Castelfranco - A fortified Town With Great Charm And Prized Masterpiece

Castlefranco is a fortified town to the west of Treviso (Venice’s “other” airport) and east of Verona and Vincenza.  A quick stroll through the town’s cobbled streets will take you to the cathedral that houses the famous altarpiece by the native renaissance painter, Giorgione.  Restored and protected, this beautiful depiction of the Madonna & child, with saintly accompaniment is both vibrant and worthy of awe.  In the background of this masterpiece, one could see the local rural landscape and this was enough to remind me that I was in the home of Prosecco, the local ‘spumante’ (sparkling wine).

After four hours of planes, trains and automobiles, the mouth, inevitably feels a little dry and wanton.  Without further ado Ricardo and I trotted swiftly to the adjacent bar and ordered two glasses of Prosecco “Primo Franco”.  As the bubbles fizzed around my glass, I put my nose in and noted aromas of roses and white peaches.  The colour was a light yellow straw.  We chinked glasses and, thanking Giorgione for a warm welcome, indulged further.  This Prosecco was lovely.  Smooth with a fresh sweetness that persevered long in the mouth.  Within minutes we ordered another! That evening we had more Prosecco and enjoyed a pizza at La Cantena, a small rural restaurant.  Later on another local bar was listing a Giwerstraminer from slightly further north.  It was a lovely crisp wine, filling the mouth with the taste of lychees.  

Bassano del Grappa

The next day we visited the town of Bassano Del Grappa that lies in the foothills of the Alps directly beneath the Grappa Mountain.  Obviously this is the home of Grappa and, although I am not a huge fan of the famous ‘digestive’, I was tending to take it with my espresso.  This beautiful town has tight networks of streets with grand villa’s and grand views.  We made our way to the central piazza and looked around the market. The temperature at this time of year tends to be around the plus or minus four degrees mark and thick real fur is the definitely the ladies winter apparel of choice.  Bassano also is home to the famous and much rebuilt 13th century wooden bridge, Ponte Coperto.  We ambled around for sometime, drank coffee and observed that this really is the ideal place to meander slowly and take in the local calm bustle of relaxed living.

Verona - The Tomb of Juliet

On the last day we paid a visit to Verona.  Famous for it’s architecture, opera and above all, the setting of the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Ricardo knew a restaurant in the main piazza opposite the 1st century Roman amphitheatre.  Again it was very cool but with such clear skies, the city was sparkling.  We walked from the train station up towards the central piazza and stopped there for an aperitif of Martini Rosso before lunch.

Trattoria Giovanni Rana (Verona)

We headed next door to Trattoria Giovanni Rana.  This wood panelled restaurant offered a calm respite from the rigours of sightseeing. We ordered another Martini Rosso to keep things moving whilst we perused the menu.  Looking around there were a great many tributes to the restaurants owner, Giovanni Rana.  These included photos of him with Luciano Pavarotti, at the feet of an elderly Pope John Paul II and other familiar faces.  I think the picture I liked the most was a huge smiling painted portrait of Giovanni smiling back us with his hands inside a giant bowl of pasta.   Ricardo ordered a starter of langoustine and Gnocci, followed by a fillet of sole, scallops and scampi with zucchini.  I ordered ribboned macaroni with shredded duck to start followed by a fillet of steak in Bernese sauce for my main course.  To drink we had a 2001 vintage, Riccolo Grassi, Valpollicella Classico Superiore.   The food tasted superb and, with the wine, put some of the colour back my cheeks.  The wine was very good and tasted of rich cherry and summer fruits and just enough tannin to cut through each dish. Ricardo also stated how the wine complimented his seafood courses very well.  At €33 for the bottle we were very impressed.  This said, I found that the Veneto region as a whole offered very good value for money.

With lunch over and our spirits once more elated, we took to the streets and with what limited time we had paid tribute at the “Tomba di Giulietta”.   This stunning building also houses the fresco museum.  Sadly the nuns who once lived here and ran this building felt compelled to dispose of Juliet’s bones about five or six hundred years ago, due to concerns that she was attracting adulation that would normally be given to a saint. Therefore, her tomb lies empty in the cold and damp crypt.  Thousands have been here and scrawled their love messages to the long dead and long removed Juliet on the wall and the tomb itself.  

In a moment of post lunch speculation, I said to Ricardo that I had concluded that Romeo, of whom there is no reference anywhere, didn’t take the poison at all. Instead, whilst lamenting over Juliet’s body, he spotted his first love, ‘Rosaline’, who on recognition tore off her nuns clothing and the two eloped into the country to marry and live happily ever after on a diet of Prosecco and artichokes!

Finale in Castelfranco

That evening we were back in Castlefranco tasting the local pizza and drinking more Prosecco.  In one of the bars I happened upon a Riesling and Pinot Gris blended wine, ‘Incocio Manzoni’.  This local wine was inexpensive but was full of mineral flavours as well a crisp peachy taste that kept my mouth watering and longing for more.  And that, the latter part of the last sentence, could be used to describe my experience of the Veneto.

 

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Winemaker and owner Nicola D’Auria greeted us at the entrance of this fascinating cantina. The winery and cellars have been designed by Rocco valentini in the shape of a vertical barrel in order to immerse the tasters senses in wine.

 

East from Roma to Abruzzo

From Rome we headed east to Abruzzo, a region of Italy that rises up like a burly landlord to greet the traveller. The Apennine mountains at their tops are stark and beautiful, lonely, yet fulsome. Rustic doesn’t quite do this landscape justice. It’s a place for pilgrims, peace lovers and, of course, we followers of Bacchic and gastronomic pleasure.

 

After days of picking grapes in one of the world’s most famous wine regions, the pickers get together to drink, chat and enjoy the drinks they are meticulously involved in the making of. 

Also check out local winemaker, Nico’s, top tip for a white Burgundy from Saint Aubin that you don’t have to travel to Burgundy to get!

 

What started in El Quatre Gats tapas bar in Barcelona, soon became an adventure in the Marche region of Italy, that lies along the east coast facing Albania across the Adriatic Sea. El Quatre Gats is famously where Picasso had his first solo exhibition as a young edgy artists in the Catalan capital and I was there dining with Dr Pia Casarini Wadhams, Director of Italy’s only Polar Institute, Il Polo.

 

The Palazzo is located in the centre of Fermo, a small Roman hilltop town with a rich history dating back to antiquity. Flying from abroad, Ancona is the closest airport, 67km north (about an hours drive) along the coast of the Adriatic sea.