, airport bus stop and historic centre of Treviso
> BHR Treviso Hotel - modern hotel outside town, close to the airport, suitable for drivers or those prepared to rely on the hotel's shuttle service
Catch a regional train from Treviso to Castelfranco Veneto, where you change for Bassano del Grappa. The journey takes around 50 minutes and costs under €4. Both railway stations are in walking distance from the town centres.|
Bassano del Grappa
Bassano is at the edge of the Dolomites, with attractive views, and some Alpine influences in its architecture. Its covered wooden bridge over the Po was originally designed by Palladio and rebuilt after World War II. Visit the local grappa distillery and sample the fiery local alcohol. Good excursions by train: Castelfranco Veneto (see one of the few surviving paintings by master Giorgione) and Cittadella, a circular walled town. Asolo, reachable by bus, is an idyllic village once home to the poet Browning;
Marostica is another interesting small town with a castle.
> Hotel Castello - in the heart of town next to the castle
> Best Western Hotel Palladio - a central 3-star hotel
> Villa Cipriani, Asolo - an exclusive country-house hotel in pretty little Asolo is an alternative base
|Direct buses run by FTV connect Bassano with Vicenza bus station; the journey takes an hour and there are services once or twice every hour. It is also possible, though slower, to travel by regional trains, with a change at Cittadella or Padua.|
Vicenza is the town of Palladio, its small centre lined with grand palaces designed by Andrea Palladio and his contemporaries. See the famous Palladian
Teatro Olimpico, the Basilica Palladiana, and the art gallery in Palazzo Chiericati. Many of the famous villas of the Veneto are around Vicenza: you can visit two - including Palladio's La Rotonda - on a pleasant excursion on foot or by bus.
> Relais Santa Corona - elegant, contemporary boutique hotel in a historic building
> Hotel Continental - a good modern 3-star hotel just outside the centre, better for drivers than train travellers
|Vicenza is connected to Padua by direct trains. The expensive Eurostar takes just a quarter of an hour; regional trains take twice the time at a quarter of the cost.
Padua is an ancient university town with a really pleasant and lively town centre. Cycling is a popular way to tour the sights; some hotels will lend you bicycles. The most significant sights include the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel
and the lovely Renaissance Loggia Cornaro (pictured).
> Hotel Grand' Italia - practical base located over the road from the railway station
> Hotel Belludi 37 - small stylish hotel with excellent reviews right among the tourist sights
Travelling from Padua to Venice (Venezia Santa Lucia station) by rail takes between 28 and 50 minutes depending on which train you take - remember different categories of train require different tickets. There's also a bus service operated by Sita which takes 45 minutes.
For something really different, you could take the expensive option of travelling to Venice by boat along the Brenta canal, stopping off for tours of villas; you'll need to ask in advance about taking luggage, and rendez-vous at Padua bus station for a lift to the boat embarkation. Cruises run several days a week between March and October; you arrive in the heart of Venice, close to St. Mark's.
Venice is of course the grandest attraction and the regional capital of the Veneto. As this is an art and architecture tour, don't miss the rich Accademia Gallery and the grand Ducal Palace. Finishing your tour here means you can go out in great style.
> Palace Bonvecchiati - a good modern 4-star hotel with international standards close to St. Mark's Square.
> Hotel Campiello - nice little 3-star near a vaporetto stop and St. Mark's Square
> Venice design hotels - continue the art and architecture theme by staying in a stylish hotel
Venice Marco Polo Airport is fifteen minutes from Rome's bus hub, Piazzale Roma - there's a direct bus and a local stopping service. From other parts of Venice, the Alilaguna airport ferry service may be quicker and more convenient. Treviso Airport (served by Ryanair) is connected with Piazzale Roma by a special bus service which coincides with flights.
Options and alternatives
To keep this itinerary concise, I've missed out Verona, in the west of the Veneto. It is a very fine city destination and if you have time to extend your tour by several days, you could add it to your itinerary, flying into or out of Verona Airport.
Check opening times for museums and villas as many museums are closed on Mondays and most villas have limited opening hours. Book in advance for the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua; a combined tourist card is a good deal if you'll be visiting the town's other sights.
There are plenty of good restaurants in the region, but if you're on a budget or lunching in a hurry, most of the towns have decent self-service restaurants - such as the Brek chain - where you can fill up quickly and cheaply.
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