Lives of the Venetian Rich and Famous

Lives of the Venetian Rich and Famous

Sunday, June 1, 2014
The Veneto, Italy

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A villa fit for a Doge, declaring his power and excellence from the first glimpse, Villa Pisani is the epitome of the summer residences of the powerful elite of 18th century Venice. From its grandiose façade

to the sprawling interior, courtyards, galleries, and 114 rooms as befits the 114th Doge, this place is built to impress.

The family waltzed here, under Tiepolo’s “Glory of the Pisani” ceiling,

Napoleon slept here,

and this spread in the backyard? Stables for the horses!

The award-winning gardens are filled with paths, a puzzle of a maze, honeysuckle- entwined sculptures,

arbors and pergolas, and many a spot for a romantic tryst.

Our change of plans, so as to include yesterday’s trip to Vicenza, means that we had to find another place for lunch today – our villa visits were originally to take place yesterday.  We wanted one more al fresco feast on this last day of the tour, and made canal-side reservations at Villa Goetzen. We arrive by car, but if by boat we could pull right up to the landing!

The meal was superb, and as we took care of the bill inside, we realized that this is where we had stayed and eaten dinner (inside on a winter evening) around 15 years ago! Nice to know it’s still a visit-worthy restaurant.
Back to the Miramonti, where Susan has scheduled a massage before our evening concert…they’ve enjoyed staying at this lovely spa hotel as much as we did in February!

A last wonderful evening of Mozart’s quintets, plus a little-heard Intermezzo by Wolf, beautifully interpreted by the Auryn Quartet, and we bid goodbye to our guests –

yet another wonderful Music and Markets Week!

Inland from the Grand Canal

Inland from the Grand Canal

Friday, May 30, 2014
The Veneto, Italy

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We leave Venice in an unexpectedly classy way – via taxi! Our carefully purchased and registered transport passes, scheduled to last just long enough to get us down the Grand Canal and to Piazzale Roma (where we’ll pick up our rental car) this morning, are useless. Why? That dreaded Italian word “scopero”  – the public transport is on strike today.

The alternative would have been walking to Piazzale Roma, an easy task if we were unencumbered, but leaving town with luggage, trundling it up, over, and down multiple bridges, is NOT the way we want our Music and Markets guests to depart Venice! So we’ve bitten the bullet, and the sleek taxi pulls up at the water entrance of the hotel right on time. The 15 minute ride down the Grand Canal rings in at a grand 70€  – just a mere $100 or so.

The causeway connecting Venice to the mainland is bumper to bumper – no quick escape for us!
But we’re finally on the autoroute heading for Montegrotto Terme. Remember that wonderful spa hotel we discovered earlier this year? The Miramonti welcomes us with a smile, but we wait to check in, just drop our luggage, and head for Padova, where ancient beauties await us.
First, lunch, then we’re ready to spend a bit of time in the historic center, pointing out the grand market squares,

before our appointment at the Scrovegni Chapel. A scattering of modern and ancient Roman sculpture outside (the Chapel is beside the ruins of a Roman arena) ,

but inside are Giotto’s marvelous frescoes of the life of Christ and other Bible stories, meticulously restored most recently in this millenium, the colors as vivid as when they were painted in the early 1300s.

Back at Miramonti, we walk our guests through the spa area….and they want to make sure to fit in a visit or two to the warm pools!

This Venice/Veneto tour is designed around the International Encounter of Chamber Music, now in its 7th year, presented by the Auryn Quartet. Each year they invite other musicians to join them for a series of concerts in the 12th century church of St. Martin in Este.
The long piazza is lined with people enjoying an aperitif, and we’ve got what we think is the best café chosen for a light dinner before the concert.

Mozart’s Quintets are the focus of this series,

and the intimate and simple St. Martins, with excellent acoustics (as is normal for small solid Romanesque structures), is a perfect place to listen to some of the best works of this young genius.

Villa Visions

Villa Visions


Saturday, May 25, 2013 
Villas on the Brenta Canal, Italy

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The Brenta Canal, inland from Venice, was sometimes called the Grand Canal extension in ages past, as the ruling and wealthy families of Venice built their summer homes, designed for escaping the heat and mugginess of lagoon- bound Venice, along the canal. The names reflect those Grand Canal Palazzos today… such as Villa Foscari, also known as La Malcontenta.  Ca Foscari, now the headquarters of the University of Venice, was right across the canal from us when we enjoyed that lovely concert in Marie’s palazzo.
We begin our villa tour with this beautiful example of Palladio’s work, built in the mid- 1500s for the Foscari family, who produced one of Venice’s most noted doges.
On our previous Venice tour, we focused on Palladian villas, but after visiting the Brenta Canal villas last November, we’re including a couple of those beauties this year. So next up is Villa Widmann – obviously NOT a name of Venetian origin, this lavishly frescoed baroque property was built in the early 1700s for a noble Venetian family and later purchased by Widmann, an Austrian who became rich and bought a Venetian title – in Venice it was often not birth, but wealth, that established your place in society.
We stay right beside the canal for lunch, where Osteria da Caronte’s gardens are in full bloom – roses along the fence, geraniums at the windows – and beside the restaurant a field of poppies demands a pre- lunch photo.

We may be inland, but we’re still feasting on lagoon and sea delights, such as the seafood antipasti, platter after platter to share,

and this perfect Fritto Misto – I never tire of the very lightly battered and fried seafood offered on nearly every menu.

We complete our villa day with lavish Villa Pisani (another doge name)  unmistakeably broadcasting a message of POWER for the ruler for whom it was built, its broad façade topped with statuary and adorned with monumental columns shouldered by caryatids.

Designed with 114 rooms, at the command of Alvise Pisani, the 114th doge, it’s filled with gorgeous furnishings
(such as this Napoleon- slept- here bed) and surrounded by award- winning gardens.

The maze is open today, and a few of us take up the challenge…. trying to do so quickly before we all have to return to Padova before tonight’s concert.

Well, once you’ve started, there’s no turning back… you’ve got to keep going til you get to the center.

And then find your way back to the entrance! We just made it… congratulations are in order!

From these sometimes over- the- top villas to the simplicity and calm of Este’s Saint Martin church is quite a contrast… and in the quiet we relax and await the beauty of this evening’s music by the Auryn Quartet – bliss!

One of the vineyards which we visited in November offers their wine during intermission, and, glass in hand, we anticipate the remaining music.

After the concert, we’re invited to join the musicians for a bite to eat, and enjoy listening to their tales of music around the world.

On Dry Land from Venice

On Dry Land from Venice

Friday, May 23, 2013 
from Venice to Padova, Italy

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The piazza’s dry this morning – barely a trace of last night’s lake in front of the Basilica – and we walk across dry land to the water bus, first leg of our journey to Padova, about 30 minutes inland from Venice.  Then we’re all aboard a train, arriving in the midst of a heavy thunderstorm to our destination – we can’t escape the water!

Our hotel, the lovely Majestic Toscanelli, is in the old Ghetto, steps away from an historic synagogue, and in an area with lots of arcaded sidewalks which we sure appreciate as we walk to lunch after checking in.

Kirk and I discovered Osteria dal Capo when we checked out the city in January, and once again we have a delicious meal of local specialties such as this tasty gnocchi.

Padova’s highlight is the Scrovegni Chapel, with its stunning frescoes of the life of Christ by Giotto – our must- see in the city before heading further inland to the city of Este, nestled in the Eugenean Hills.

The Auryn Quartet’s annual Chamber Music Festival begins tonight with a marvelous program of quintets with the addition of pianist Peter Orth. We enjoy chatting with the performers, who have also played at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, after the performance,
and stop across the street from the intimate church of Saint Martin, the home of the festival,  for a whipped cream lavished hot chocolate before the trip back to Padova.

Inviting Este

Inviting Este

Sunday, July 22, 2012

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What is it about a place that draws you?
We were immediately charmed by Este, from the stalwart flag- topped fortifications of Castello Carrarese, dating back to the 14th century,






to the lively, welcoming town center.






The ancient castle fortifications are now filled with  lush public gardens


strewn with paths, roses, fountains and ponds, and lots of strolling families.

At the opposite end of the long main square is the Porta Vecchia, topped with a handsome clock from the 1600s.


The Auryn Quartet concert series is held in the ancient church of St. Martin with its “precariously leaning tower”




Yes, it’s definitely leaning, and has been since the 1400s. Guess it’ll stay up a few centuries longer.


We join the aperitif -sippers at one of the cafes along the square, read more about this inviting town, and ponder the question – what draws us to one place and not another? We’ll stroll into one town and shortly after know that we don’t care if we ever see it again…. and then we’ll enter another, such as Este, and be immediately attracted to it.

Gazing at the rainbow row across the piazza, we muse… perhaps it’s the proportion of a place – human and welcoming? The open spaces… inviting, the arcades…. sheltering? Definitely the lively feel, a vibrant community life. What draws you to a place, calling you back for one visit after another?



Climbing to the top of the fortress, we look down on the town, already anticipating sharing this intriguing place with Music and Markets guests next spring.

La Rocca on the Mount – Monselice

La Rocca on the Mount – Monselice

Sunday, July 22, 2012
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A Sunday drive in the country today, north to Padova, west of Venice.We take the long way out of Tuscany, driving up through the mountains towards Bologna before getting on the expressway for the rest of our journey.
Why Padova? Although it’s an interesting city in itself (we spent a winter week there a few years ago) the reason we’re stopping there today is to explore the nearby villages of Monselice and Este, since we’re planning a tour based around the Este Chamber Music Festival next spring.
Monselice’s easily identifiable as we approach – a natural citadel on the southern slopes of the Euganean Hills (which, by the way, are dotted with thermal waters and hot mud – we’ll have to try out a spa or two someday!) La Rocca crowns the pointy hill, and the walled city huddles beneath.The row of white chapels leading up the hill are a few of Scarmozzi’s Via Sacra delle Siete Chiese, seven chapels built in the early 1600’s.

The church of San Paolo, now an exhibition center is on the left and the Tourist Information office, with a graceful loggia, is on the right  of the lane leading to the Castello Monselice.

San Paolo church is the fourth on this site, and the ruins below shelter an ancient fresco of Saint Francis of Assisi, as well as a friendly cat.

A partially salvaged fresco shows the town patron, Saint Sabino, with Saint Catherine.

Ca’Marcello, a beautifully restored medieval palace, is part of the walled Castello Monselice, and can be visited on a guided tour. Just down the lane is Villa Nanni, a splendid Renaissance mansion and gardens.

Next stop – Este… to be continued.