Favourite accommodation

During my stay in the Veneto region, I stayed in some lovely hotels and visited many other stunning ones too. However, I must admit that the Riva del Vin Boutique Hotel in Venice has secured a soft spot in my heart. Small but perfectly formed, this delightful and welcoming property is a peaceful haven from the hustle and bustle of a very vibrant Venice just outside its doors. What better than to sit by the window at breakfast time, to see the Rialto bridge just a stone’s throw away and be able to watch as the gondolas, sandolo boats, water taxis and vaporettos on the Grand Canal jostle for space all in perfect harmony.

View of the Rialto Bridge from the Riva Del Vin hotel View of the Rialto Bridge from the Riva Del Vin hotel

Favourite viewpoint

I think it is fair to say that there were two moments which took my breath away in the Veneto region,but for completely different reasons. Arriving in Gardone Riviera in a very hot 40/ degree heat, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of  Lake Garda viewed from the heights of the two properties I was visiting. Clear blue sky meeting the very tranquil glistening cool blue water of the lake, the odd boat peppering the horizon, a land mass jutting into the water,  palm trees, bougainvillea in the gorgeous hotel grounds framing the views...stunningly beautiful. I can understand why this is a still a favourite Italian lake to visit.

The other breathtaking moment was less expected. Being in Verona, a visit to The Arena is a must. I was under no illusion of this being a small amphitheatre, having seen footage on TV I appreciated it can hold a lot of spectators. But oh my, having climbed to the very top step - and believe me there are a fair few of them from bottom to top - I was totally amazed just how vast this Roman favourite truly is. The props left on the stage from the recent performance looked like toys, down in the orchestra pit the number of empty music stands gave a clue to the number of musicians involved each performance in filling this place with their music whilst the colour coded seats gave just an indication of the size of their potential audience. However, it was the depth of the stone seating steps that stunned me and served as a reminder that somehow, some poor souls had dragged these mighty slabs right up to the very top and helped create this structure! I took time to just sit and reflect on what this amazing place would have been like all those centuries ago - what incredible scenes it must have witnessed over time. Humbling and thought provoking.

A step too far. The Arena, Verona A step too far. The Arena, Verona
The Arena, Verona The Arena, Verona

Favourite activity

Again - I can not pinpoint one sole activity! In Vicenza I spent a very leisurely couple of hours cycling around exploring this compact pretty city. In Padova (Padua) in the Scrovegni Chapel I simply stood mouth open in awe, eyes raised towards the ceiling and walls looking at the frescoed works Giotto had created between 1303 and 1305 depicting the life of the Virgin Mary and Christ - the detail and colours have to be seen to be appreciated.

I am certainly pleased I decided on the spur of the moment to participate in an interactive performance of Romeo and Juliet located in the courtyard of the now infamous house of this young couple and “that” balcony. The audience were greeted with bubbles and nibbles before the performance started. With just 4 characters this was excellently performed. The two narrators bilingually told the story of the infamous couple actively involving the audience in their storytelling. The passion shown between the young lovers was very convincing and engaging. The performance did not remain within the walls of the house of Juliet, it spilled out onto the streets, passing by Romeo’s house, stopping outside the chapel where they were married in secret, following these lovebirds through the heart of  the historical centre of Verona before returning to the main theatre to witness their sad fate.

My other favourite activity was the leisurely 40 km mini-cruise journey from Padova to Venice along the Brenta River Canal on the Il Burchiello cruiser. This is definitely no Rhine cruise, but there is certainly something very charming about navigating the narrow waterways of a relatively unknown canal and river and all that it has to offer. Traffic stopped to allow the swivelling bridges to open for us to pass, locks were opened and closed to allow the cruiser to adjust  up and down according to river water levels. All the while onboard, a very knowledgeable guide narrated flawlessly in up to 4 languages , pointing out places of interest and guiding us around three amazing Venetian Villas included in the trip. As for the optional lunchtime meal - lets just say, I think I rolled back on board and consciously skipped further meals that day!  Exiting the river mouth straight into the Adriatic and sailing across towards Venice was a lovely way to arrive in Venice right by San Marco.

Padua Padua
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua Scrovegni Chapel, Padua
'That' balcony 'That' balcony
"Romeo, Romeo..." "Romeo, Romeo..."
Padua to Venice on the Brenta River Canal Padua to Venice on the Brenta River Canal

Favourite beach

As the places I visited in the Veneto were predominantly landlocked cities, this is a little difficult to answer. I was surprised though to see that even at 10 o’clock at night, people were still down on the pebbly shores of Lake Garda in Desenzano - swimming in the lake, picnicking on their loungers and chairs. The lakeside pizza restaurants and bars were buzzing with locals and tourists dancing in the Summer night heat.

But, I did find a gorgeous long stretch of blue flag beach with fine golden sand! A quick Vaporetto ride from the centre of Venice Grand Canal brings you to the famous Venice Lido. My first reaction when I arrived was that there were finally cars and proper roads again! A short 10 - 15 minute stroll from the central Vaporetto stop down the main high street, and you are on the beach. The beach attendants do charge for their bed and umbrella services, but the beach is spotless and all facilities are to hand - showers, changing rooms,restaurant/bars etc. (There are also stretches of free public beach nearby) So, if you want to escape the hubbub of a major city, simply grab your swimwear, a towel , your transport pass card and head out to the Lido and chill out on a lounger or have a swim.

Desenzano beach, Lake Garda Desenzano beach, Lake Garda

Where you had your best meal  

The secret when eating in a foreign place - always ask the locals for a recommendation and try something typical of the area. So, in Vicenza, the hotel manager highly recommended a tiny little restaurant a short stroll away which prided itself on offering typical Vicenziana/Veneto food and locally sourced ingredients. Venetos is situated on Corso Palladio - easy to miss but not to be forgotten once found. The main seating area is below in the wine cellar of this 1803/1804 built Palazzetto - and on a hot evening, thankfully cooled with air con!

I settled for a starter and a pasta main, a bottle of fizzy water and the obligatory espresso macchiato to finish. My Euro 20.50 had me eat some truly delicious food. The starter of 4 Cicchetti - a kind of bruschetta style dish - each piece of  bread had a different topping -  cheese and salami, sausage meat and ham, anchovies and small tomatoes, and creamed Baccala. Baccala is dried salt cod and a regional speciality in Veneto - each region has its own variation of preparation. It can be eaten in chunks served with polenta, whipped (like I had) or used to form balls which are breadcrumbed and deep fried.
My pasta dish was fettuccine al ragu d’anatra (ragu made from duck meat) - again a speciality of Vicenza. Gorgeous flavour - needless to say my plate was clean!

'Veneto's' restaurant 'Veneto's' restaurant
Cicchetti Cicchetti
Fettuccine al ragu d' anatra Fettuccine al ragu d' anatra

Highlight of the trip

I guess it has to be the moment I was semi-lost in the back streets of Venice going over a tiny canal bridge and spotted Francesco da Mosto coming  towards me the other way! A fan of his various BBC documentaries on all things about Venice his hometown, I had to double take. Convinced it was him but prepared to make a complete fool of myself, I turned and ran after him. Politely touching him on the arm and then in my best poshest Italian I more or less asked “Excuse me,  are you the bloke off the telly and may I take a selfie please”?! One broad beaming smile from him and a single, but perfect,  selfie later, he shot off to grab his vaporetto and I continued my meanderings and getting lost!

Alison and Francesco da Mosto (the bloke off the telly) Alison and Francesco da Mosto (the bloke off the telly)

General feel of the area

As a sole female traveller, I was totally at ease in all the cities and town areas I visited in Lake Garda. The locals are super friendly and very accommodating. My three favourites were the three V’s - Verona, Vicenza, Venezia!

Verona - is simply full of happy people! You see either the loved up couple, the serious opera buff,  the weekend tourist, the local family day trippers, the locals buying from the market stalls or simply people taking advantage of the great branded shopping opportunities. Verona  has a very positive vibe with the old and new living and working together in harmony. Even the graffiti is full of love with messages and locks left by tourists and lovers alike. I would certainly return here to explore more.

Vicenza - smaller, friendly, a compact city which just appears to love bicycles - it is so easy to get around their historical area on foot or on 2 wheels. A peaceful and great alternative to Verona especially during the Arena’s opera season. A place with many chances to explore the architecture of Palladio and the riches of the Renaissance period. Well worth getting a museum card to explore these in depth.

Venice - vibrant, full of history and mystery, a city full of curious tourists. However,  with so many hidden alleyways and canals it is easy to escape and find the true Venice. Head out towards the Accademia area -  walk in the Giardini amongst the tree lined boulevard, spot the turtles in the fountain in the park, see laundry hanging across the streets, taste the handmade tomato grissini sticks from the local baker, discover the bars where the locals hang out after work, see the dogs travelling on boats with their owners, women gossiping on their doorstep, children playing out on their bikes in the local square, the lazy cat stretching in the sunshine. To breath and see the true Venice - go, explore, get lost, just remember Google maps is not totally reliable but the vaporettos are!


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Alison
Alison Garrard

Alison joined the Sunvil team in 2019 but has long been an extended member of our family, having sold our holidays as a travel agent for 25 years! Sunvil is more than a business, our approach to travel - introducing visitor to lesser-known places and placing them among the locals, is a concept that our staff buy into and feel passionate about. Our holidays are those that we ourselves enjoy and would recommend for our friends and family. Alison is no exception having chosen a Sunvil trip to the Azores for her honeymoon and having recently returned from Veneto.

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