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GARDENS OF THE WORLD: Gardens of Northern Italy Near Venice

By Frank Mitzel.

Heading east upon departing the enchanting environs of Bellagio and Lake Como towards the gardens of Veneto, it's always a treat to visit Verona, one of Italy's most famous and civilized cities. During the day on your trip east, you may choose to visit two gardens on the western shore of Lake Garda, Villa Bettoni and Giardino Botanico A. Hruska, before spending the late afternoon and evening soaking up the romance of the city made famous by Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

If you decide to take the side trip to Lake Garda, please realize that Villa Bettoni, although closed to the public, can be viewed through wrought iron gates, and is worth the stop. The Hruska Garden, named after its creator, Dr. Arturo Hruska, dentist to Nicholas II (the last Czar of Russia), is a quirky and eccentric garden with a diverse mixture of container succulents, black and green bamboo, ferns, lilies, and stately cedars and cypress trees.

Should you opt to bypass Lake Garda, you can make a beeline to Verona from Bellagio and visit the two open gardens of interest, Giardino di Pojega a Villa Rizzardi (just 11 miles northwest from Verona) and within the city on the west bank of the River Adige, Giardino Giusti, one of my all time favorite Renaissance gardens in all of Italy. The gardens of Villa Rizzardi are well known for their remarkable green theatre surrounded by the geometric features found in authentic Renaissance gardens.

Originating in about 1570, Giardino Giusti is one of the oldest and best-maintained Renaissance gardens in northern Italy. The weathered ochre walls and reddish terracotta roof of the three-story villa is the perfect backdrop for the rich, lush green of the surrounding formal boxwood parterres, soaring Italian cypress spires, and potted lemon trees. Rounding out the 19th-century renovation to the plantings are original water fountains, grotesque stone masks, and an underground grotto.

After a two night stay in Verona, it's a full day trip to the five gardens of interest around Padua before ending up in Venice by late afternoon. Villa Barbarigo Pizzoni Ardemani, Castello del Catajo, Villa Emo, Villa Pisani, and the Botanical Garden of Padua (the world's first botanical garden and a UNESCO World Heritage destination) are all worthy of a visit and open to the public most of the year on a daily basis. Each garden has something unique to offer and it's well worth the effort to fit them all in your schedule for the day you travel to Venice.

Bob and I actually stayed three nights in a guest house of a famous architect on the grounds of the Villa Pisani. It was lovely sharing meals with the family and learning about all the local Palladian architecture by Andrea Palladio. We managed to tour all the famous Palladian Villas in the Veneto region (also on the UNESCO World Heritage list), including Villa Foscari 'La Malcontenta' and, of course, the infamous Villa Almerico Capra Valmarana, also known as La Rotonda. Make sure you are there on the first day of the month if you wish to see inside La Rotonda. It is privately owned and lived in and only open to the public the one day.

While there are no gardens of note in Venice, Queen of the Adriatic and capital of the Veneto region—just a few small, very public, and mostly insipid tree-filled gardens for resting your feet—there is plenty to see in the way of architecture. Hidden from view behind some of the doors of the private Venice are some charming and delightful walled gardens that I've had the privilege of visiting with Gianna Giacometti, my dear friend, local native Venetian tour guide, and extraordinary Italian chef. The last time I visited her, we scored some fresh crayfish from a local dock and grilled them along with fresh radicchio and a medley of green and yellow baby zucchini and red and yellow bell peppers marinated in virgin olive oil with balsamic vinegar, complimented by a lovely 'vino della regione'.

Our next area to visit on our tour of Italian gardens will be the splendor of Tuscany and the Marches in the central northern Italy countryside.

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