Just a short 45-minute train ride from Venice, you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage city of Vicenza – an ancient Roman metropolis with an elegant historic centre packed full of masterpieces by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Also boasting a plentiful array of chic designer boutiques, historic cafés, innovative gourmet restaurants and superb traditional trattorias, it makes a fantastic day-trip destination. Here are just a few of the city’s highlight attractions:
Basilica Palladiana: Situated in the heart of the city in Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza’s awe-inspiring town hall was designed by Palladio in the late 1540s – his first public commission, and the project that secured his reputation as one of Europe’s finest architects. Reopened a few years ago after a €20 million refurbishment, it now houses world-class exhibitions such as the current show “Van Gogh. Between Wheat and Sky” – Italy’s largest ever exhibition dedicated to the Dutch master, on view until 8th April 2018.
Teatro Olympico: Based on the layout of a Roman amphitheatre, the beautiful Teatro Olympico was Palladio’s last design – one of only three Renaissance theatres remaining in existence. After Palladio’s death it was finished by Vincenzo Scamozzi, who added a trompe-l’oeil stage set (the oldest in the world) modelled on the ancient Greek city of Thebes, built in steep perspective to give the illusion of streets receding into a distant horizon. Today the theatre still hosts occasional opera, classical and jazz performances; check the website for upcoming events.
Chiesa di Santa Corona: Constructed by Dominican monks to house a thorn from Christ’s crown donated to the bishop of Vicenza by Louis IX of France, this soaring Romanesque church houses a number of exquisite works of art, including Paolo Veronese’s Adoration of the Magi and Giovanni Bellini’s radiant Baptism of Christ. In the crypt you’ll find Palladio’s serene Cappella Valmarana, and upstairs in the chancel, be sure to seek out the extraordinary seventeenth century pietra dura altarpiece depicting the Passion, inlaid with hundreds of precious stones.
Villa La Rotonda: Commissioned in 1566 by ex-Vatican priest Paolo Almerico on his retirement from Rome, this imposing Renaissance villa has often been described as the most influential building in the world, having inspired thousands of subsequent buildings, from London’s Chiswick House to the White House in Washington. Almerico chose a hill-top site “surrounded by other most pleasant hills, which present the appearance of a theatre”; it can easily be reached from the city centre via a quick taxi ride, or bus no. 8 from in front of the railway station.
Villa Valmarana “Ai Nani”: From La Rotonda, take the charming country footpath that leads about 500 metres to the neoclassical Villa Valmarana “Ai Nani”, nicknamed after the stone dwarves that line the garden wall. Still owned by the family for which it was originally built, the villa’s main attraction is the glorious cycle of frescoes produced in 1757 by father and son team Gianbattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo. In the main house, you’ll find Gianbattista’s virtuoso depictions of heroic mythological epics, whereas in the Foresteria (guest house), you’ll discover Giandomenico’s lively paintings based on rural, carnival and Chinese themes. Before heading back to the city centre, be sure to treat yourself to a pick-me-up at the villa’s lovely café, with a picturesque terrace overlooking the surrounding hills.