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Just scoot

Heidi Fuller-love hires a moped in Venice and sets out to explore Prosecco vineyards, the shipyards of Chioggia and other charms of this fabled city’s stunning hinterland

The phrase ‘see Venice and die’ ran through my head as I straddled my hired moped and eased out into the morning traffic roaring around the fringes of the world-famous city.

It was the start of my bike tour of Venice’s spectacularly diverse hinterland, stretching from the soaring Dolomites to the indigo expanse of the Adriatic sea.

I planned to spend five days exploring Veneto before heading back to its fabled capital, but as I was brushed on to the hard shoulder by a thundering line of lorries, I found myself wondering if I’d survive to see Venice at all…

Castelfranco to Bassano del Grappa

Luckily, as soon as I left the spaghetti of autostrada near Mestre and switched to the smaller web of stradale leading to Castelfranco Veneto, the traffic melted like mist and the muddle of factories dissolved into rolling fields dotted with pale-coloured cows and bone-white herons.

Hidden behind high stone walls built in 1211, Castelfranco throbs with life. Blessing my nippy moped, I threaded my way through narrow alleys thronging with cappuccino-sipping crowds to the town’s baroque cathedral. This is home to the Madonna and Child, one of the finest works by Giorgione (who was born here in 1477 ) and seven fragments of exquisite frescoes by Paolo Veronese.

From Castelfranco, a pot-holed road meanders past vineyards and fields to Bassano del Grappa, a charming huddle of medieval dwellings split in two by the Brenta river and connected by a covered bridge designed by renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.

From Castelfranco, a pot-holed road meanders past vineyards and fields to Bassano del Grappa, a charming huddle of medieval dwellings split in two by the Brenta river and connected by a covered bridge designed by renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.

At the entrance to this footway is Nardini’s distillery (2 Ponte Vecchio, nardini.it), which has been producing the town’s cask-conditioned pomace brandy, grappa, since 1779. Here I sampled a range of grappa concoctions, including herb-flavoured mirtillo and taiadea, a slightly bitter blend made with quinine. I then sat on the terrace surrounded by sunburnt locals fuelling their endless card games with equally endless cupfuls of a grappa-coffee mix called caffè corretto.

Resisting the lure of Bassano’s numerous antique and jewellery shops, I made my way to Museo della Ceramica, once the residence of the Ferrari family and now home to engraved ceramics dating back to medieval times. A short stroll away, in the town’s municipal museum, I discovered the works of Jacopo Bassano and was astounded to see the cobbled streets and quays of this pretty city have changed little since the local-born artist painted them back in the 16th century.

With the sun casting evening’s metallic glaze across the river, I headed for Birreria Ottone (48-50 Via Matteotti, tel.

+39 0424 522206), where I dined on succulent smoked foie gras served with tender spears of the local white asparagus.

Prosecco country

A blissful night at Villa Brocchi Colonna (98 Contrá San Giorgio, villabrocchicolonna.it), just outside Bassano, followed the next morning by a delicious breakfast of homemade jam, bread, biscuits and cakes, set me up for a winding ride along the Prosecco wine route.

Stretching from Conegliano to Valdobbiadene and studded with tiny hamlets whose inhabitants speak Ladin, one of Europe’s rarest languages, the Prosecco region is best known for its Champagne-style white wines

After a brief stop for a lunch in the hilltop fief of Soligo, I made a beeline for San Stefano, where the Bisol family has been producing wine since 1875. A spacious room with views over the distant Veneto plains awaited me at Bisol’s Foresteria Duca di Dolle guesthouse (5 Via Piai Orientali, Rolle, bisol.it). Back at the Bisol vineyard I spent the rest of the afternoon sipping a series of sweet, well-rounded Cartizze and Proseccos – including my favourite, the crisp apple and sherbetty fruit Prosecco Jeio 2003 – and mourning the lack of space on my moped to carry a few crates onwards with me.

Prosecco to Lake Garda

From San Stefano, a web of secondary roads leads via Marostica – the medieval city famed for its human chess game dating back to the 15th century – to Lake Garda. Italy’s largest lake, formed by glaciers at the end of the last ice age, came as a welcome respite after my ride in the fierce summer heat.

I planned to hit the fine sand beaches at Desenzano, then soar up on the Malcesine cable car for fabulous views of the lake’s five islands. But first I headed for the fortified town Sirmione, where the 1st-century Roman poet Catullus had a summer villa. I booked into the luxurious Catullo Spa complex (Terme di Sirmione, 1 Piazza Don A Piatti, termedisirmione. com) and soaked away my saddle sores in the sulphur spring waters.

Revitalised, I dined on brodo di pesce, a saffron-scented Venetian fish soup, at Belvedere da Marietta (Gardone Riviera, tel: +39 0365 20960), then cruised along the coast to indulge in some serious shopping therapy in Bardolino, where boutiques stay open until midnight.

Lake Garda to Chioggia

From Lake Garda I whizzed back along arrow-straight roads, via Bovolone and Legnago, to the last stop on my Veneto tour – Chioggia, a town whose canals have earned it the nickname ‘little Venice’.

In her book Venice, British travel writer Jan Morris describes Chioggia as ‘a place of horny and homely instincts’.

Seeking the island’s risqué side, I wandered along the waterfront but found only groups of fishermen gossiping and mending their nets. In the warren of streets behind the port I discovered plenty of shops selling crimplene dresses and nylon shirts, but nothing remotely lewd, so I gave up the hunt and had a sober tea instead at Pasticceria Bruno (Calle Ponte Caneva), served with scrumptiously sticky torta al radicchio.

Hotel Grande Italia (597 Rione Sant’ Andrea, tel. +39 041 400515, hotelgrandeitalia.com), where I spent the night, has an unbeatable location on the waterfront, next to the town’s historic centre and Chiesa di San Domenico, which contains Vittore Carpaccio’s last recorded painting, St Paul.

Early next morning I took a vaporetto from Chioggia into the fabled lagoon. As morning mists curled away from the sparkling water and Italy’s legendary city rose up ahead of me, I realised that even though I’d had a wonderful time touring the cultural delights, gastronomical wonders and beautiful scenery of Veneto, I was dying to see Venice.

Get on your bike…

Do it yourself Ride Italy (rideitaly.it) is a small motorcycle rental firm whose head office is in Venice.

Do it with a group

If you fancy exploring Veneto on a bike but don’t want to go it alone, join Rider’s Nolo (ridersnolo.it) for a week-long tour of the region.

Do it around the b.there! network

There are plenty of exciting bike tours available at other Brussels Airlines destinations. Here’s the pick of the crop:

Italy

Bike Riders (bikeriderstours.com) offers a savvy mix of hands-on classes with award-winning chefs and bike tours to visit vineyards and local markets around Florence.

Spain

Whether it’s a day trip into the Malaga foothills, a two-day tour of the rugged Sierra Nevada or a lads’ long weekend to somewhere really wild, Redtread (redtread.com) has a number of ways to get off-road in southern Spain.

Across Europe

Adrenaline freaks seeking thrills without spills should check out the wide range of European tours available from Globe Rider Adventure Bike Tours (globerider.co.uk).

Find out more…

veneto.to

FR ‘Voir Venise ou mourir’ – un voyage sur la route

En commençant mon tour de Vénétie en moto, la phrase “voir Venise et mourir” m’est passée par l’esprit. J’avais prévu de partir cinq jours à l’exploration de la région avant de revenir dans sa capitale, mais alors que je me faisais frôler par une ligne de camions tonitruants, je me demandai si je survivrais tout simplement pour voir Venise…

Heureusement, dès que je quittai l’autoroute près de Mestre pour emprunter une plus petite stradale menant à Castelfranco Veneto, le trafic se mit à se diluer comme le brouillard. A Castelfranco, je me suis faufilé à travers de petites ruelles étroites jusqu’à la cathédrale baroque de la ville, qui abrite ‘la Vierge et l’Enfant’, l’une des plus belles œuvres de Giorgione. J’ai ensuite rejoint Bassano del Grappa, où j’ai visité la distillerie Nardini (2 Ponte Vecchio), qui produit de la grappa depuis 1779. Dès la tombée du jour, j’ai pris un repas succulent de foie gras et d’asperges blanches au Birreria Ottone (48-50 Via Matteotti).

Après une nuit méritée à la Villa Brocchi Colonna (98 Contrá San Giorgio) juste à l’extérieur de Bassano, j’ai parcouru la région du Prosecco, mieux connue pour ses vins blancs de style-champagne. Dans le vignoble de Bisol à San Stefano, j’ai goûté une série de Cartizze et de proseccos, non sans maudire le manque d’espace sur ma moto pour transporter quelques bouteilles.

Depuis San Stefano, un réseau de routes secondaires mènent au lac de Garde, le plus grand lac d’Italie. Je suis parti en direction de la ville fortifiée de Sirmione, où j’ai réservé dans le luxueux établissement thermal Catullo Spa (1 Piazza Don A Piatti) pour me remettre de mes courbatures.

Ma dernière halte était Chioggia, un agréable port de pêche où le nombre de vélos dépasse celui des voitures, de l’ordre de trois pour un. J’ai pris un thé dans la Pasticceria Bruno (Calle Ponte Caneva) et passé la nuit à l’Hôtel Grande Italia (597 Rione Sant’ Andrea) à front de mer.

Tôt le lendemain, j’ai pris un vaporetto pour rallier la lagune. Au fur et à mesure que la cité légendaire se dressait devant moi, j’ai réalisé que même si j’avais passé un séjour fantastique en faisant un tour de la Vénétie, je mourrais d’envie de voir Venise.

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