Four hundred years ago, the English architect Inigo Jones was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works and immediately embarked on a tour of Italy where – among other cities – he visited Vicenza. This small city between Milan and Venice was, and still is, the perfect place to study the work of Andrea Palladio, the only architect to have given his name to an English architectural style, Palladianism.
Start in Piazza dei Signori facing one of the master’s early triumphs. The Basilica Palladiana (00 39 0444 222114) was a brilliant calling card for an architect still in his thirties. When the Gothic town hall complex partly collapsed in the 1540s, Palladio’s novel solution was to encase the existing buildings in two storeys of marble columns. This bold double course of loggias was completed in 1549. Palladio’s structure dominates the centre of Vicenza and reopened to the public last October. Since January you’ve also been able to access the stunning roof terrace.
Pass west along the piazza and you come to the Loggia del Capitaniato at Piazza dei Signori, which was another medieval building whose updating was entrusted to Palladio. He completed its sturdy brick columns in 1565. Today the loggia is the seat of the town council.
Turning right into Contra di Cavour, it’s possible to make out Palazzo Pojana at Corso Palladio 92/96 from the bottom of the street. This unusual building is in fact two separate palazzi joined together at first- and second-floor level over an alley known as Due Ruote. Palladio scholars have speculated that he built the left half for Vincenzo Pojana in 1540 and in 1565 came back to create a second building across the alleyway which was then linked at piano nobile level.
Crossing over Corso Andrea Palladio, turn right in front of the Dev clothing store and walk down Corso Antonio Fogazzaro. It is impossible to miss the monumental façade of Palazzo Valmarana Braga at number 16 (00 39 0444 547188; palazzovalmaranabraga.it; admission €5/£4.30) on your right. Giant Corinthian columns rise the full height of the facade that Palladio attached to Giovanni Alvise Valmarana’s home. Valmarana was one of Palladio’s major supporters in Vicenza and this palace is still owned by his descendants, who have restored and opened it to the public.
There’s Bottega del Caffe Dersut at Corso Antonio Fogazzaro 29, almost immediately opposite on your left if you want an espresso break, otherwise continue to the junction with Contra Riale and turn right all the way to the T-junction with Contra Porti, where the superb 15th-century building facing you is the Banca Popolare di Vicenza. On your right, the large white palace on the corner is another Palladio triumph, this time a building that he designed rather than repackaged. The Palazzo Barbaran da Porto (Contra Porti 11; 00 39 0444 323014; palladiomuseum.org; €6/£5.20) was built between 1570-1575 for Count Montano Barbarano. The count was noted as being a “most excellent musician” and there is evidence to suggest that Palladio was creating a place where his client could host musical evenings. As this is one the few buildings in Vicenza that Palladio completed in its entirety, it was made the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, housing a research team and a public exhibition space.
Now turn round and head north along Contra Porti and an impressive palace rears up on the left just before the road narrows. This is Palazzo Iseppo da Porto, one of two Vicenza palazzi designed by Palladio for members of the Porto family. Iseppo da Porto had recently married when he summoned Palladio in 1544. The building he commissioned took until 1552 to complete.
At the next square turn right down Contra Giuseppe Apolloni. At the bottom of this street, turn right into Contra Santa Corona. On the left, past the Archaeological Museum, is the Chiesa Santa Corona (00 39 0444 222811; closed Mondays), a medieval church that contains the subterranean Valmarana chapel, built between 1576 and 1597 for the Valmarana family. The design is attributed to Palladio and it does indeed resemble his work at the Redentore in Venice
Continue to where Contra Santa Corona rejoins Corso Palladio and turn left past Casa Cogollo, which was for many years held to be Palladio’s own house because of its relative modesty. Today it’s known that Palladio only worked on it for a lawyer called Cogollo. Now we finally emerge in front of Palladio’s best known buildings, Teatro Olimpico at Piazza Matteotti 11 (00 39 0444 222 800; comune.vicenza.it; €10/£8.60). The auditorium and stage of this iconic Renaissance theatre are unmistakable. Palladio started it in the year of his death (1580); it was completed by his son Silla.
Coming from an essentially Tudor London, Inigo Jones must have been blown away when he set foot in the city that Antonio Palladio built.
The two newest restaurants in Vicenza are Angolo Palladio, pictured, (Piazzetta Palladio, 12; 00 39 0444 325294; angolopalladio.it; closed Thursdays) and Caffe Garibaldi (Piazza dei Signori 1; 00 39 0444 544491; caffegaribaldivicenza.com). Both face the Basilica and reopened at the end of 2012.
Railbookers (020-3327 2439; railbookers.com) offers a three-night city break to Vicenza from £419 per person. The price includes an overnight sleeper to Vicenza via Paris in a private double cabin, three nights’ B&B in Vicenza, transfers and BA return flight from Verona, the closest airport. Verona is served from Gatwick by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com); easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) and Monarch (0871 940 5040; flymonarch.com); Monarch also flies from Manchester. The train from Verona to Vicenza takes 25 minutes.