Destination: the Castles of Romeo and Juliet at Montecchio Maggiore (exit of the A4 "Serenissima" motorway or SS 11 from Vicenza), standing on top of the hill, one in front of the other, almost carrying on a conversation. From the balcony of his house at Montorso their sight inspired Luigi da Porto to write the splendid story of love and death which was adapted for the stage and rendered immortal by Shakespeare who took the plot of his most famous tragedy from the tale composed by the nobleman from Vicenza. It is best to leave the car at the Castello della Villa, known as Romeo's castle and to walk the rest of the way to the Castello di Bellaguardia, or Juliet's castle; it is a gentle climb through vineyards and magnificent views of the Vicenza countryside and the Berici Hills, amid rural scenes of rare beauty. In the castle everything recreates the places and the most suitable atmosphere for incurable romantics: from the balcony where "Juliet called her Romeo" to the Ristorante d'Amore housed in a wing of the inner courtyard. Once restoration work is finished, Romeo's Castle will also house a Museum devoted to the memories of the famous lovers and of which we can affably say, contradicting what Shakespeare wrote of Romeo and Juliet, that a little piece of their world is also "outside the walls of Verona".
Quite another fate was that of the beautiful Lionora, the only daughter of master Taddeo Parisio, the governor of Marostica (from Vicenza take the SS 248 for Bassano) with whom Rinaldo d'Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara had fallen in love at the same time. So to avoid a duel between the two and 3in sad memory of the unhappy lovers Madame Juliet Capuleti and Master Romeo Montecchio", Master Parisio ordered that the challenge between the two suitors 3"be carried out with the noble game of Chess" played on September 12 1454 in the Campo Grande of the Castle with "large living pieces"; the winner would have the hand of Lionora. Vieri checked Rinaldo and won the hand of the fair Lionora on the field, for her heart was his already; Rinaldo found "consolation" with Oldrada, Master Parisio's dark- haired sister. The procession, the game of chess, the wedding, the feast in the castle and the firework display of that historic day are revived on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday in September of the even years in the unique setting of Piazza Castello. The mediaeval charm of Marostica, a walled town, is to be found intact in the Lower Castle, in the old cobbled streets that climb up from the centre to the Pausolino hill, in the Upper Castle with its famous "Taverna de Marostega" and its panoramic view over the plain of the Veneto and the Asiago Plateau. Right next to Piazza Castello is the extraordinary "conversation of three churches", the most remarkable religious corner in the town with the Scoletta del SS. Sacramento (1486) on the left, the Church of the Carmini (1618) in the centre and the Church of Sant'Antonio Abate (1383) on the right.
I, you ... and the cinema or an "exceptional" love between foreign lovers and enemies, filmed with the precious art of Luchino Visconti in the magic setting of Villa Godi- Malinverni at Lonedo di Lugo di Vicenza (from Vicenza take the SS 64 for Thiene). Its rooms, garden, farmyard and especially the barn are the background for the voluptuous love affair between the countess Livia Serpieri - Alida Valli - and the Austrian lieutenant Franz Mahler - Farley Granger, a dazzling "Adonis in a white uniform" in the film "Senso" (1954). The splendid frescoes by Zelotti, Battista del Moro and Gualtiero Padovano are the frame for Livia's colourless passion or divide Franz's presence during his furtive visit to his lover. The villa, Palladio's first work, houses the rich Malinverni collection with pictures by the major Italian paintings of the nineteenth century: Hayez, Segantini, Favretto, Bianchi, Cremona, the macchiaioli Lega, Fattori, Signorini and the famous painting by Pietro Annigoni: the Witch. In an external pavilion is the Fossil Museum with an extraordinary collection of plants and fish from the Oligocene period (about 30 million years ago). The villa also has a park with centuries-old trees and an Italian style garden; the restored mews and stables house the Taverna Torchio Antico restaurant.
"Barefoot in the park", to borrow the title of another
famous film with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, is an
expression that is very well suited to the other jewel of
the Lonedo hillside: Villa Piovene-Porto-Godi, designed by
A. Palladio (1553) and completed by A. Muttoni (1672).
it may be reached on foot after a short climb between two farmhouses (the first houses Paolo Turra's farm-tourism centre); the road gives way to a pebble-strewn path running between ivy-covered walls; in the background is a superb maritime pine and the peaks of the Asiago Plateau. An elegant wrought-iron gate in the boundary wall allows us to glimpse the charm of the splendid Italian garden, the gushing waters of a fountain, the tree-lined terraces and the statues. After ringing the keeper's bell we may continue our walk in the Park (open all year in the afternoon) designed by A. Piovene at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a national monument, rich in centuries- old plants. After the fifteenth-century chapel, a tree- lined avenue leads to the innermost secret part of the park; here and there we find delightful stone belvederes where it is not difficult to imagine aristocratic young ladies in subdued romantic conversation whispered amid the rustling of the leaves.
Natural caves of various dimensions are to be found in the rocky walls. But the most secret and magic corner is the one, in the shade of a cypress, we can find a line of stones including the one remembered by Guido Piovene with these words: in our Lonedo, where I feel myself go back in time even far before my birth".
The Sunday after Easter, the Park is the site of the popular feast-day known as "Ottava di Pasqua ai Cogoli".
I, you ... and violets, and we go back to Vicenza for the final stage of our itinerary: the classic walk from the spianata del Cristo or esplanade of the Cross (half-way up the Monte Berico steps) to the Villa dei Nani along the quiet and romantic Stradella S. Bastian. This starts off as a narrow path between tall old walls, then gradually broadens until it is lined by the little statues of the dwarfs on the boundary wall of Villa Valmarana. These are the places of the legend of Layana, the dwarf princess, a delicate heart-breaking love story that became the inspiration of a popular feast: the dwarf fair. On the last Sunday in February or the first in Mach, betrothed couples were invited to the hill to celebrate their love and the new season. The propitiatory search for the first violet, the sign that winter is past, is the origin of Vicenza's own proverb: San Bastian da la viola in man, St. Bastian with a violet in his hand.
Villa Valmarana comprises the Palazzina (A. Mussoni,
1699) with frescoes by G.B. Tiepolo and the entrance,
mews and foresteria or guests' quarters (F.
Muttoni). The latter, restored by the architect Carlo
Scarpa and looking onto Fogazzaro's Valletta del Silenzio
is made up of seven rooms frescoed by G.D. Tiepolo (for
more detailed information see the itinerary: "The Tiepolos
and the 18th century in Vicenza").
After the visit to the villa, the charming Stradella
Valmarana leads us to the Rotonda, Palladio's
masterpiece and a regal conclusion to our trip for two.