For over a thousand years the area was an independent state ruled over by Venice, and enjoyed the material and reputational benefits of commercial and maritime supremacy.
The scenic route
Veneto is home to the largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda, which draws in visitors from all over Europe to bathe in its clear, cool waters and unwind on its shores. Stretching across three provinces and surrounded by morainic hills, it offers endless opportunities for walking, cycling, sailing and golf, not to mention an abundance of spa facilities designed to provide wellness services and relaxing treatments. For the more adventurous, the region offers lots of sports such as climbing, diving and canyoning; La Rocca Camp (IT63600) in Bardolino is a prime location to try paragliding at Malcesine. A short cable car journey to the top of the mountain is followed by a 6,000ft descent gliding in tandem with an instructor and affords truly spectacular views of lake and its surroundings.
Art and history lovers can explore the various medieval villages, castles and villas dotted along the lake’s shoreline. The Palazzo Bettoni dominates the scenery at Gargnano and is an outstanding example of 18th century architecture. Built by Adrian Cristofori, it is adorned with statues from Roman mythology. The interior features original Rococo staircases and the villa is surrounded by beautiful Italian gardens.
During winter, the ragged peaks are concealed under a blanket of snow and become a paradise for skiers and snowboarders, with over 1,000km of piste. The Dolomites, however, are not reserved solely for those looking to whizz downhill. Unspoilt hamlets such as Arabba and Corvara provide an antidote to the commercialised ski resorts and there are various opportunities to try alternative activities such as snowshoeing.
While Venice is known for its gondolas, they’re not the most cost effective way to get around. Use the vaporetti (water buses) to get up and down the Grand Canal – it’s best to get a travel card rather than paying for individual trips; these cover land transport on the Lido and in Mestre too.
The carnival city
Standing in Venice’s Piazza San Marco in the company of the magnificent basilica and the Doge’s palace, it’s difficult to reconcile the surrounding grandeur with the city’s somewhat colourful past. Birthplace of the best known carnival in Europe, at which the population hid behind the masks of Columbina and Arlecchino and engaged in gambling, drinking and licentiousness, Venice fell foul of the Catholic church more than once and was excommunicated by several Popes in an effort to control its power.
Curious visitors are best off discarding their maps, pocketing their guidebooks and simply losing themselves in this wonderful city. The joy of exploring Venice lies in stumbling upon hidden cafés, discovering unknown churches and wandering the streets taking it all in. Stop for a bite to eat in the bacari, small bars that serve snack food and wine, and don’t miss the chance to drink coffee the Italian way, served ready to drink at the bar.
Across the water, the spell of Venice is broken as the shores of the Lido and Cavallino Treporti advance. Separated from the main city, the latter is an ideal place to stay, where visitors can enjoy the sights of Venice and its islands as well as some leisurely strolls along the headland. With several campsites to choose from, families can always find a suitable pitch and plenty to do, from eating out at local restaurants to trying sports activities.