Meridian Writers’ Group
ASOLO, Italy–Sweaty and dishevelled, we entered Hotel Villa Cipriani, clearly the plush world of the rich and famous. Our group of eight cyclists attracted some surprised glances but we couldn’t have cared less. We had just pedalled three kilometres uphill to reach here, the completion of a week-long cycle through Northern Italy’s Veneto region. So improperly attired or not, we arrived euphorically at this 16th-century villa, once owned by the English poet Robert Browning, now a posh inn.
The Veneto region, northwest of Venice, is a landscape of farmland, terraced vineyards, many charming towns and a few medieval hilltop hamlets, all backdropped by the Dolomite Range. In many ways, life in the Veneto epitomizes the dolce vita. It may not enjoy the popular appeal of Tuscany, but that’s one of its advantages: it attracts fewer tourists. And it was in Veneto that the 16th-century architect whose name gives us the term Palladian, Andrea Palladio, built his stunning villas.
We were travelling with Backroads, a Berkeley, California-based touring company. Each day we pedalled between 40 to 80 kilometres – quite a bit, but if need be there was always a van to topple into.
And while the cycling could be hard, the rewards were numerous. Our first evening, after hours of exertion, we cruised onto what seemed like a romantic movie set with fountains, gardens and a villa. I expected to be greeted by Sophia Loren. This was Villa Luppis, an 11th-century monastery that’s now an inn. Our weariness vanished as its sommelier introduced us to some of the region’s fine wines and we savoured the first of many incredible meals.
During the week we stopped at two villas designed by Andrea Palladio (1508-80). The neoclassical columns we saw at Villa Emo and Villa Barbero characterize his style. American statesman Thomas Jefferson visited these, then had Washington’s White House and other state buildings constructed in the Palladian style.
One delicious day included a winery visit – this is prosecco country, the Italian answer to champagne – and an evening feast at Clemi’s, a restaurant in Follina: 15 courses of fabulous Italian fare. I was in food heaven.
At the town of Possagno, we were agog at the Gypsoteca, a museum that houses sculptures by another Italian neoclassicist, Antonio Canova (1757-1822).
One morning, we cycled 30 kilometres to Park Piave, where the music of Andrea Bocelli, the great opera tenor, filled the air. Our guides had set up a picnic, Italian style: pesto, fresh salads and Gorgonzola cheese to go along with the music. I remembered that Ernest Hemingway had set part of his First World War novel A Farewell to Arms along the River Piave, but I couldn’t relate this peaceful scene to that gritty tale.
In rural Italy everyone cycles. There are hotshots in flashy gear, mothers holding wee ones and grandmas heading to church. We were visitors, but we fit right into the picture. The sun warmed us, the aromas swirled around us and it was a simple thing to stop and be part of the scene.
For more information on Backroads tours call the company toll-free at 1-800-462-2848 or visit www.backroads.com .
For information on travel in Italy visit the Italian Government Tourist Board website at www.italiantourism.com .