In its heyday, when the Lion of St. Mark roared and everyone listened, the Doges and aristocrats of the Most Serene Republic of Venice built like crazy their sprawling warm-weather estates in the countryside that enhanced the coffers of the money-mad merchants of Venice: those splendid Venetian villas that we’ve come to love and admire.
When the paint finally dried, there were over 4,300 Venetian villas dotting the landscape, monumental agricultural centers of architectural fame filled with great art that collectively became known as Civiltà delle Ville Venete (Civilization of the Venetian Villas) and redefined the old Republic.
Today, the general public has a wonderful opportunity to stroll into the past and sample the trappings of those movers and shakers of La Serenissima who ruled the roost back in the day.
Thanks to the Associazione Ville Venete (Association of Venetian Villas, AVV) — a network of owners and curators that readily swing open the iron gates on more than 150 of these restored, public and privately-owned pieces of real estate heritage — you’re invited inside for tours, special events, dining, hospitality and, at some properties, overnight stays.
One such sprawling manor is the early 16th century Villa Tiepolo Passi, in Carbonera just outside Treviso. It’s where I find myself on a bright, sunny winter’s day, being shown around by Count Alberto Passi de Preposulo, the current head of the estate — a working organic farm and vineyard — that’s been in his family since it took possession during the mid 1800s.
Passionate about the history of his family, dating all the way back to 973 A.D., and the preservation of the Villa Tiepolo Passi, Count Passi, a fellow journalist, leads the way as the President of the AAV, charged with protecting and promoting the artistic and architectural heritage and landscape that defined the labor-intense Venetian villas and their collective contributions to the old Republic.
Inside the main house, on the piano nobile (noble floor), the living area is covered with frescoes by Pietro Antonio Cerva, known as Il Bolognese, and accented by fully restored period furniture and accent pieces laid out just the way it looked centuries ago. Unfortunately, due to security reasons, I was unable to remove the lens cap on my camera inside the villa or the chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary and its exemplary frescoes by Giambattista Canal.
Once outside, I was able to shoot away at any exterior scene I found interesting: the double L-shaped winged villa, with sculptures by Torretto; the wide, perfectly manicured, symmetrical garden; the chapel bell tower; the renovated stables; and, the lush, surrounding fields.
Following the estate tour, we were led inside one of the renovated scuderie (stables) used by the villa for hospitality.
On display for sampling and purchase were the estate’s organically grown and produced preserves and jams, candied fruits, sweets and mostarda veneta (Venetian mustard), all prepared just like they were back in the 1300s. Also available for tasting and purchase were the Tiepolo Passi label Prosecco and Merlot wines.
Following the nibbles and sips, we sat down with Count Passi for a “light,” three-course lunch of locally produced cheeses, salami and the famed baked radicchio trevigiano (chicory), followed by gnocchi in a creamy poppy seed sauce, a mouthwatering meringue topped semifreddo (half frozen) dessert drizzled with a cherry coulis, and the obligatory cup of espresso signaling the end of the meal.
The price for my afternoon at Villa Tiepolo Passi, the informative guided tour and delicious lunch, was a reasonable 30€ ($33 USD).
For complete information on how to experience the 150+ countryside villas that are open to the public — for individual and group tours, one and two-day excursions, overnight stays and special events — just log on to the Association of Venetian Villas’ travel site by clicking HERE.
You’ve got an open invitation to join me again next time when I walk through the gates, take off the lens cap and frame another historic piece of real estate from the Most Serene Republic of Venice.
©The Palladian Traveler