Woke up early this morning and booked it to the train station, intending to take the 9h05 train to Desenzano on Lago di Garda. Unfortunately, “The best intentions…” and all that – our train was full and the next one didn’t leave until 11h35, so what are we to do at 8h45? We walked to Villa Capra “La Rotonda”, that’s what. It was a half-hour walk through the outskirts of Vicenza, up a long, gentle hill but there we were. We had some time before it officially opened at 10h00, so we walked down a serpentine dirt road to the mysterious Villa Valmarana ai Nani – the Villa of the Dwarves. Although we did not enter to the villa itself (€8/person just to fill some time seemed unnecessary), the gardens were gorgeous, the dwarf statues charming and personable, and as luck would have it, there was a sordid legend. The plot thickens.
Legend has it that one of the Valmarana daughters was afflicted with dwarfism. To disguise her disability, her parents only hired other dwarves to staff the villa and its property so that their daughter would never realize her handicap. Of course, one day a handsome prince rode by and, falling madly in love with him, the daughter professes her feelings. The prince, certainly not Charming, was so offended that someone so afflicted would speak to him, he immediately rejected her and fled the scene. The daughter was so devastated, she committed suicide and, in their horrified and grief-stricken state, all of her servants turned to stone.
I told you it was sordid.
Anyway, 10h00 rolled around and we ventured over to Villa Capra – it was amazing. I have studied this work in every architecture course I’ve ever taken, in several art history classes and even in landscape design, it is that cool. So lucky to see it in person – I can’t even tell you. The villa itself was designed by Andrea Palladio and built in 1565 for Paolo Almerico, a Vatican priest and secretary to Pope Paul IV, as a retirement villa in the antique style – that is, based on the writings of Pliny the Younger, the villa was meant to be a country pleasure palace for leisurely (intellectual) activities. Inspired by the Pantheon, the house is perfectly symmetrical. Perfectly. And while it inspired countless structures since its completion, the most notable descendent is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello outside of Charlottesville, VA, built between 1809-1826.
We wandered our way back to the stazione and caught our train to Desenzano, one of a dozen small towns on the shores of Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) at the foot of the Alps. Fairly touristy but absolutely gorgeous (it was a beautiful 70F with blue skies and bright sunshine all day), I was reminded of California. The sidewalks bordering the lake are edged with palm trees and there is even a cute hotel called the ‘Imbarcadero’.
The lake itself is huge and turquoise and edged with roughly hewn blocks of white quartz and lovely. The cool air blows in from the north, providing a brief respite from the heat of the blazing sun. I would have perhaps enjoyed the city more if I ate seafood – an obvious local specialty – but alas, this is not the case and I enjoyed a creamy wild mushroom soup for lunch instead.
The train ride back was uneventful and we returned to Vicenza exhausted, sun-kissed and thrilled. We crashed at the hostel, sent e-mails, changed clothes and went out to the restaurant from last night, the Antica Casa della Malvasia, and it was fabulous, again. Tonight’s selection was insalata Greca (I bet you can figure that one out) with crisp chunks of cucumber, crunchy bell peppers, tasty kalamata olives, thinly sliced onion and fresh, salty feta cheese – with a combination of a local spinach-like green and radicchio (it’s everywhere I tell you!) topped with aceto balsamico and olive oil. Delicious!
Villa Valmarana ai Nani