The Venetian Terraferma
September 2023
More photos here


I was prompted to book this guided tour for a pretty prosaic reason. Having just bought a new camera I had the rechargeable batteries for my previous camera going spare. Having established that David (of David and Jenny, old art trip chums) would be happy to inherit them. Warned by the stickers that now are fixed to gadgets with Lithium batteries, I looked into posting them, but found out that they can't be posted loose, as it were, due to danger of combustion. So there was nothing for it but to book myself onto the next tour they were on. Also Vicenza has long been on my bucket list (if  a little low down), I fancy a revisit of the Scrovegni Chapel, and I know nothing of the Prealps and Asolo. Also Padua was the city of my first ever art-history trip, exactly 10 years ago.

Patrizia, the tour manager, is an old pal from previous Art Pursuits trips who I've not seen in ages; Marie-Louise Lillywhite is not an art historian I've been with before, but her specialisation is 16th/17th-century Venetian art so my hopes are high.

Tuesday 12th
My journey to Gatwick, easyJet to Venice Marco Polo and coach ride to Vicenza were all trouble free, and so totally lacking in narrative interest. My room at the Hotel Campo Mario was large, pale, free of jarring art, and has only two cushions. Perfect! Not sure about the disco lights over the bath, which change colour slowly.

Our first group dinner was at the Ristorante Tiratardi Contrà and my veggie menu started with a mozzarella and tomato salad, then there was aubergine ravioli, then aubergine parmigiana, finished off with a tiramisu. No novelty there, unlike some recent surprises on trips, but it was fresh and tasty.

Wednesday 13th
A civilised 9.00 start to a day full of local visits. The breakfast having been fine and fresh and efficient but unsurprising.

First to the church of Santa Corona where, as it started to rain, we learned that the church had just transitioned to winter open times. So Palladio's famous Teatro Olimpico moved up our list and, having seen it lots of times on telly, it was a treat to see it for real and move around to see the stage from different perspectives and  get a more 360 degree view. Then, as we were about to leave, we were further treated to a very effective light show. Coffee and pastries next, followed by a return to Santa Corona. I was happy to finally see Giovanni Bellini's Baptism of Christ, but I didn't love it like my Venetian faves of his, I confess. Lunch was independent and a good mozzarella, tomato and salad panino, followed by a walk back to the hotel, grabbing a coconut and lemon gelato (no. 1!) on the way.

Then taxis took us up to Palladio's even more famous Villa Rotunda, for a private visit, taking in the interior too. Another rare treat. Back in Vicenza we admired the outsides of the Basilica Palladiana and the Palazzo del Capitanio. And having got a bit Palladioed out, we were taken to admire the very Venetian gothic Casa Pigafetta's façade and then had a look inside the Duomo with it's odd apse. A few of us took to a bar for a beer after that, before returning to the hotel for a bit of a sit down. In the evening Patrizia took a small band to a small restaurant, which was fine.

Thursday 14th
A less civilised start time of 8.30 to be coached to the Prealps. Firstly to Possagno, the birthplace of Antonio Canova. The Gypsotheca Antonio Canova Museum has an impressive collection of the man's preliminary plaster models, in a large old churchy space, and another nice newer gallery space designed by Carlo Scarpa. After a coffee break we trudged up to the Tempio Canoviano, a large pseudo-Pantheon built by Canova after he was refused burial in the actual Pantheon in Rome. It's big (see interior photo right). It was here that a tall man from a party of three Germans began, and continued, to badger Marie-Louise with questions, seemingly hoping for a free guided tour, and then loitering near our group.

Then back on the coach and off to Asolo a lovely hill town which I'd barely heard of, but which is famous for past residents from Caterina Cornaro to Eleanora Duse. Lunch was the nicest meal so far, at the Ristorante Due Mori. Afterwards we made for the Asolo Duomo, which has a good and odd Lorenzo Lotto altarpiece. But not as odd as Giorgione's Castelfranco Altarpiece, in the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta e San Liberale in Castelfranco, where we went next, on the coach. This was a bucket-list painting of mine, great to get to see at last. We got access to the choir to see a once-controversial Harrowing of Hell by Ponchini (Eve had been shown naked) and the sacristy which had some odd, but good, random acquisitions as sacristies often do. These included frescoes by Veronese painted for a nearby villa which was demolished in 1817, when most of the rest of the salvaged fragments were sold and are now missing.

Tonight, weirdly, we had the meet and greet we hadn't had on Tuesday, with prosecco and nibbles. As we'd had a good lunch, and I'd bought a slice of cake in Asolo, I decided to retire early to my room, for tea and cake and the latest episode of Ahsoka on Disney+ on my tablet.

Friday 15th
A medium-civilised start today, at 8.45, with a coach to Verona. After two days of revelations Verona, where I'd spent a few days in April, was a familiar and comfy prospect, but with Marie-Louise providing a fresh perspective, methinks.

We began at San Giorgio in Braida, for the Paolo Veronese high altarpiece, which we were allowed behind the altar to see properly. This access, and some good discussion, warmed me to the painting, I confess. But I still prefer the Girolamo dai Libri altarpiece in here. Then back on the coach to San Zeno, with a coffee (well, hot chocolate) break before. San Zeno is always a treat made even more by being allowed up close to the Mantegna high altarpiece, which is rarely the case.

We had a group lunch booked at Al Calmiere in the piazza in front of San Zeno, so ate within sight of the lovely façade. A post-lunch walk, taking in the Arena, Piazza delle Erbe, and the Palazza dei Signori took us through the crowds to Sant'Anastasia, always a joy, and the Duomo, where a RAI TV crew were setting up for a broadcast of a mass being given by the Bishop.

In the evening David and Jenny took me to Oca Bianca da Ugo, a gently bohemian place they'd found earlier in the week, where I had falafel and baba ganoush with a nutty topping, which made a real nice change, and a bottle of Belgian birra rossa.

Saturday 16th
Today Padua, beginning at the Eremitani church to look at the chapel full of Mantegna frescoes almost destroyed by allied bombing in WWII. The presbytery has frescoes by personal fave Guariento too. Then to the Scrovegni Chapel, for 15 minutes in the airlock, watching a video, and two 15–minute bookings to soak up Giotto's fab frescos. Next a walk through town to the Baptistry with more fab frescoes, this time by Giusto de’Menabuoi.

A independent lunch of padine and a beer was taken, along with a (fior di latte and amarena) gelato upon arrival in front of the Santo. Our visit there began with pre-booked special access to the high altar to admire Donatello's bronze statues and panels. We also took in Altichiero's Chapel of San Giacomo, the OTT baroque reliquary chapel and the marble fest of St Anthony's chapel.

Then just out of the door of Santo to visit the Scuola di Sant’Antonio, with it's few fine early frescoes by Titian, and more that aren't; and next door to the Oratorio di San Giorgio, for the special frescoes by Altichiero, now most excellently lit.

Sunday 17th
Last night I'd changed the alarm time on my phone, for a later start, but had neglected to turn it on. Luckily I was awakened at 8.00 by a brass band, muffled through the double-glazing.  It turned out to be a gathering and procession devoted to a blood transfusion charity. The band's signature tune seemed to be Evil Ways by Santana, which was a surprise,  but seems to be something of a marching band staple.

After checking out a coach took us to the Villa Valmarana ai Nani, just outside Vicenza, to look at the pale and fluffy frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo in the villa, and the more vivid ones by Domenico, the son, in the foresteria (guest wing) which I much preferred. A phenomenon which Marie-Louise brought to our attention was how every northern Italian villa seems to have a photo of the Queen Mother visiting, usually on the piano. Here we found three.

Lunch was taken at the Villa’s restaurant, under a handsome loggia. The veggie option was a rice and veggies/beans thing, with some salad, followed by a slice of lemon curd torta di nonna and coffee. The Valmerana family still live here, in the foresteria, and the current countess came by to make sure we were happily fed. The family were also responsible for the building of the Villa Rotunda, were patrons of the church of Santa Corona, visited on Wednesday, and had three palazzi on the Grand Canal in Venice. We then coached back to the hotel to slob in their lobby, or go shopping, before the coach came back to take us to Marco Polo airport.

Due to the easyJet flight to Gatwick being posted as delayed an hour a couple of us headed up the escalator to eat something in the crowded food-court area. I can't really recommend the experience, due to the lack of comfort and the prepare-to-order pasta and sauce was, not for the first time, stone cold. Our flight had been supposed to depart around eight and arrive at Gatwick at ten past nine, but we weren't waiting at the Gatwick baggage carousel and saying goodbye until eleven, and I got home barely before one, soaked to the skin after a walk from Balham station as the Northern Line had ceased and a biblical thunderstorm had started. My clothes got wet in my suitcase and twenty-four hours later my shoes are still wet through.







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