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Amidst wine and culture: The Venetian Villas of Verona

For centuries, the Republic of Venice ruled the seas. But one of its greatest legacies, and a distinctive feature of the region’s landscape today, is the collection of nearly five thousand Venetian villas scattered over its mainland, some of which are now UNESCO World Heritage sites.

These were designed as the residences of the era’s great landowners and were often made in a neoclassical style recalling the villas of Ancient Rome’s ruling class. The most beautiful and famous Venetian villas are those in the province of Vicenza and the Riviera del Brenta, which were designed by the most famous architect of the period, Andrea Palladio.

In the area round Verona, you can also admire numerous examples of Venetian villas. I like to focus in particular on those which you can easily combine with a cultural or food and wine route. In fact, some of the most renowned wineries in the province of Verona have their headquarters and even winery inside this type of residence.

One of the villas that I have visited most in recent years is definitely Villa della Torre in Fumane. It’s been acquired in recent times by the Allegrini family, the owner of the winery in Valpolicella which bears their name. The villa is also used for receptions and cultural events, but it is worth visiting in any case. It was built in 1500 as a collaborative project of two of the architectural giants of the time, Giulio Romano and Michele Sanmicheli. Its main peculiarity is the originality of the floor plan which is reminiscent of the traditional “domus patrizie”, with a large central courtyard that opens onto differing environments. The property is surrounded by vineyards where some of the Allegrini’s best wines are produced.

A short distance away, in the hamlet of Gargagnago, there’s another big name producer of Valpolicella housed in a magnificent Venetian villa. This would be Masi, the top producer of Amarone, which has its guest house and wine shop there. The residence in question is Villa Serego Alighieri named after a family that descends from the “sommo poeta”, Dante Alighieri. He lived for several years in Verona after being exiled from Florence. The villa dates back to the XIV century and was later extended in several phases. It’s a concentrated collection of frescoed and plastered halls and has a magnificent, well-kept Italian garden. From there, you can admire the great agricultural estate with vines under cultivation since the Middle Ages.

Villa Mosconi Bertani (also known as Villa Novate) is a separate issue. It’s the most famous and important villa in the Valpolicella region if only because the now celebrated Amarone was invented in its cellars. The villa is located in the Negrar Valley, again in Valpolicella, and its construction dates back to the second half of the eighteenth century. It’s a villa of clearly Palladian inspiration which has an imposing neoclassical façade, large frescoed halls and an English garden with a romantic cast. Many poets of the calibre of Ippolito Pindemonte and Ugo Foscolo have wandered there in search of inspiration. Inside the villa, owned today by the Bertani family (owner of another renowned cellar in Valipolicella), is one of the oldest operating wineries in Italy. In 1932, the name Amarone was coined there for this wine which is produced using a particular technique for desiccating grapes. Decades later, it would become famous all over the world.

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