One cupped in the rich green blanket of the Colli Euganei, one a rare town of houses that ‘talk’, and one a village of mills on the Mincio river, these are three charming villages in the Veneto that are well worth escaping to for a day.
This precious borgo consists of a small cluster of houses gathered near an ancient ford crossing of the Mincio River, in the comune of Valeggio sul Mincio. On the border between water and land, it was a stopping place for pilgrims, travellers and merchants during the Medieval period, who could always find good food, a good glass of wine and a bed for the night. In fact documentation from around 1300 already records a tavern in the village. Borghetto is a kind of village-bridge between two regions, the Veneto and Lombardy, and the town and its residents have absorbed traditions from both sides of the border. To cope with the growing traffic crossing between regions, from the 18th century a network of ‘locande’ with stables developed, which still translates today into a surprising number of restaurants (40) for such a small town!
Borghetto and the Mincio formed a key crossing point and natural barrier between the Mantuan and Veronese territories. It was exploited over the centuries by various opposing armies: the Gonzaga, the Scaliger, the Visconti, and the Serenissima of Venice. The town and zone were also shaped by the Napoleonic battles, particularly those of the Risorgimento.
And yet the winding green ribbon of the Mincio and the gentle ancient mills of Borghetto inspire endless idyllic reveries, transporting the visitor into a timeless Arcadia. This is a place to wander at ease, enjoying a spritz overlooking the water with a view of the Scaligero castle before engaging in any tiring sightseeing.
The Visconteo Bridge – an extraordinary fortified dam built in 1393 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, 650m long and 25m wide.
The Scaligero Castle – Opposite the houses of Borghetto the castle dominates over the Mincio with towers and battlements. The oldest part is the Torre Tondo dating from the 12th century, while the rest the complex is 14th century. It has three drawbridges, one of which has been conserved.
Known as the ‘pearl of the Colli Euganei’, this rustic town exudes poetic mystique being as it was the retirement home of Petrarch, the 14th century humanist scholar and poet. The green shades of the hills that change colour many times a day, the warm burnt orange of the houses peeping out from a sea of green, and its serene spirit, meant Petrarch described his resting place as the ‘paese di vigilia’, a place for internal reflection and thought before the next life in paradise (vigilia meaning eve).
Now the village blooms with flowers, allowing for seductively scented evening walks up and down the cobbled streets. There are some charming bars, one overlooking the luscious green landscape called Enoteco di Arquà. The local speciality drink is called brodo di giuggiole, made from jujube berries, and can be sampled at the Enoteca Il Giuggiolo, which is rich with the bewitching scent of jasmine.
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta – just outside you can find Petrarch’s tomb made from red marble of Verona.
The House of Petrarch – designed by the scholar himself, from a little balcony above the door you can admire a calming vista of the hills. The house is decorated with 14th century frescos and is still home to his mummified cat. Here Petrarch died literally resting on his books. Information on prices and openings times can be found here.
Asolo has a mysterious draw, tranquil but perhaps a little sad. It was the retirement place of Freya Stark after exploring half the world, but also where the Venetian Malipiero composed, alone, music that no-one understood. It exudes an ancient harmony between nature and art, the horizons and the villas, the flowers and the fading frescoes. Giovanni Comisso lauded Asolo as an ‘ecstatic dream that one does not want to wake from’, while Manlio Brusatin considered it a ‘rare city of houses that speak’. Unsurprisingly the town also inspired poetry, and down Via Browning you can visit Casa Tabacchi where Browning wrote the poem ‘Asolando’.
Cathedral, Piazza Garibaldi – rebuilt in 1747 but preserving some Romanesque decoration on the facade. Inside you can find the Assumption, a masterpiece of Lorenzo Lotto from 1506.
Villa Freya – home of the Stark family.
Fort, Monte Ricco – leaving from Porta Colmarion, 276 steps lead the visitor to a 13th century fort at the top of Monte Ricco. From here you can enjoy a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape.