Frommer's EasyGuide to Rome, Florence and Venice (2015)
DAY TRIPS FROM VENICE
If you only have 3 days or so, you will probably want to spend them in the center of Venice. However, if you are here for a week—or on your second visit to the city—head over to the mainland to see some of the old towns that lie within the historic Veneto region.
40km (25 miles) W of Venice
Tucked away within the ancient heart of Padua lies one of the greatest artistic treasures in all Italy, the precious Giotto frescoes of the Cappella degli Scrovegni. While the city itself is not especially attractive (it was largely rebuilt after bombing during World War II), don’t be put off by the urban sprawl that now surrounds it; central Padua is refreshingly bereft of tourist crowds, a workaday Veneto town with a large student population and a small but intriguing ensemble of historic sights.
Like much of the region, Padua prospered in the Middle Ages, and Italy’s second oldest university was founded here in 1222. Its fortunes grew further when St. Antony of Padua died in the city in 1231, making it a place of pilgrimage ever since. In the 14th century, the Da Carrara family presided over the city’s golden age, but in 1405 Padua was conquered and absorbed by Venice, losing its independence. With the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, the city was ruled by Napoleon and then became part of the Austrian Empire in 1814. Finally annexed to Italy in 1866, the city boomed again after World War II, becoming the industrial dynamo of northeast Italy.
The most efficient way to reach Padua is to take the train from the Santa Lucia station. Trains depart every 10 to 20 minutes, and take 25 to 50 minutes depending on the class (tickets range from 3.60€-15€ one-way). The main station in Padua is a short walk north up Corso del Popolo from the Cappella degli Scrovegni and the old city.
The tourist office at the train station is usually open Monday to Saturday 9am to 7pm, and Sunday 9:15am to 12:30pm (www.turismopadova.it; 049-8752027), while the office in the old city at Piazetta Pedrocchi ( 049-8767927) is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1:30pm and 3 to 7pm.
The one unmissable sight in Padua is the Cappella degli Scrovegni (www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it; 049-2010020; daily 9am-7pm) at Piazza Eremitani, an outwardly unassuming chapel commissioned in 1303 by Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy banker, but with an interior smothered by an astonishing cycle of frescoes completed by Florentine genius Giotto 2 years later. The frescoes depict the life of the Virgin Mary and the life of Jesus, culminating with the Ascension and Last Judgment. Seeing Giotto’s powerful work in the flesh is spine-tingling; this is where he makes the decisive break with Byzantine art, taking the first important steps toward the realism and humanism that would characterize the Renaissance in Italy.
Entrance to the chapel is limited, involving groups of 25 visitors spending 15 minutes in a climate-controlled airlock, used to stabilize the temperature, before going inside for another 15 minutes. To visit the chapel you must make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance. You must then arrive 45 minutes before the time on your ticket. Tickets cost 13€ (6€ for kids ages 6-17 and students under 27).
If you have time, try and take in Padua’s other historic highlights. The vast Palazzo della Ragione on Piazza del Erbe (Tues-Sun Feb-Oct 9am-7pm, Nov-Jan 9am-6pm; 4€) is an architectural marvel, completed in 1219, and decorated by frescoes completed by Nicola Miretto in the 15th century. Pay a visit also to the Basilica di Sant’Antonio (www.basilicadelsanto.org; 049-8225652; daily Apr-Sept 6:20am-7pm, Oct-Mar 6:20am-7:45pm; free admission) on the Piazza del Santo, the stately resting place of St. Anthony of Padua, the Portuguese Franciscan best known as the patron saint of finding things or lost people. The exterior is a bizarre mix of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic styles (largely completed in the 14th c.), while the interior is richly adorned with statuary and murals. Don’t miss Donatello’s stupendous equestrian statue of the Venetian condottiere Gattamelata (Erasmo da Narni) in the piazza outside, raised in 1453 and the first large bronze sculpture of the Renaissance.
Where to Dine
Padua offers plenty of places to eat, and you’ll especially appreciate the overall drop in prices compared to Venice. It’s hard to match the location of Bar Nazionale , Piazza del Erbe 40 (Mon-Sat 9am-11:30pm), on the steps leading up to Palazzo della Ragione, though it’s best for drinks and snacks (excellent tramezzini) rather than a full meal. For that, make for Osteria dei Fabbri , Via dei Fabbri 13, just off Piazza del Erbe (www.osteriadeifabbri.it; 049-650336), open Monday to Saturday noon to 3pm and 7 to 11pm, which cooks up cheap, tasty pasta dishes for under 10€.
115km (71 miles) W of Venice
The affluent city of Verona, with its gorgeous red and peach-colored medieval buildings and Roman ruins, is one of Italy’s major tourist draws, though its appeal owes more to William Shakespeare than real history. He immortalized the city in his (totally fictional) “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and partly, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Though it does attract its fair share of tourism, Verona is not Venice; this is a booming trading center, with vibrant science and technology sectors.
Verona emerged as a city-state in the 12th century, ruled primarily by the bloodthirsty (and, in Renaissance tradition, art-loving) Scaligeri family, until 1387. After a brief period of Milanese rule, Verona fell under the control of Venice in 1405. Like the rest of the region, the city fell to Napoleon in 1797, then Austria, becoming part of Italy in 1866.
As with Padua, the best way to each Verona from Venice is by train. Direct services depart every 30 minutes and take 1 hour 10 minutes to 2 hours 20 minutes depending on the type of train you catch (tickets range from 7.60€-23€ one-way). From Verona station (Verona Porta Nuova), it’s a 15-minute walk to the old center and the Roman Arena in Piazza Bra.
The tourist office is off Piazza Bra at Via Degli Alpini 9 (www.tourism.verona.it; 045-8068680; Mon-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 10am-4pm), and can supply maps, hotel reservations, discount cards, and guided tour information.
“Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona.” So go the immortal opening lines of “Romeo and Juliet,” ensuring that the city has been a target for love-sick romantics ever since. Though Verona is crammed with genuine historic goodies, one of the most popular sites is the ersatz Casa di Giulietta, Via Cappello 23 (Mon 1:30-7:30pm, Tues-Sun 8:30am-7:30pm; adults 6€; 4.50€ seniors over 60 and students ages 14-30), a 14th-century house (with balcony, naturally), claiming to be the Capulets’ home. In the courtyard, the chest of a bronze statue of Juliet has been polished right down thanks to a legend claiming that stroking her right breast brings good fortune. Juliet’s Wall, at the entrance, is quite a spectacle, covered with the scribbles of star-crossed lovers; love letters placed here are taken down and, along with 5,000 letters annually, are answered by the Club di Giulietta (a group of locally based volunteers). There’s not much to see inside the house.
Once you’ve made the obligatory Juliet pilgrimage, focus on some really amazing historic ruins: the Roman Arena (Mon 1:30-7:30pm, Tues-Sun 9am-7:30pm; 6€), in the spacious Piazza Bra, completed in the 1st century, is the third largest in Italy after Rome’s Colosseum and the arena at Capua—it could seat some 25,000 spectators and today it remains a celebrated venue for large-scale opera performances (www.arena.it). To the northwest on Piazza San Zeno, the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore (Mar-Oct Mon-Sat 8:30am-6pm, Sun 12:30-6pm; Nov-Feb Mon-Sat 10am-1pm and 1:30-5pm, Sun 12:30-5pm; 3€) is the greatest Romanesque church in northern Italy. The present structure was completed around 1135, over the 4th-century shrine to Verona’s patron saint, St. Zeno (who died 380). Its massive rose window represents the Wheel of Fortune, while the impressive lintels above the portal represent the months of the year. The highlight of the interior is “Madonna and Saints” above the altar, by Mantegna.
Where to Dine
Even in chic Verona, you’ll spend less on a meal than in Venice. The most authentic budget Verona restaurant is Osteria Sottoriva, Via Sottoriva 9 ( 045-8014323; Thurs-Tues 10:30am-10:30pm), one of the most popular places in town for lunch or dinner; try the trippa alla parmigiana (braised tripe) or the addictive, hopelessly rich gorgonzola melted over polenta (main courses 6€-10€). The Caffè Monte Baldo, Via Rosa 12 ( 045-8030579), is an old-fashioned cafe transformed into trendy osteria, serving classic pastas, and scrumptious crostini with wine in the evenings (many bottles from nearby vineyards).