Lee Langley, The Daily Telegraph, October 24, 2013
Treviso is the no-frills gateway to Venice . Every year, tourists in their thousands come streaming off the plane and on to the shuttle buses. But Treviso is not just an airport. Two miles down the road from the terminal is a historic town with a beguiling charm all its own: Renaissance squares, palaces, richly frescoed churches, streets threaded with ancient waterways.
It’s not another Venice, of course; Treviso has no Grand Canal or San Marco. It also has no camera-clicking crowds, no tourist traps, no crazy prices, no stress.
The centre of Treviso is a little walled city, with medieval gates, narrow, cobbled streets of arcaded rose-red brick and stone that twist and turn like dried-out water courses – which is what some of them originally were. Tiny canals run past handkerchief-sized gardens, glide beneath houses, appear at street corners. Gushing millstreams, some with black water-wheels that once had a commercial purpose, now turn lazily, playing a purely decorative role.
Dante described Treviso as “the place where the Sile and the Cagnan go hand in hand” – not one of his most compelling phrases, perhaps, but accurately observed: the two rivers come together to circle the town, their waters running side by side. Stand on the serene bank of the Riviera Garibaldi and you see the two streams not yet commingled: the Sile sleek and calm, alongside the Cagnan’s more turbulent flow.
The city once belonged to Venice, and it shows. The colonnaded Buranelli district was built for fishermen from Burano. Nearby, nudging the elegant palazzi, the covered fish market occupies its own little island, floating like a ship, filling the morning air with seafood aromas and pandemonium.
As for art, you can find it all over town on frescoed house façades, their once brilliant colours faded to a chalky softness. There’s an Annunciation by Titian in the seven-domed cathedral (and a portrait attributed to him in the town museum). Treviso is proud of its links with Giotto’s follower Tommaso da Modena, and the Santa Caterina museum devotes a vaulted hall to his fresco cycle of the life of St Ursula. But for a taste of Tommaso’s humanity and humour, step into the modest Dominican chapter house of San Nicolò and look up at the frieze running round the walls – 40 portraits of Dominicans at their desks. One friar looks questioningly over his spectacles; his neighbour has his nose in a manuscript; another blows on a just-sharpened pencil. All appear vibrantly alive .
In the nearby church of San Francesco, Petrarch’s daughter and Dante’s son sleep in their stone beds. There are more churches to be seen, as well as fine medieval buildings and canvases by Renaissance artists, but Treviso is about taking things easy, not frenzied culture-chasing. Enjoy a tranquil moment leaning on a balustrade, watching the ducks glide by. Hire a bike and bowl along the Restera, a grassy, tree-shaded riverside path where, on Sunday mornings in spring, the locals enjoy a passeggiata on wheels.
Treviso also has a notable shrine to retail therapy: it’s the birthplace of Luciano Benetton, founder of the worldwide empire. The family lives locally and Benetton’s flagship store dominates a central piazza. But I ’m more interested in a less-famous local product, a culinary gem: radicchio rosso di Treviso.
Vineyards from Treviso to Valdobbiadene
Only in this corner of the northern Veneto is this variety cultivated – not the tightly furled red globes found in Britain, but curly crimson and white bundles of rapier-slender leaves. Beyond the old city walls lie the radicchio fields . Lucio Torresan, whose family runs an organic farm, talked me through the production process: after harvest the plants are trimmed, bunched and transferred to freshwater tanks in darkened sheds. Only the hearts – snowy spines and ruby leaves gleaming like porcelain – are sent to market, to be enjoyed from November to spring. Delicious as the crunchiest of salad ingredients, it’s even better grilled or roasted, in risotto or pasta . Pliny commended it as a cure for insomnia. Its subtle, slightly bitter flavour is addictive.
Treviso’s other claim to culinary fame is the local wine: prosecco, which in recent years has been granted DOCG status, preventing the name from being used for wines made outside the protected area. Running from Treviso to Valdobbiadene, the prosecco route is lined with vineyards. The winemakers are keen to attract visitors, and it’s hard to resist calling in for a tasting. I found the smallest, quirkiest winery up a footpath marked “L’osteria senz’oste” (The inn without host). Here, in a modest farmhouse kitchen, visitors let themselves in to find a fridge stocked with prosecco, cold meats and cheese, and an “honour box” to pay what they feel appropriate for what they’ve consumed.
So the next time you take the cheapo route to Venice, why not leave the shuttle bus for another day? Remind yourself of the courteous manners and true hospitality of Italy, too often obscured in the frenzy of mass tourism . A café table with a glass of prosecco under the arcades, the sound of a tiny millstream racing past, dinner that includes a dish with radicchio rosso… Venice can wait.
The fresco of St Agnes by Tommaso da Modena
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com ) has flights to Treviso from Stansted and Bristol from £14.99 one way.
MarcaTreviso ( marcatreviso.it ) provides information on accommodation , tours, wine- and food- tasting and cultural events . The “Treviso card” (€12/£10 for 24 hours, €17/48 hours, €22/72 hours) offers free public transport and entry to the museum, the Palladian Villa Emo at Fanzola di Vedelago and Villa Barbaro at Maser and the Canova Museo Gipsoteca at Possagno.
Where to stay
Locanda San Tomaso is a charming b & b in a 14th-century building in the old town (346 951 3652, [email protected] ). Doubles from £64 including breakfast.
Hotel Al Fogher (0422 432 950, [email protected] ) is a family-run three-star in an non-picturesque but convenient position, a 15-minute walk from the historic centre and five minutes from the airport by taxi. Doubles from £72, including breakfast.
Maison Matilda (0422 582 212, [email protected] ) is a boutique hotel in an old-town palazzo close to the Piazza Duomo . Doubles from £154, including breakfast (served all day).
Where to eat
Toni del Spin (Via Inferiore 7, 0422 543 829). Atmospheric, long-established trattoria in the old town, specialising in local cuisine. Main courses €6-€14 (£5-£12).
Ristorante da Pino (Piazza dei Signori 23, 0422 56426). Big and bustling, this is one of three “da Pino” restaurants in Treviso. Main courses €8-€19 (£6.80-£16); pizzas €5-€9 (£4-£8).
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