9 Top-Rated Day Trips from Venice
Few foreign tourists go beyond Venice into the part of the Veneto region known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, nor do they explore the Palladian villas and walled towns that lie to the northwest. But all these attractions weave closely into the story of Venice. Along the Adriatic coast to the east, you'll find the city's roots in the magnificent remains of towns from which early Christians fled from barbarian hordes before founding Venice. And all around the city, St. Mark's winged lion and the graceful curved windows traced in delicate stonework will remind you that all these towns were once part of Venice's powerful empire, which they called La Serenissima - the most serene.
1 Aquileia Cathedral
St. Mark is thought to have spread Christianity to Roman Aquileia, one of the greatest and wealthiest cities of ancient Italy. Its basilica has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its major role in the evangelization of central Europe, as well as for its astonishing fourth-century mosaics. The star attraction of the ninth-century basilica is from the earlier one that Attila the Hun burned in AD 425. Discovered in 1909, the fourth-century floors are the largest Paleo-Christian mosaic floor known in Western Europe. But it's not just their sheer magnitude that will fascinate you: the bird and animal designs are so intricate and detailed that you can see the expressions on the faces of people and animals they depict.
As if this weren't enough reason to visit, below the sanctuary is a ninth-century crypt whose walls and ceiling are covered in Byzantine-style frescoes from the 12th century. Behind the church is a moving cemetery from World War I, beyond which is the excavated Roman harbor, the partially reconstructed Forum, and the Museo Paleocristiano with sculptures, mosaics, glass, and other Roman artifacts.
Location: Località Monastero, Aquileia
2 Villa Barbaro
Not far from Asolo, Villa Barbaro may well be the most perfect marriage of painting and architecture of any Italian villa. Andrea Palladio, who gave his name to an entire new style of architecture that is a reference point for builders even today, designed a number of country estates and summer palaces in the 16th century. For this one, however, he worked with the artist Veronese, and the lavish interior they created together showcases the genius of each. What appear to be architectural details are actually trompe l'oeil frescoes, creating sculpture, columns, balustrades, even windows, where none exist and adding a playful touch along with a sense of light and spaciousness. This is often called the zenith of artistic achievement in Veneto's villas. On the grounds are the Tempietto, Palladio's only church outside of Rome, and a carriage museum.
Address: Via Cornuda 7, Maser Treviso
The main attraction of this town at the beginning of the Dolomite foothills north of Venice, is the town itself, so charming that it's a favorite Sunday drive for locals. Like them, you'll enjoy just strolling through its arcaded streets to admire the frescoed walls and buildings that frame views of surrounding hillsides. Asolo was the home of Queen Caterina, the Venetian wife of the King of Cypress. At his death, she was given Asolo in exchange for Venetian control of the island. From the walls of her castle, Castello della Regina, are good views over the town, and at the top of the hill opposite is the fortress of Rocca di Asolo, from whose ramparts another set of views unfolds. In the elegant 15th-century Loggia della Ragione the Museo Civico has exhibits and mementoes of the queen and the poets and artists who have made Asolo famous.
4 Sant'Eufemia in Grado
In 568, when the barbarian hordes threatened the Romans in Aquileia, they relocated hastily to their beach resort of Grado, at the more easily defended tip of the peninsula. There they built the cathedral of Sant'Eufemia, which still retains a mosaic floor, a Romanesque pulpit, and beautiful Byzantine capitals. Be sure to see the adjoining fifth-century Baptistery and the little cloister, where there are more Romanesque stone carvings. You'll find more mosaic floors in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, from the same period. On the way to Grado's center, you'll pass the beach and the attractive fishing port.
The Friuli region stretches northeast from Venice through scenic vine-covered foothills into the Dolomite Alps. Scattered in this lovely countryside are small towns and villages that seem remote from the busy tourist centers, and where you can gain a feel for the Italian countryside and rural way of life. Don't miss beautiful Cividale del Friuli, hanging on the edge of a ravine of erosion-sculpted limestone cliffs and spanned by the graceful arched Devil's Bridge. Among its buildings from the Middle Ages, you'll find an eighth-century Longobard temple, a passageway leading to a Celtic burial chamber from the third century BC, and a masterful silver altarpiece in the cathedral. Farther north, the towns lie amid ever-taller craggy mountains. The area is perfect for a leisurely driving tour when you tire of crowded city streets.
6 Castelfranco and Cittadella
Whichever you see first, you may get a sense of déjà vu when you arrive at the second of these two neighboring towns. Each has intact defensive walls rising above a moat, and they date from the same era and the same rivalry between Treviso and Padua for control of the region. Castelfranco's were built by Treviso in 1199 to defend against Paduans, who responded by erecting similar fortifications encircling Citadella. The ramparts and 32 towers that once provided a good view of armies approaching Citadella today give tourists views of the surrounding farmlands and the moat below. You may notice that the four gates don't match the walls. There was so much local protest in the 1800s when officials began tearing down the walls that the destruction was stopped and the gates rebuilt, but in the then-popular Romantic style. Titian's masterpiece Madonna and Child hangs in the Duomo at Castelfranco.
7 Portogruaro and Concordia Sagittaria
One of several "little Venices" that you'll find in this region, Portogruaro sits along a river that's almost hidden by the row of 15th-century Venetian-style palazzi (palaces) along its main street. Behind the Duomo, whose tall leaning bell tower looks a lot like a miniature of St. Mark's Campanile, you can reach the river. Here, a lovely little group of buildings overhangs the water - a pair of old mills with large water wheels, an old fish market under a loggia, a Medieval building with a tiny votive chapel, and a footbridge across the river. On the other side is a little riverbank garden.
Just south of Portogruaro, Concordia Sagittaria was a thriving Roman city, and next to its Duomo, Roman and paleochristian buildings have been uncovered, including a porticoed burial chamber and mosaic floors. The signage is in English, and there is a map showing other Roman sites nearby, including a stone oven and Roman bridge. Statuary, capitals, mosaics, and bronzes found at these sites are in Portogruaro's Museo Nazionale Concordiese.
Near the southern end of the Venice lagoon, the lively island town of Chioggia is an active fishing port, and colorful boats are usually lined up in the Vena canal, which runs through the center of town. While the picturesque canal and bridges are reminiscent of Venice, Chioggia is a much different place, more relaxed and without many tourists. Its main street, Corso del Popolo, is lined with sidewalk cafés and restaurants specializing in the impeccably fresh seafood you'd expect in a fishing town.
Look inside Chiesa di San Domenico, on its own little island where Chioggia's primary art treasure, Carpaccio's St. Paul, is believed to be his last painting. You'll also find works here by Tintoretto and Bassano. Chiesa di San Giacomo Apostolo is especially interesting for its collection of ex-votos, offerings in gratitude for prayers answered. Most record the scene in naïve paintings on wood, which often show a storm at sea (you can see an excellent collection of these in Venice's Maritime Museum, too). Chioggia's grandiose Duomo was designed by Baldassare Longhena, architect of Santa Maria Salute in Venice, and is filled with elaborate decoration. Over the marble pulpit is an ornate gold canopy, and the altar is inlaid in designs of colored marble.
9 Villa Emo
At Villa Emo, Palladio created a spacious, spreading design that seamlessly incorporates both the large working farm and a sumptuous residence. When Venetian nobleman Leonardo Emo acquired the vast lands of this estate, he set about reclaiming it to agriculture - crops, livestock, grains, and silk production. Not only did he believe in modern agricultural methods, he believed in highly organized and hands-on farm management. He introduced corn (maize) to the region (you might call him the father of Italian polenta) and built canals to assure a steady source of water. His grandson, also named Leonardo, continued his work and commissioned the villa. Palladio's design for the villa included all the estate's work, with a wing devoted to farm offices, a granary, and workspace. In the family's residential wing, frescoes by Zelotti show scenes from mythology and agricultural themes. A museum of farm tools and local crafts is on the grounds.
Address: Via Stazione 5, Fanzolo di Vedelago