Before leaving New Zealand we’d booked a week at a villa just outside the small village of Cavasagra in the Veneto district of Italy. When I say “at a villa”, we have a small self-contained unit in the villa building. There’s a local road in front of the villa, farmland behind, a ritzy hotel on one side and the Cavasagra village on the other. Cavasagra is large enough to have a choice of places to eat, drink and buy basic supplies, but small enough not to have its own Wikipedia entry.
The area around Cavasagra is a maze of small roads through farmland, connecting innumerable villages and towns of varying size. Despite being narrow and twisty, many of these roads are very busy, especially early morning and late afternoon. The villages are now mostly dormitory suburbs for the larger towns of Treviso to the east and Castelfranco to the west.
The villa largely lacked the one thing I’d counted on for this week: reasonable mobile data coverage. We had no coverage in our unit, although we were able to pull in a weak signal by camping out in front of the villa, so that’s where I worked for a couple of hours each day. What the villa lacked in mobile coverage it endeavoured to make up for in bicycles, and we enjoyed exploring the nearby farmland and villages on two wheels, noting as we did so that everywhere else had perfectly good mobile coverage.
Looking further afield, a fifteen minute drive took us to Treviso, a bustling city which retains many of the canals which once linked the entire Veneto area with Venice. It’s a good place to shop, as I discovered on Monday; there are a lot of interesting stores in a compact precinct.
There was torrential rain late Monday afternoon, followed by a plague of mosquitoes. We weren’t expecting this and nor was our unit, which lacked window and door screens. We were badly bitten that first night and spent every night after that sweltering behind closed doors and windows, trusting in mosquito repellent and insect spray to keep us safe.
On Tuesday we visited Venice, a trip you can read about here.
On Wednesday we traveled north into the nearby hills, spending much of the day at the small town of Asolo. We climbed the hill to the fort, visited the castle, and wandered the cobbled streets. We didn’t find the Roman aqueduct which evidently still supplies the town’s fountain, but we can vouch that the fountain does have water. Asolo also boasts a cathedral, a music festival, fine places to dine, some high class shopping and a scattering of similarly charming towns and villages in the surrounding hills and valleys, some of which we also visited on our way back to Cavasagra.
We briefly visited Castelfranco and Mantova (Mantua to Shakespeare buffs), and spent most of a day in Cittadella, a medieval town which has retained its moat and largely retained its walls. In fact you can walk Cittadella’s walls, and we did, taking our lunch on a two kilometre expedition which gave us a good perspective on this very pretty town. Cittadella appears to be managing the renewal of the medieval city intelligently, balancing the need to retain significant buildings against the desire to improve the quality of life for those still living within the walls. It would be interesting to return in twenty years time and see what this balancing act has achieved.
We ate well while staying in our villa at Cavasagra. We found restaurants and pubs that delivered interesting, quality meals; we’ll happily take you on a guided tour to the pub that serves Treviso’s best hamburgers, the restaurant in Albaredo with a fantastic local menu, the pub nearby that serves pasta with a contemporary twist, or the restaurant at Ospedeleto which fulfilled Richard’s cravings for meat and roast vegetables. But the highlight for me was something much more traditional.
Wednesday was Richard’s birthday, and I had decided to take him out for dinner that evening. We’d already discovered some great eateries in the area, but I wanted to visit a typical local restaurant; a place that serves typical local food to typical local people. I’d already identified a spot in Cavasagra, but when we walked down the road at 8.00pm there was no evidence that it was anything more than a local bar. I asked cautiously in my broken Italian whether we could eat there, “Nois mangiamo sera, per favore?” The young woman behind the bar went out the back where there was a muttered conversation. At this point we were concerned that they would offer us paninis or whatever was left over from lunch, and Richard was advising me to say “no” to whatever they offered. But when the young woman returned we were ushered out the back into a bright, clean dining room set up with fifty seats for dinner.
We were the first to arrive, and the madre d’ spoke no English. She appeared to do almost everything else; most of the cooking, serving tables and providing a counselling service for her patrons, most of whom she knew personally. Despite her lack of English and our comparative lack of Italian, we managed to order a good, typical meal; pasta, then pork for Richard and the best chicken Leigh’s ever eaten, dessert and coffee. Meanwhile the dining room filled up with locals, most of whom knew each other, and there was a happy atmosphere of banter and bonhomie, punctuated by periods of serious silence as each course was served. Interestingly not a lot of alcohol was consumed. Most tables drank a little wine, some beer, but in very modest quantities by New Zealand standards. The food was satisfyingly good: not Michelin guidebook good, just every day consistent good. We enjoyed several pleasant hours and left knowing we’d been well fed, knowing we’d be welcome back at any time, and with our pockets only €40.00 lighter.
We leave Cavasagra in the morning, and I won’t be sad to farewell the stifling mosquito-beset nights and the lack of mobile data coverage. But it is a charming area, close to many of the attractions that make the Veneto region of Italy special, and a magic place to enjoy relaxed bike rides down tree lined country roads and explore small villages.