Strà is a small town on the Brenta Canal between Venice and Padua, in the Veneto region of north-east Italy. The mostly-modern steets are typical of the settlements you’ll drive through in this part of the region. Strà grew up along the Brenta Canal in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the heart of the area popular with wealthy villa-building Venetians. Just about the grandest villa of them all is located just outside Strà: the Villa Pisani. This is what makes Strà worthy of a visit, and its straightforward transport links are an added incentive. It’s nearer Padua than Venice, but from either town it makes a pleasant excursion, a half-day trip.
Villa Pisani (also known as the Villa Nazionale) was built by the rich Pisani family in the eighteenth century. To celebrate the election of a Pisani doge of Venice – the city’s 114th ruler – the palace is said to have been designed with 114 rooms. It is much more formal and imposing than most of the Veneto pleasure villas; a grand palace built to impress as well as for entertaining.
Villa Pisani didn’t spend much time as a family property. It was bought by Napoleon in 1807 – he apparently spent just one night here before giving the villa to his adoptive son, the Viceroy of Italy. It ended up in the possession of the Savoy family, Italy’s short-lived monarchy, and then of the Italian State. It was the site of the first meeting between Hitler and Mussolini. Some of the original antique furniture now resides in the president’s palace, the Quirinale, in Rome. Furnishings here now are an assortment of pieces from other buildings in the area.
Visitors can tour the piano nobile (first floor) of the villa, making a circuit around the external rooms overlooking the grounds and then through the glamorous central ballroom with its ludicrously overblown frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo exalting the Pisani family. One of the prettiest rooms is ‘Napoleon’s bedroom’, complete with a little four-poster bed. Next door is an unexpected sunken bath.
The gardens are included in the villa ticket, or can be visited separately at a cheaper price. These are pleasant to wander in (no picnicking though). A long water channel between lawns links the main building with the grand facade of the disguised stables beyond; a convincing and impressive illusion. There is a ‘English’ wilderness garden, where paths run through woodland and up a panoramic mound (it would have been panoramic before the growth of the trees, anyway). Formal paths and walks extend symmetrically, while follies and architectural features include a summer-house on a steep island surrounded by frog-filled moat. In a distant corner are some restored greenhouses and a walled citrus garden, ornamented with classical statues. There is a small maze (labirinto) centred around a little stone tower, supposedly the site of amorous aristocratic hi-jinks. Sadly this isn’t always open – a sign outside the ticket/gift shop should tell you if it’s closed.
The villa and gardens are open daily between April and September, from 9am – 7pm. From October to March closing time is 4pm, and the villa is closed on Mondays. During Italy’s Heritage Week (usually in May) entrance is free. As a state museum it has the normal range of discounts for young and old EU citizens, so take your passport to demonstrate your status. If tour groups are visiting you may have to queue to view the villa’s interior.
Travel and practical information
Strà is large enough to boast a few shops and bars where you can find something to eat and drink. Tourist information – leaflets and maps about the region’s villas – is available at the Villa Pisani, just inside the main entrance and at the car park on the main road alongside the garden walls.
The ACTV bus service number 53E from Venice to Padua (Padova) stops in Strà. In Venice the bus stop is in Piazzale Roma – buy your tickets from the ACTV kiosk close to the canal. When I visited the return fare was 5.80; the bus departed from stop C4 in Piazzale Roma(near the souvenir kiosks). Buses leave every thirty minutes, and the journey takes an hour. Some of the bus route follows the Brenta Canal and you can spot a number of interesting villas through the windows. Arriving from Venice there is a stop on the main road before Villa Pisani and another, further away but easier to spot, in Strà (the first stop after you pass the huge villa on your right-hand side). In the opposite direction the stops are in similar locations on the far side of the road; one in Strà and the other just after the car park for the villa. Drivers will be glad to know that this is one tourist attraction which does actually have its own parking space, albeit a short distance down the road.
You can also visit the Villa Pisani as part of an expensive all-day boat excursion along the Brenta Canal: read more about the Brenta cruise. You won’t get as much time to explore, though.
Villa Foscarini Rossi
The pretty Villa Foscarini Rossi lies between Villa Pisani and the centre of Strà, and is a more typical example of the elegant Veneto villas. It is open to the public, and contains a shoe museum: the Rossi family are famous shoemakers. You may be the only visitor; it’s certainly a diversion off the beaten track. After paying admission you can first visit the foresteria, a porticoed building designed (and still used) for elegant entertaining, with charming frescoes to admire. Then in the main villa you can explore two floors of shoes: a few historic exhibits, some shoe-related sculptures and examples of high-fashion footwear grouped by designer and decade. Some of the rooms retain their historic decoration. Entrance costs 5; opening hours vary depending on the season – check the villa website (links panel on the right) for the latest information.
Useful external links
- Veneto region
- Abano Terme
- Bassano del Grappa
- Brenta Canal
- Castelfranco Veneto
- Concordia Sagittaria
- Cortina d’Ampezzo
- Lido di Jesolo
- Montegrotto Terme
- Venetian Lagoon