September 2018: Dolomites, miracles in Pisa snd cycling to Venice

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Welcome to Hidden Italy’s September newsletter:  Dolomites without limits, miracles in Pisa, Matisse in the mountains and a weekend cycling from Treviso to Venice.

Hidden Italy in September:

Hidden Italy in September:

Our autumn guided tours are coming to an end for 2018 (with only Verona and the Dolomites still on the road, keep up the good work Carmelina!) and the weather has been spectacular – while unseasonably warm down on the plains, it has been perfect walking conditions in the mountains, mild sunny days and cool evenings (thank you who ever).  Fingers crossed for next year.

Once again, I’d like to welcome my friend and colleague Robyn Dwyer, who started working for Hidden Italy at the beginning of this month.

Events in September:

Events in September:

Dolomites Without Limits, Bolzano-Belluno,  A ‘via ferrata’ (literally an ‘iron path’) is a system of secured metal cables, iron rungs and even fixed ladders that enable relatively inexperienced climbers to enjoy dramatic positions and access otherwise difficult peaks, usually only available to the experts.  A network of nine new itineraries was inaugurated in the northern Dolomites this summer.  It unites twelve existing routes with seventeen mountain lodges, allowing multi-day hikes through the peaks of the most spectacular mountains in the world – not for the faint-hearted though.
Camposanto Monumentale, Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa, open from 08.00 to 22.00 each day,  The square in front of Pisa cathedral was known as the Piazza of the Miracles, not only because of the church and the famous tower but also for the two thousand square metres of Renaissance frescos that covered the interior walls of the Monumental Cemetery.  In 1944, the building was bombed and then ravaged by fire, irreparably damaging the cycle, or so it seemed back then.  Thanks to enormous commitment and modern technology, the paintings have been fully restored and reinstated in the cemetery and are now open to the public.  A breath-taking experience but, if you can, go there in the evening, when all the day-trippers have long gone.

Musei Capitolini, Capitol Hill, Rome,  One of the most extraordinary sights in Capitoline Museum in Rome is the gigantic gold-plated bronze hand of Emperor Constantine, one of the few surviving fragments of a colossal statue of the great man.  Tests at the Louvre in Paris have recently verified that the generically classified ‘Roman finger’ held at the museum since 1863 is, in fact, Constantine’s pinky.  Official requests have been made to return the digit to its rightful owners (but they aren’t holding their breath).

Exhibitions in September:

Exhibitions in September:

Matisse and the Theatre; Forte di Bard, Val d’Aosta; until 14 October;  This extraordinary exhibition (in a spectacular setting in the Alps, near the French border) presents over ninety works by one the masters of twentieth century art, produced between 1919 and his death in 1954.  It focuses on the artists relationship with the theatre and includes stage designs, theatrical decorations and costumes, as well as paintings, statues and drawings.

De Vico, architect and landscape painter; Museum of Rome, Palazzo Braschi, Piazza Navona, Rome; until 30 September;  This fascinating exhibition presents the work of Raffaele De Vico (1881 – 1969) a passionate Roman citizen who faithfully recorded the transformation of his city throughout the turbulent first half of the 20th century.

Echo and Narcissus;  National Gallery of Ancient Art, Palazzo Barberini, Rome; until 28 October;  To celebrate the opening of eleven new exhibition spaces,
the National Gallery and MAXXI (Rome’s new contemporary art museum) have joined forces, combining and contrasting the portraiture of the great masters with those contemporary artists (eg Raphael with Onani; Bernini with Richard Serra and Caravaggio with Giulio Paolini).

Hidden Italy weekend: cycling along the Sile River, from Treviso to Venice

Hidden Italy weekend:  cycling along the Sile River, from Treviso to Venice

In its heyday, Venice was a voracious consumer.  A medieval New York, la ‘Serenissima’ sucked up the produce and resources of its hinterland, all of which, of course, was transported via the waterways, shipped down the extensive river systems of north-eastern Italy into the famous lagoon.  The Sile is one of these rivers.  Although technically only ninety-five kilometres in length, it is in reality far longer, starting in the foothills of the Alps, it goes underground, a subterranean body of water gurgling through limestone caves, eventually bubbling up to the surface again near Treviso. 

Known as the granary of Venice, Treviso became a major port in the Middle Ages, with the Sile River its life blood.  Barges and ships from Venice worked the river until the early 1900s.  The home of ‘tiramisu’, today Treviso is pretty town, a thriving provincial centre, crossed by a network of small canals.  Little visited by tourists, it is well worth exploring for a day or two. 

Starting in the centre of town, a flat, dedicated, eighty-kilometre long cycle path takes you winding beside the banks of the Sile River to the Venice Lagoon.  Along the way, you pass patrician villas, fishing villages and abandoned ports and cross some of the most beautiful national parklands in Italy. 

An easy two-day ride, you can overnight in Quarto d’Altino, a charming riverside town of Roman origins that sits near the mouth of the river.  The next day, you skirt around the northern rim of the lagoon, finishing at Punta Sabbioni, a port on the tip of the northern entrance to the lagoon.  From here you can put your bike on a vaporetto and head into the heart of la ‘Serenissima’.  Regular trains run from Venice Santa Lucia railway station back to Treviso or you could, of course, hang up the bike and spend a night or two in the most beautiful city in the world.  What more could you want?

How to get there:

By train:  Treviso is a short ride north on the Venice/Udine line.  By car:  Take the A27 autostrada from Venice to Belluno, exiting at Treviso Sud or Treviso Nord.  By plane:  the closest national airport is Canova airport at Treviso, the closest international airport is Venice Marco Polo airport, 31 kms away.

Where to stay:

Il Focolare (Treviso, Piazza Ancilotto 4).  This elegant 3-star hotel is in the centre of town, near the Buranelli Canal.  It has light and spacious rooms and its location makes it a perfect base from which to explore the town.  Doubles with breakfast from 105 euro.

Borgo Ca’ dei Sospiri (Quarto d’Atino, Via Roma 146).  Set in a beautifully restored 16th century residence surrounded by willows and centuries-old trees, this lovely hotel has a swimming pool and a beach on the banks of the Sile River, with moorings for the boats cruising the river.  Doubles from 99 euro.

B&B Laguna (Quarto d’Altino, Localita Porte grandi, Via Papa Paolo VI 28).  The B&B has three large and luminous rooms and is less than a kilometre from Conca Portegrandi, the point where the Sile River meets the Venice lagoon.  Doubles with breakfast from 60 euro.

Agriturismo Antihe Mure (Jesolo, Via Antiche Mura 46).  A silent place, immersed in the countryside next to the ruins of an 11th century basilica, this is a perfect spot to break your ride.  The restaurant is only open on the weekends.  Doubles with breakfast from 80 euro.

Where to eat:

Le Beccherie (Treviso, Piazza Ancilotto 9).  One of the culinary institutions of Treviso, this lovely restaurant was recently renovated and rejuvenated.  The classic dish is risotto with almonds but, of course, you must try the tiramisu, officially invented here in the 1962.

Trattoria al Sile (Casier, Piazza San Pio X 60).  An ancient trattoria sitting on a magnificent bend in the river not far from Treviso, this is a great place for an early lunch on Day 1.  Its specialities include cicheteria trevigiana (Treviso tappas); baccala mantecato (Venetian salted codfish) and coda di rospo dorato (grilled flathead tails).

Ca’ delle Anfore (Quarto d’Altino, Via Marconi 51).  This popular restaurant is set in an 18th century farmhouse in the middle of the Sile National Park.  Nearby is wharf with boat moorings.

La Lanterna (Cavallino, Via Franceso Baracca 41).  An excellent restaurant/pizzeria at the end of the cycle way, which specialises in seafood, including spaghetti allo scoglio (shellfish pasta); mixed fried or grilled seafood.

What to do:

Friday:  Get to Treviso early, it is a charming town with much to offer.  After checking in to your hotel, your visit should start at the Ponte Dante, a bridge that crosses the point where the Sile and Cagnan Rivers meet.  From here you can visit the Isola della Peschiera (an artificial island in the middle of Cagnan River created in 1856 to house the town’s lively fish market).  You should also visit the Buranelli Canal, a magical place where the merchants from Burano had their warehouses and homes.

The heart of the town is Piazza dei Signori, a bustling square lined with cafes and the Palazzo dei Trecento, built in the 13th century and still the seat of the local government.  Other sites to see in Treviso include the Loggia dei Cavalieri, a meeting place for the local nobility; the Duomo, that dates from the 11th century (with masterpieces by Pordenone and Titian) and the towering church of San Nicolo, with a cycle fresco by Tommaso di Modena (1352) which includes the earliest representation of reading glasses.


Pick up your bike form one of the bike hire shops in Treviso (Cicli Andrea Lenzini, Viale IV Novembre 30a is best but you could also try Pinarello in Borgo Mazzini 9) and head off along the eighty kilometre long dedicated cycle path for Venice.  The path takes you past the railway station and across the Gobba Bridge, following on the left-hand bank of the river, passing a series of locks and the ruins of Fiera, the last true port on the river (active until the early 1900s).  It then leads you into one of the most evocative stretches of the route, riding across a series of duckboards that wind through a vast wetland that is home to a wide variety of birds, including wild ducks, coots, grebes and waterfowl.  A five-kilometre side trip takes you into the ‘Sile Morto’, a marshland of reeds, willows and wildlife.

Along the route you pass impressive villas, ‘weekenders’ built by the Ventian aristocracy in the 16th and 17th centuries, including Villa Barbaro Valier at Silea and the neoclassical Villa Mantovani Orsetti at Casale sul Sile.  From the lovely town of Casier to Quarto d’Altino, the river meanders lazily through the low-lying farmland.

Quarto d’Altrino is a very attractive small town not far from the mouth of the river.  Founded in Roman times, it was an important an important commercial centre in antiquity.  It retains many vestiges of this period,much displayed an excellent small archaeological museum.  It is a great place to break the trip, stopping at the marvellous hotel Borgo Ca dei Sospiri (see above).


Conca di Portegrande was the ‘gate to the lagoon’.  It stands at the mouth of the Sile River, six kilometres on from Quarto d’Altrino.  It is a small town of great historical importance and it was here that the locks that regulated the flow of the river were built between 1682 and 1684.

The Venetians were always concerned that the Sile River (and the Brenta River further south) would carry down so much silt that the lagoon would be filled, turning the city of a thousand islands into just another dryland town so, in the 1500’s, they performed an extraordinary feat, excavating deep canals which diverted both rivers around the lagoon, draining them directly into the Adriatic Sea.

From Conca di Portogrande, the cycle heads north-west following the Sile deviation around the edge of the lagoon, ten kilometres of trail offering spectacular views across the waters to the islands of Venice until you reach the town of Caposile.  From here you turn sharply right, passing birdwatching hides, until you pick up the quiet asphalt road that takes you into the small town on Jesolo.  The path then heads south, wrapping around the northern shore of the lagoon for another fifteen kilometres before crossing a lock, a small bridge, an underpass and coming the resort town of Cavallino, with its lighthouse and long beach running along the Adriatic coast. 

From here you follow the cycle path south for another thirteen kilometres to Punta Sabbioni, on the tip of the northern heads of the entrance into the lagoon.  Regular vaporettos take you across the short gap to Lido and then on into the heart of wonderful Venice. 

You may choose to get off the vaporetto at this point, find yourself a nice little hotel and spend the night in Venice or stay on board, travelling up the Grand Canal to Santa Lucia Railway station, from where you get a train back to Treviso.

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