■ 28 September 2013 by James Martin
The “Riviera del Brenta” stretches from Venice to Padua, its fame hanging squarely upon the reputation of one of the favored architects of his time, Andrea Palladio. In the 16th century rich merchants of Venice started having Villas made on the mainland to expand their empires through agriculture, supplying Venice with the food it needed while living in luxury and partying hearty.
The Riviera del Brenta is a popular place to visit via boat or van tour. It’s best to do it in a car, for reasons I’ll explain later.
If you were traveling down the Grand Canal of Venice in a Gondola and crossed the lagoon to the mouth of the Brenta river, the first notable Palladian villa you’d come to is the Villa Foscari, also called “La Malcontenta.”
We’d learned of this villa from our B&B owner, who told us we just had to see it on our way out of the town of Mira, because it was “just like the White House.” (Although, I must note, the usual suspect in the Palladian Villa to White House continuum is the Villa La Rotonda )
In any case, it didn’t take us long to spot the villa hidden behind the willows along a bend in the Brenta.
Why is it called “La Malcontenta”? Well, it depends upon what you read. There might have been a place, a town or an estate close to the villa called “Malcontenta.” On the other hand, there’s a fresco inside the villa featuring a woman who doesn’t look exactly content. Then there are two similar explanations that concern a wife and either her infidelity or her reluctance to perform her “conjugal duties” for which she was locked up in the house.
Take your pick. I’ll stay with the messy one.
You should see Villa Foscari—but plan your trip well. It’s got some great frescoes inside, but its only open for visitors two days a week, so check the website. Scenes from the 1970s flick Casanova 70 were filmed inside.
Descendents of the original Foscari now own the villa and are restoring it. As you can see from the picture, Palladio worked with ordinary materials, cheap and easily procured. So rather then marble columns, what you get is brick columns covered in a marble-like plaster. No doubt this contributed to his fame.
Where to Stay and Why a Car is a Good Idea
I’ve mentioned our B&B above. We spent a couple of wonderful nights at Barchessa Levi Morenos B&B in Mira along the Villa trail. For the price of a dinky hotel room we got a small apartment with kitchen and a terrace with free wifi that worked very well, inside and out. Each morning breakfast was brought to our door, and the owners provided excellent information on the area and its attractions. The B&B is also adjacent to a villa in decline, the Villa Levi Morenos, which is worth exploring on an evening before your fish dinner (Mira is noted for two things, we were told: artisan shoes and seafood).
And thus I come to the part where I tell you that an independent tour in your rental or lease car is the best way to go. I find the aging ruins quite compelling—and I rather like overgrown gardens. So the chance to root around an old structure is as interesting to me as seeing the “best” villas. To the right is a study of the colors of decay in the Villa Levi Morenos.
Ok, maybe it’s just me. Carry on.
Italy Travel Toolbox
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■ 19 May 2012 by James Martin
Funny how things work out sometimes. You seek out the “best” restaurants, meaning the most celebrated, then stumble across a little place near Ca’ Foscari University with outside tables set in a little piazza bounded by houses whose walls are festooned with all manner of graffiti. You order the “grilled mollusks” and get what’s in the picture: Scallops in their shell seared on one side, then drizzled with olive oil and lemon and set back on the grill to cook through.
To say they were yummy is both infantile and an understatement. This is the stuff they make bread for, to sop up the liquid inside the shell I mean.
The restaurant is Do Farai in the Dorsoduoro:
Tel. +39 041 2770369
Regardless of price, there’s no doubt even those without a guidebook can eat well in Venice. Another of our favorites happened to be right below the Venice Gothic Apartment we rented recently, a place called the Osteria ai 40 Ladroni, (Osteria of the 40 Big Thieves). I “discovered” it years ago on one of our meanderings. We were lost, of course, but kept ending up in the same place. Fate. You don’t get that with guides.
The 40 Ladroni is a small place, but there’s a huge “garden” out back that used to be bocce courts. Stick with the fresh seafood and you’ll be fine—it’s not an expensive place. The picture to the right shows the seafood antipasti. That’s one order. Don’t take my word for the quality put out by this restaurant though:
To reach the second authentic restaurant, the Osteria ai 40 Ladroni, on a quiet canal of the Cannaregio, you first cross the Campo del Ghetto. That would be the original Ghetto, or slag-heap, considered the least desirable spot to live in Venice, all bright and shiny these days with a Jewish museum. Keep going. The spot you’re headed for, on the Fondamenta della Sensa, is sought-after by locals because it’s well outside the San Marco-Rialto-Academmia tourist triangle and serves dazzlingly fresh seafood. ~ Venice Seafood: Beyond the Canals
That’s a pretty good recommendation, but it gets better:
Pay no heed to the tourist comments on TripAdvisor and similar sites. They’ll never be happy unless it’s cheap and deep-fried; the worthwhile comments are in Italian (“A chi piace il pesce e la cucina casalinga questo è un posto assolutamente da provare, noi non vediamo l’ora di ritornare!” which translates to, “If you like home cooking this is a spot you must try; we can’t wait to return.”)
This brings up something I never understand. We escape to places which have a reverential attitude towards food, but listen only to the recommendations of our countrymen who constantly search for food they’d eat at an American chain; chickeny-cheesy stuff, deep fried in sewing machine oil. Blech.
■ 18 May 2012 by James Martin
It’s Moeche (sometimes moleche) season in Venice. Moeche are soft shelled crabs, only available for a few weeks in spring and fall when the crabs shed their shells. Moeche is also a town in Spain, but that needn’t concern us here.
The moeche shown here are as captured at the Rialto market in Venice in mid May. They’re alive. In many recipes you whip up some eggs and let the little buggers wallow around in the gloppiness for a couple hours and then, when they’ve absorbed most of the muck they’re in, you dust them with flour and toss them in hot oil. It sounds like torture, but this is food and death is quick. You must rejoice in beauty and tastiness of your sustenance. You must morn the death that gives you life. You must learn to cook things expertly so the sacrifice has meaning.
In any case the end result, as enjoyed at the fine restaurant Vini da Gigio, is shown on the right. They come at a cost, especially at a restaurant that is always among the top ten in Venice, where six of them set us back 24 euro. Still, you should not miss these little morsels served with lemon and a wedge of Venice’s iconic polenta if they’re in season. This dish is sometimes called moeche col pien.
If you like buying and cooking seafood, Venice offers a wonderful opportunity to rent an apartment with like-minded friends like we did. HomeAway lists over 1000 Veneto Vacation Rentals, over 500 Venice area vacation rentals. We stayed in this Venice Gothic Apartment (this apartment is really in the Conneregio district of Venice, my favorite district, right over the 40 Ladroni restaurant, a good place for reasonably priced Venetian food).
Popular These Days
■ 16 May 2012 by James Martin
Sometimes (actually quite often), a storm allows you to see a city in a whole different way. Photography is just the capture of light bouncing willy-nilly from objects and molecules, and a storm can change things in a big way as in:
But walk out to the end of this Cannaregio canal and look at the snow on the mountains across the Venice Lagoon:
All this after a fine meal at Osteria Bea Vita, the first that didn’t have a bit of seafood in it. Also a first for Italy: Waitresses that smiled! And often!
Must be the weather. Or my Italian.
■ 15 May 2012 by James Martin
The Rialto Fish Market in Venice and the adjacent vegetable market was the scene this morning of a disturbing, hackle-raising crime. A large cernia or Dusky Grouper, was caught red-handed, er, red-lipped with the goods, a string of pre-season pomodorini clearly in the process of being consumed. He is being held on boxes in the market and ordered to pose for tourist pictures. His attorney is appealing the sentence as being too harsh. He’d rather be sauteed, according to a close source.
■ 4 May 2011 by James Martin
Ernest Hemingway and I share a common birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois. I know, I know, that doesn’t make us kin, or kindred writing spirits, nor does this fact link us in any way other than basic provenience at birth. He and I are different kinds of drunkards—and besides, my sentences can run longer than a freight train.
In any case, an interesting story popped up recently about Hemingway and Venice I feel compelled to share with you.
Ernest Hemingway’s favourite hotel in Venice is giving visitors the chance to try the culinary ‘cure’ the literary giant prescribed himself there after suffering serious injuries in two air crashes in Africa. ~ Food: Hemingway’s culinary ‘cure’ served up in Venice
If you are like me, you’ll be absolutely giddy with delight that the secret cure (don’t laugh, it worked, dammit!) is based upon scampi and Valpolicella.
Now that’s a cure I can live with.
So after doing some detective work, the Gritti Palace has recreated a seafood-based dish he loved to tuck into there, scampi risotto with crustacean bisque.
Dang, Ernest ate well. Of course the currency exchange rates were a little different in the days before supply side economics, so he could afford it.
One of the most influential books I ever set my reading-glasses enhanced eyes upon was his seldom-read Across the river and into the trees. Here’s Hemi, disguised as Richard Cantwell, a fifty year old army colonel who happens to be dating an 18 year old girl. After having dinner and a couple of bottles of Valpolicella at the Gritti Palace Hotel, the rancid old Colonel talks the waiter into loading more bottles of a decent vintage into a gondola. They decide Valpolicella is best young, when it’s sweet and succulent; I think they call that a foreshadowing sexual symbolism in writing school. Anyway, the odd couple set out with the wine bottles gently clinking together as the water laps the side of the gondola. Ah, romance is in the air! And in the water!
By the time they unfold themselves from their gondola they’d drunk 7 or 8 bottles of wine during the 4 or 5 hours they’d been together. I’m thinking, “that’s a lot.”
My thoughts were not so profound then; I was young.
In any case, Hemingway is a hard guy to keep up with as a mentor. I’m sticking with Henry Miller. I wish Henry ate better though.
The four-course menu, which costs 88 euros per person, is served with two glasses of Hemingway’s beloved Valpolicella or of Soave wine. The second course is ginger- and honey-flavoured duck in aged port sauce.
88 Euros! That should cure you! It’ll make you wallet way lighter in any case.
■ 23 February 2009 by James Martin
Coca-Cola is not ‘‘buying’‘ Venice, its city council said Monday, reacting to polemics over a planned million-dollar partnership between the drinks giant and the lagoon city. ~ Coca- Cola not ‘buying’ Venice
No, but Coca Cola corporation has paid over 2 million dollars to scatter 60 vending machines across Venice. It’s not surprised that some very sane and culturally sensitive people are worried.
Usually, I’d be outraged. But hey, lots of folks go to foreign countries to drink Coke and eat Big Macs. I have no idea why, but there ya go. It’s the free market.
What get me is that a company can make lotsa money in a bad economy while ponying up a couple million just to put their idiotic machines all over a city.
I’ve been scrawling some numbers on a piece of scrap paper. You see, in America, when gas gets over 2 or 3 bucks a gallon, the population has a fit. Every vein in every citizen’s forehead pops out like ooze from a pop tart. Governments are called upon to stop the oil companies from gouging us and rendering our Hum Vees useless.
What I don’t get is that a gallon of gas in my part of California costs about $2.39 today. Considering that about 17% or more of gasoline prices are federal and state taxes, that makes a gallon of gas cost about $2 before taxes. (Take out taxes and gasoline in Europe is similarly priced.)
Today in the store Coca Cola was selling for $1.99 a liter. That’s about $3.75 a gallon. For flavored water and High Fructose Corn Syrup!
Nobody is busting a vein for that incredible price. Imagine a company that makes so much money on the crap they sell that they can offer a cool 2 million to a historic city to allow them to sell it. Venice. There goes the neighborhood.
It’s not like Coke needs to be pumped from way underground in a far off country, then refined, shipped, buried in the ground then pumped into a car. You don’t have to spend untold billions in a war over the remaining last bits of its sugary goodness. You just suck up some municipal tap water and sugar (and acid) it down. How hard is that?
Yeah, I know, it’s the free market. But when are we gonna get together and bash some heads over the conspiracy to make our Venetian glass big gulp cups cost too much to fill? We do it with other fuels, ya know.
■ 7 November 2008 by James Martin
Sure, you avoid Venice in the colder months. Venice has that fog thing going. Better in summer, when it’s hot. You can wear your tee shirt with the slogan on it.
But you can bundle up and be cozy in the fall. You can pretend that the warmth pouring from her doesn’t matter. Or you can give in to the moment: