Lost city of the Veneto

Vicenza, neighbour to Venice and Verona, is often overlooked, says David Newbold

Sent out to north-east Italy where a particularly grisly murder has been committed, Sergeant Lewis in the TV series Morse quickly comes a cropper. "Vie-sen-zer?" he queries as he steps off the train and peers at the big blue and white sign. "Vi-chen-za," Inspector Morse drily corrects. Half-way between the two big V towns of the Veneto, Venice and Verona, Vicenza is Veneto minore but with a grandeur all its own. "Rome in miniature, a theatrical invention" was how novelist Guido Piovene described it - and it's easy to see what he meant. For such a small town, it is jam-packed with self-important looking buildings. Gothic, Renaissance, but especially neo-Classical palazzi line the streets and seem to browbeat the passing pedestrian into accepting its ethos of provincial prosperity.

Vicenza, for most people, means Andrea Palladio. The hand of the great 16th-century architect is everywhere: in town houses, in churches, in the Palazzo della Regione in the main square, and in the patrician villas outside the town. The exquisitely proportioned Villa Rotonda, which nestles at the foot of the hills just south of the town, provided the setting for most of Losey's Don Giovanni; the town scenes were set in the Teatro Olimpico, Palladio's last work (finished after his death in 1580 by Scamozzi). Built along the lines of a Roman theatre, it expresses to the full the Vicentini love of the theatrical: the permanent scenery, representing seven streets in the city of Thebes, and studded with statues, is an astonishing plaster-on-brick construction in trompe-l'oeil. Any actor who makes a wrong entrance will ruin the carefully calculated play on perspective and the credibility of the elaborate scene collapses like a house of cards.

But Vicenza is not just Palladio. This year marks the tercentenary of the birth of Giambattista Tiepolo, perhaps the greatest European painter of his time. Born in Venice, Tiepolo was extraordinarily prolific: it was said of him that "he could paint a picture in the time it took another artist to mix his paints". He worked all over Europe, commanding high fees (the only place he refused to go was Stockholm, because the King of Sweden didn't pay well enough). Clearly a man ahead of his times, on occasions he managed to get his travel expenses paid as well. Some of his finest mature work can be seen in Vicenza. In fact, it would be hard to find a more "Tiepolesque" town. Paintings, altarpieces, and, especially, the superb frescoes which adorn the villas represent virtually all the stages of his long career.

On occasions, as in Villa Cordelina in nearby Montecchio, Tiepolo was able to bend the architecture to the imperative of his own artistic vision. The frescoes here were commissioned by a wealthy lawyer, Carlo Cordellina, and it was the artist's job to reflect the power and status of the villa's owner. Lawyers, according to the contemporary Venetian playwright Goldoni, were the next best thing to nobility. So, on opposite sides of the main hall, Tiepolo portrays the wisdom of two great conquerors (Alexander and Scipio) when called to pass judgement on the defeated. From the ceiling the allegorical Triumph of Virtue and Intelligence over Error oversees the two secenes and compounds the homage to Cordellina.

But the best frescoes are to be found in the Villa Valmarana-ai-Nani, just round the corner from the Rotonda, painted at the peak of Tiepolo's long career. The owner wanted an oasis of detachment and serenity, which Tiepolo interpreted to mean total immersion in the arts. Gone are the allegorical references to the owner: what we have is a succession of scenes from the Iliad, the Aeneid and the two great 16th-century masterpieces Orlando Furioso and Jerusalem Delivered. Heroes in stock poses and languishing heroines, "tantalisingly disarrayed to leave bare a bosom or a leg", bring together poetry, colour, drama and the latent sexuality reminiscent of great opera. Morse, no doubt, would have approved.

Many visitors to Vicenza, just passing through, never do make it to the villas, because they are out of town. Others are on a day trip from Venice, about 40 miles to the east. But this year the Tourist Office (stealing a march on Venice) has come up with a "Tiepolo weekend" package to entice visitors to stay over. The main attraction is an organised Sunday jaunt round the main villas (with a pick-up from the hotels), and the package - which is available from now until October - includes discounts on car hire, guided tours and meals in selected restaurants. Highly recommended are restaurants belonging to La Rua, an association of young chefs dedicated to preserving (or rediscovering) the Vicentino gatronomic heritage. Be sure to try the bigoli all'anatra (a sort of hollow spaghetti which soaks up the rich duck sauce) and various dishes involving baccala (the Vicentini can do wonders with dried cod). If you travel in a group, you can arrange for a sumptuous Tiepolo dinner (such as the artist himself might have enjoyed 250 years ago) in the Villa Cordellina, complete with arrival in horse-drawn carriage, waiters in period costume and the pleasant strains of a quartet playing Vivaldi. Prices per day for two people (with breakfast) at the 20 or so hotels participating range from Lir88,000 (pounds 35) at the two- star Aster, to Lir234,000 (pounds 95) at the top-of-the range Villa Palma, which last year won an award for the most beautiful hotel bathrooms in Italy. It is situated near Bassano del Grappa, a town famous for its Palladian covered bridge over the river Brenta, about 20 miles north of Vicenza; Bassano, which guards the entrance to the southern Dolomites, is well worth a visit in its own right. Naturally, it has its own Tiepolos (in the museo civico) and is the final destination of the Sunday circuit.

The Tiepolo experience begins, however, with the welcome drink when you arrive in your hotel. Called Cocktail Tiepolo 300, it is made from pomegranate juice, maraschino cherries and prosecco (sparkling dry white wine produced in the Veneto). The swirling vermillion hues are meant to recall the master in some of his finest frescoes, says its creator Renato Cumerlino; it tastes quite nice as well.

! Vicenza lies equidistant between Venice and Verona and is a 60km train journey from either. BA (0345 222111) flies daily from London to both cities. Return fares start at pounds 119. Further information from the Italian State Tourist Office (0171 408 1254), 1 Princes Street, London W1R 8AY and the Vicenza Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel/fax 00 39 444 320854), Piazza Matteotti 12, 36100 Vicenza, Italy.

Suggested Topics
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower