We are definitely enjoying this change of pace in the Prosecco hills, in the foothills of the Italian Alps. We are staying two days in town of Valdobbiadene, famous for its Prosecco production. Since our favorite libation is Prosecco, this is heaven. We arrived early last evening at Villa Barberina and were greeted with a bottle from our host and shown around this 18th century Venetian grand residence. We are paying twice the daily price of our accommodation in Lazise, but this lodging appears worth it.
The website chronicles that the villa belonged first to people from Treviso, then to the Pivas, a family of silk entrepreneurs who were benefactors for Valdobbiadene and its inhabitants. At the beginning of the 20th century, Celestino Piva bought it for his sister Barberina. Thus, the villa namesake.
The expansive grounds of the walled country estate contains a vineyard with an alley of cypress. Behind the house there is an inviting swimming pool. We’re not far the centre of the town.
The villa features five bedrooms with bathrooms, large living-rooms, library and a dining-room. There is plenty of green space, giving you the feeling that your are in a wonderful retreat, just like the rich Venetians who used to spend their summer holiday in the villas around this region. Teresa and I and Laura share one wing of the grand house.
Our gracious hosts at Villa Barberina
The present owners Primo and Anna Lisa Franco are wine-producers. The harvest in the area begins next week, and the very hot weather is a God-send to the success of the gathering of the grapes. What wonderful hostess, suggesting our local itinerary and inquiring about our U.S. locale and backgrounds. Primo wanted our mailing address to invite us to a wine producers party in Boston area this fall. He and his wife often were seen with grandchildren and a puppy in tow. And Primo talked like an expectant grandfather about his vineyard: “you know the grapes are near ready for harvest; they too are our babies.”
This is a bed and breakfast, and the morning offering was excellent with cereal, croissants, cheese, homemade jams, yogurt, coffee and juices and the best cantaloupe I have ever eaten. And I come from a long line of fruit and produce dealers.
The gentleman was about my age and is in the advertising field and quite knowledgeable about European automobiles and motorcycles. He and Laura traded stories about motorcycle tours through Europe and South Africa. His wife understood English well and was quietly enjoying the conversation, pulling up photos on her Smart phone of cars and motorcycles. Laura did the same. Not great car and cycle enthusiasts, Teresa and I, still found the conversation interesting.
Our German house mates complimented us on being Americans who are not afraid to try different locales in Italy, and that this was a wise choice. He spoke about their travels throughout Europe, and that he enjoyed seeing the old Europe of his youth in places like Slovenia and Poland.
I was reticent to ask about his origin, whether he grew up behind the Berlin Wall. He said he moved to West Berlin in his youth. He enthusiastically told of the evening when he was watching television when the East German leader was making a speech with great difficulty.
“I told my friend something big is going to happen. We then got news that night that the wall was being torn down, we went to see it first hand. It was the first time I had seen a real Carnival for the German people,” he reminisced.
It is a treat to get a fresh perspective of issues of the world including topics of current music (he liked singer, rapper, songwriter Kanye West), the economy, taxes and politics — but nothing too extreme.
They too are only here for two days, and we ran into them during our tour of a nearby villa in the town of Maser.
The Villa di Maser.
The Villa di Maser (Villa Barbaro) is a great example of the work of Andrea Palladio (1508-80), whose architecture and literary contribution, Quattro libri dell’Architettura, is the basis of so many buildings around the world including the U.S. One of our favorite buildings in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. is the Palladium Theatre which has the same classic form.
The owners live on a downstairs level (a reversal of the Downton Abbey floor plan?) We visited six rooms with frescoes by Paolo Veronese, which represent his largest and most important fresco works. There were beautiful stuccos by Alessandro Vittoria. Laura rightly pointed out that the grand architectural villa would seem like an empty canvass without the frescoes and stuccoes depicting mythological figures with the original resident family members, including their pet dog. One of the drawing rooms was named for the dog. I liked the music room, but the baby grand piano was “non toccare”. A tour official said members of the family do play the handsome piano. I would have loved to play an Italian standard or two to hear the music fill such a grand venue.
The villa estate also produces wines and of course, our favorite Prosecco. Our choice had to be narrowed down from extra dry to Brut, which is even drier. We went with the Brut and purchased three bottles for the toast at the upcoming birthday party.
En route to the villa we had stopped and looked around the town of Asolo. Oddly enough, it was swarmed by a bevy of motorcycle enthusiasts. They must have just stopped for an espresso, because by the time we found a parking place outside the major palazzo, they were mounting their bikes and were quickly gone.
On the way home, we decided to pick up panini sandwiches and spotted a road-side bar. We noticed a large group of patrons dining outside. We went in and tried to order. The bar keeper ran outside and brought back a female patron. She announced herself as Azura and that she spoke English, having lived for eight years in different parts of the States including Hawaii, New Orleans and Las Vegas. In fact, she had to return to Italy when her green card was not reissued by our government. She shrugged, saying that it was okay, time to go home. What a true character, very demonstrative in her speech and gestures, reminding the three of us of the Hispanic actress Sofia Vegara. She invited us to dine with her neighborhood friends celebrating the end of summer season. All the time, she stroked the coat of her long-hair Chihuahua, Martino, who looked exactly like the dog in the Villa di Maser frescoes.
She interpreted our order and made sure it was to our liking. While it was prepared, she began speaking about Italy. She was an Oracle for the politically right in any sovereignty on the subject of immigration. Azero proclaimed, ” the people of this area, you might call racists, because we do not want the North Africans here. Maybe two thousand have been brought to our area. What does the government think sending them here, giving them so much help? You think we who live here are just having fun. We have to work. ”
She went on to discuss a recent attack of young girl in town by a North African immigrant.
No matter how frank her outpouring, she remained extremely friendly while on this Italian roadside soap box. And she finished by saying how happy she was to see Americans in this region. “Americans ONLY want to go to Toscany. It is beautiful here, too. I guess I am jealous of Toscany.”
We hated to tell her that’s where we were headed next as we were exiting. The outdoor crowd waved and shouted, Ciao!
By the way, the cost of the three panini sandwiches was 9 Euros, about $10.