It's summer, y'all, and if you couldn't tell by the constant beads of sweat dripping off my forehead, you would know based on the ridiculous amounts of people flocking to Italy. Why folks travel during the hottest time of the year, where they have to crowd their sweaty bodies together in ridiculous queues, I'll never know (okay, I do, it's because of school schedules). But if you're fortunate enough to live in Italy like we are, you may have noticed an uptick in the amount of people asking to stay with you around this time of year, whether you've got that Italian villa or not.
Even for our most low-key guests, I get a bit of anxiety playing tour guide. I want everyone to love Vicenza, to feel like they got their money's worth for their travels, that they didn't come all the way to Italy for no reason, and to have the best time ever. And yes, I'm putting a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself, especially because I'm trying to cram two years worth of Italian experiences into someone's very short stay. But, that doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying!
But if you've had a few guests, your brain might just be fried. Between work and chores and figuring out what to eat every night and doing all the other errands that are expected of you, it's hard to also play travel agent, and sometimes you need a little refresher. Or, perhaps you've had your fair share of guests already, and if you have to do the same walk to St. Mark's Square and back in Venice in this ridiculous humidity, you will seriously lay down and die.
So, I'm here to help. After three summers and countless guests, we've been through the ringer on showing folks a good time, because we truly do love having visitors and exploring with them. And we've learned a few hot spots in our time here — favorite restaurants, favorite wineries, and now, favorite day trips. Now get to exploring! Whether you have guests or not, these trips are easy and low-key, and sure to provide many photo opportunities that will leave you de-stressed and your guests happy.
WHAT TO DO NEAR VICENZA:
- Stuff your face with stuffed pastas: If there's one thing you have to do in Italy, it's eat like there's no tomorrow. I tell every guest we have that they must have gelato every day that they're in Italy (Vaniglia is my local go-to). Sometimes I take this too close to heart and forget that I live here. I put together a round-up of my favorite Vicenza restaurants at various price points and locations that are sure to impress your guests and keep them fat and happy during their stay.
- Get your wino on: Unless your guests don't drink, you must take them to at least one winery while they're in town. You're in Italy after all, the place with the best wine on earth (giving you the side-eye, France). I've done plenty of very vigorous research (someone's gotta do it) into this topic and put together a list of my favorite wineries in the Veneto region — all within 45 minutes of Vicenza.
- Visit the fair city of Verona: After Venice, Verona is probably one of the biggest tourist destinations near Vicenza, though it's often overlooked by locals. It's a beautiful city, with fantastic restaurants, architecture, shopping, and plenty of things to do. During our visit, we took a stroll along the river, stopping at the ruins of Teatro Romano (Via Regaste Redentore 2, Verona), which are just 1€ to enter. They also have a Roman arena you can walk around, older than the famous Colosseum in Rome, that also hosts operas and concerts frequently (Arena di Verona, Piazza Bra 1, Verona). Our favorite site, though, was Castel San Pietro, which provides an absolutely stunning view of the city. Stop there at sunset and join the canoodling Italians, and you'll definitely feel the love in this city (there's even parking!). Juliet's famous balcony is also in Verona, complete with a statue where you have to touch her boob for good luck, but we have never been, hearing it's a bit of a tourist trap.
- Stop and smell the roses, and all the other flowers, too: Parco Giardino Sigurtà is a great way to spend the day if you want to get outside. The park, located about an hour away near Lake Garda, is gorgeous and a perfect place for kids — there's a petting zoo and a huge lawn for just rolling around. Take a tour of the park by golf cart, tiny train or rent a bike if you're wanting to get active, and stop at the many beautiful flower patches and ponds along the way. We brought a picnic lunch and had a wonderful time eating on the lawn, though they also sell their own food. Via Cavour 1, Valeggio Sul Mincio
- To market, to market: One of the best parts of Italian culture is the market — it's a weekly gathering in almost every town, no matter how small, where local vendors come to sell their wares. Whether it's a farmer's market or an antique market, it's a great thing for your guests to experience. Ask around locally to see if your town has a market, or go to some of my favorites! Downtown Vicenza has a regular market every Thursday, and also an antique market the third Sunday of every month (Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza). Camisano has a fantastic and giant farmer's market, and Piazzola sul Brenta holds a gigantic (seriously, it's so big) antique market the last Sunday of every month.
MORE THINGS TO DO NEAR VICENZA:
- Take the obligatory trip to Venice: It's fortunate that we live less than an hour away from one of the world's largest destination cities. It's unfortunate that almost every guest wants to visit and that magic can be sucked away after the third visit during peak tourist season. Take it easy on yourself and take the train, which will pop you out right in front of the Grand Canal. Do the mandatory gondola ride, but also maybe try something new, like taking the vaporetto to the technicolor island of Burano, or a visit to the "world's most beautiful bookstore," Libreria Acqua Alta, a hidden gem with bookstore cats, gondolas filled with magazines and a staircase of encyclopedias. To escape the crowds, take a walk through Cannaregio or the Jewish Ghetto and grab a bite to eat there, instead of the overpriced restaurants near the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark's.
- Get your Hemingway on in Bassano del Grappa: A must for history buffs, my husband is completely obsessed with Bassano del Grappa. It's a beautiful city, surrounded by the beginnings of the Italian Alps, and features fantastic northern Italian cuisine and plenty of WWI history. Stop by its famous and important bridge to see actual damage done during WWI, and afterwards, visit the Poli Museo del Grappa, or grappa museum, for free, and learn all about the town's namesake liquor. This stiff drink (we call it Italian moonshine) may be an acquired taste, but we take it in our coffee (also known as a caffè corretto), from time to time. There's also a WWI museum, with an exhibit on famous writer Ernest Hemingway, who spent his time in the city as an ambulance driver during the war.
- Make a visit to cheese mountain: Asiago, or cheese mountain, as it's called in our household, is home to my absolute favorite Italian cheese. Mild and soft, it's perfect for grilled cheese or just for stuffing your face. Asiago is a tiny mountain town that's fun to visit for a day trip, and not just to grab some cheese. History buffs will want to visit the impressive WWI memorial, and children (and, okay, some adults), are big fans of the Gnome Village (Villagio degli Gnomi, Via Poslen 40, Asiago). We had an amazing meal on top of the mountain at Rifugio Kübelek (Via Monte Zovetto 3, Cesuna di Roana), where they basically only served grilled meat and literal grilled cheese. Before you leave, stop by the cheese factory Caseificio Pennar (Via Mörar, 1, Asiago), to sample and load up on excessive amounts of cheese. I haven't figured out how to get an English tour of Caseificio Pennar, so if you've been successful, please report in the comments!
- Spend a day at the lake at Lago di Garda: A hot spot for Dutch and German tourists, Lake Garda (which I've written about before here) is a great alternative to the beaches of Venice and provides beautiful sights of the Dolomites. Stop into the city of Sirmione to visit their sunken castle, and take a walk around the walled city with a humongous cone of gelato. Another favorite city is Riva del Garda, where a river feeds right into the lake and the mountains part, giving you gorgeous views while you lay on their pebble beaches and try to brave the ridiculously cold water. There is plenty to do around Garda, including renting a boat, kayaking and wind surfing, and there's also the amusement park Gardaland, which is fun for adults and kids alike. On your way home, if you're not too tired, stop by one of the many wineries in the Valpolicella wine region, home to my favorite wine, and stock up on some fantastic bottles of valpolicella and amarone.
EVEN MORE THINGS TO DO NEAR VICENZA:
- Cherries and chess in Marostica: Known for their human chess match in September and their golf ball-sized cherries in the spring, Marostica is a fun city to visit any time of the year. Have a drink in their huge, walled square, and afterwards, take a drive or a hike up to the castle and poke around.
- Go cliff diving at Pria Park: This watering hole up in the mountains is a popular spot for scuba divers and cliff jumpers, but is perfect for anyone wanting to soak up some nature. About 45 minutes away, Contra Pria attracts crowds during the summer weekends for its crystal clear, but impossibly cold, water. SS350, 14, 36011 Arsiero
- Wine & climb in Soave: This small town just a few Autostrada exits away is my favorite local city to visit. First off, it's beautiful, but there is also a ton to do there. Soave, known for their light white wine, Soave Classico, hosts many of my favorite wineries (which, again, are listed here), but they've also got the fantastic olive oil mill, Bonamini (via Santa Giustina 9, Illasi), which is perfect for souvenir shopping. You can arrange a tour in English or even a cooking class ahead of time with the olive oil producers, or just stop into their shop and load up (their soap scrub, pesto and peperoncino oil are my must-haves). You can also take a visit to Soave castle, either by driving up to the entrance or by hiking, and it's most beautiful in September, during the wine harvest, when they hang the local white wine grapes to dry out, which will later become the dessert wine, recioto.
- Shop for fine leather goods at local purse factories: Italians are known for many things, and most of them are food. But they're also known for beautiful leather goods, and if your guests are looking for a souvenir, look no further than some of the local factory stores that make beautiful bags. Del Conte is a very popular option, which will make custom-made bags and even give a tour in English if arranged ahead of time. They've got a store downtown, or visit their factory at Via Cartiera 157, Dueville. Nicoli is another favorite, known for their sales (Via Piave 18, Dueville).
- Go crazy on ceramics in Nove: If your guests like to shop, Nove is the place to be. The town is known for their ceramic factories, and you can find many ceramics that are made for pricey stores, such as Tiffany & Co., Anthropologie, Williams-Sonoma and more for dirt cheap. Favorites includes VBC (Via Molini 45, Nove), Elios (Via Rivarotta, 18, Bassano del Grappa), and Larry's (Via Martini 50, Nove). Check their hours before you go, as many close for lunch and early on weekends.
Photos and text © Katie Currid, 2016. All rights reserved.