When looking for sights in Italy to visit, do not forget about beautiful Asolo. Little Asolo is located thirty miles north of Bassano del Grappa and is tucked into the foothills of the Dolomites. This picturesque town with its cypress-covered hills served as a strategic stronghold in Roman times, a summer retreat for well-heeled Venetians in the 15th and 16th centuries, and later a bucolic getaway for British expats and a miscellany of European tourists. When the weather in Italy is nice, a day trip to this town will make for a relaxing and pleasant expedition. Not all that much has changed.
After checking the weather in Italy, I arrive with my hiking party of five around 5PM. The steep ascent and narrow, winding streets take us to our accommodations for the night, The Hotel Villa Cipriani. There’s no getting around it. The Hotel Villa Cipriani is a bit of a splurge. But unlike certain splurges I’ve allowed myself in the past, this one is worth it—so worth it. The one-time home of British expat poet, Robert Browning, this Renaissance era villa conceals its considerable splendor behind a rather ordinary-looking gated white wall. Set foot inside, however, and the scene is breath-stealing and makes for a nice place to take in the sights in Italy.
Built in the Palladian style and updated in the 18th and successive centuries, the hotel boasts a stunning all-white exterior and clean, classical lines. Between the villa and garden guest house, there are thirty-one rooms in total. Charming as my spacious, antiques appointed room is, in lieu of lingering I hurry through showering and dressing to dash back downstairs to log in as much time as possible in the expansive landscaped garden before dinner. I select one of the pretty ironwork patio tables on the veranda (the on-premise restaurant is even more famous than the hotel), order a glass of prosecco from the distinguished tuxedo-clad server, and settle into making friends with the resident garden cat while enjoying the incredible weather in Italy. The prosecco arrives accompanied by a mini feast of gourmet canapés that include a perfectly pearlescent quartet of chilled asparagi bianchi, white asparagus.
In New York white asparagus is the caviar of vegetables, something for which I must make a very special trip to a very special market. Here in Northern Italy in early May, the height of the harvest season, white asparagus is as plentiful as corn-on-the-cob in July at home. Though dinner is less than an hour away, I toss willpower to the wind and tuck in, smacking my lips over every tender, beautifully blanched stalk.
Dinner is at Bistrot, a less than ten minute if hilly walk from the hotel. This walk is enjoyable due to the great weather in Italy. Bistrot has been open less than a year when I visit. Though from the stellar service and food, you’d never suspect its newness. This compact restaurant with its profusion of colorful candles, linens, and crockery packs a powerful culinary punch in an atmosphere of artsy elegance. (There is a rooftop terrace as well but on the night we visit, the mountain air is too brisk to consider it). White asparagus will reappear here in several of the delightful dishes we order to share at our table. I order a filet of beef for my “secondo,” the meat so succulently tender and perfectly cooked to medium rare that I share it with absolutely no one. Several desserts, compliments of the house, follow, along with grappa served in tumbler-sized snifters and the ubiquitous espresso.
The next morning, I eschew the villa’s ample buffet breakfast for an extra hour of zzz’s, then dash downstairs again, this time to join my fellows. An introductory tour of the town, notably Piazza Garibaldi, segues into a challenging six-mile hike to Villa Barbaro in Cornuda. A marathon runner and an intermediate level hiker, still I find myself bracing for breath as stony ground breaks away beneath my Timberlands and sheer cliff drops sans railing greet me on my left. Despite its nosebleed sharp incline, the ascent to the hilltop of San Giorgio feels like a cakewalk in comparison beacuse of the beautiful weather in Italy. Reaching the pinnacle, capped by a domed Palladian style chapel, our pastry time out taken at one of the picnic tables seems more sustenance than indulgence. Bonus: we each take turns ringing the citadel bell. Who says being a kid has to end with childhood!
A partly forested trail—no cliff drops!—interspersed with olive groves and vineyards, streambeds and meadows brings us into Maser and our sightseeing destination, Villa Barbaro. Designed by Palladio—yes, he is popular here—and built between 1550 and 1560, Villa Barbaro, also known as Villa di Maser, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the nice sights in Italy with good reason. Stunning frescoes by Paolo Veronese grace the walls of many of its expansive, open-to-the-public rooms.
We end the afternoon at a family-owned agriturismo in nearby Valdobbiadene where we enjoy a delicious alfresco lunch served to us by the husband-and-wife proprietors. Codified in 1985 with the intent to incentivize small scale farming, agritourismi (plural) allow small farmers to augment their agricultural income by serving food and wine (made from raw materials produced on the farm or at least locally) and providing accommodations to tourists. Our lunch is wholesomely delicious, starting with cold platters of mozzarella, prosciutto, and salamis and ending with an assortment of home-baked cakes and other confectionery. A bottle (or more) of sparkling wine accompanies each course.
Northern Italy is known for its whites, its proseccos especially, and we are on The Prosecco Wine Route, a happy place indeed. In the course of our meal, I learn that prosecco refers to the dryness of the grape, “secco” meaning dry, and that prosecco and spumante are not at all the same thing. (Spumante boasts bubbles akin to those of champagne. There is also prosecco-spumante and copious variations on the theme). I eat and drink without reserve, chatting with my companions while looking out onto the vista of vineyard and mountains beyond.
The meal ends all too soon for all that we’ve been planted at our table for coming on three hours enjoying the fantastic weather in Italy. Before leaving, I excuse myself to the facilities to freshen up. A beer hall ditty sung at high pitch leads me inside to the main building. Within the dimly lit wooden bar, a table of Germans are well on their way to being blissfully boozed. One sixty-something gentleman with pink cheeks, broad forehead, and Rudolph red nose beckons me over. “Prost,” he says, grinning, and presses a brimming glass of wine into my hand.
I hesitate. How can I possibly accommodate all this…excess? Dinner is fewer than four hours away and in just one meal, lunch, I’ve consumed what would ordinarily stand as a month’s worth of wine and a week’s worth of food—and then some. Once home in New York, will I have to join Jenny Craig. Alcoholics Anonymous? My nearest ashram? I’ll miss the amazing sights in Italy.
Then I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am on vacation. In Italy. And these precious, too few days are for putting cell phones and worries away, for forgetting calorie counts and maximum daily drink allotments, for enjoying fine food and wine, stimulating conversations with strangers, and stunning hikes that come without safety rails. These too few days in The Veneto are for embracing experiences that stretch not only my physical body but also my assumptions, my expectations, and yes, my mind. “Prost,” I finally say, fingers closing about the glass stem. Smiling, I clink my wineglass softly to his.
Written by and photos by Hope Tarr for EuropeUpClose.com
Read part one Day Tripping in the Veneto: Bassano del Grappa and stay tuned for the Last stop in Day Tripping in The Veneto: Castelfranco del Veneto.