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Treviso, a classic Veneto town

Inside the Porta San Tomaso, Treviso
Just inside Porta San Tomaso on a Saturday morning

Veneto is not short of interesting cities in close proximity to one another which means that Treviso will be overlooked more often than not in favor of Verona and Venice. That would be a mistake because what Treviso lacks in terms of dramatic views it more than makes up for in atmosphere and authenticity. A very Italian city or rather a very Veneto city that Fred Plotkin in his comprehensive tome 'Italy for the Gourmet Traveler' picked as his choice for 'the classic town of Veneto'.

Duomo di San Pietro, Treviso
Duomo di San Pietro

Treviso is a walking town with a compact center that since 2017 the city authorities have been gradually pedestrianizing. It makes a real difference because despite the many Renaissance era buildings, the layout of the centro storico of Treviso is still medieval in character so it consists of mostly narrow streets with no large piazze. Fewer cars here can only be a good thing.

Treviso is a hard working northern Italian town and you see that immediately in the comportment of the locals. It is also very clean and seemingly very well organized and administered, which sets it apart from most central and southern Italian towns.

Castello Fortunato Romano, Treviso
Castello Fortunato Romano, built in the late 19th century and still owned privately by the Romano family

There was an economic boom here in the 1980s and 1990s based on the collective output of small enterprises rather than the large scale post war industrialization of Italy's north-west. Even today a large part of the 'Made in Italy' movement is based in and around Treviso, including Benetton, the most well-known Treviso company founded in 1965.

Treviso is the gateway to the Prosecco territory and our trip to this town coincided with a visit to the Miotto family winery in the DOCG Prosecco Superiore zone, which we have written about separately.

The Sile river with Dante's bridge on the right and the University bridge on the left
The Sile river with Dante's bridge on the right and the University bridge on the left

Treviso is crisscrossed by narrow canals and various rivers that split as they enter the city. The main river, the Sile, doesn't start in the mountains but rather it rises from natural springs on the flat land and after passing through Treviso empties into the Venice lagoon.

The Buranelli Canal, Treviso
The Buranelli Canal

The Botteniga river divides into three branches (cagnani) when it reaches Treviso, the most famous of which is the Buranelli Canal, named after the fisherman from the Venetian island of Burano who came to Treviso in past centuries to sell their catch.

All of these waterways lend personality and charm to the city but most of them are quite fast flowing so the scenery is very different to the languid canals of Venice or Chioggia that are lined with boats and serve as streets.

Piazza dei Signori, Treviso
Piazza dei Signori

History has left its mark on Treviso in the form of the city walls which were constructed in the early years of the 16th century as a result of the League of Cambrai, initially an anti-Venetian alliance consisting of the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, the French and the Spanish crown of Aragon that included Sicily and Sardinia.

The war that ensued from the formation of the League could not break the Venetian Republic, even with all of these powerful forces combined, despite an initial and significant victory at the Battle of Agnadello in 1509. Treviso was voluntarily under the control and protection of Venice for four centuries and this small interlude was the only interruption in an otherwise long period of stability for the city.

The bar on the ground floor of the Palazzo dei Trecento, Treviso
Despite the nice weather you won't find the industrious Trevigiani loitering in a cafe in the middle of a Friday afternoon, nor will you see any tourists in February

The center of Treviso is slightly disappointing in one respect only, in that there is no grand imposing piazza like those of Verona, Vicenza or Padua. However the Piazza dei Signori, which is the cultural and historical heart of the city, is impressive enough with municipal buildings from the medieval period onwards, some of which had to be completely rebuilt after WW2 bombing damage.

Loggia dei Cavalieri, Treviso
A young couple stealing a kiss under the fading frescoes in the fabulous 750 year old Loggia dei Cavalieri

The nearby Loggia dei Cavalieri was built in 1276 as a place of leisure and discussion for the noble knights of Treviso who wielded power locally during the medieval period of Italian city states and it was constructed at the crossing point of the two major Roman streets of the city, the decumanus and the cardo.

Dante's bridge in Treviso
Dante's bridge in memory of the great poet's visit to Treviso and his reference to the Stile river in the Divine Comedy

The survival of the Loggia all these centuries later is something of a miracle because during the Venetian Republic it all but disappeared in its original form.

By the end of the 15th century it was in use as a warehouse with the arches at this point covered by doors and with other buildings attached to and hiding the Loggia.

Demolition was under serious consideration towards the end of the 19th century before the Loggia was subsequently restored in 1910, only for it to be bombed in WW2.

Further restoration work took place over the decades, including as recently as 2013 when various original frescoes were brought to light - external ones of knights on horseback and internal frescoes depicting scenes of chivalry. Today the Loggia is rightly admired as an unusual and perhaps even unique type of 13th century structure.

Porta San Tomaso, Treviso
The impressive Porta San Tomaso entrance to the city

The most majestic entrance to the centro storico is Porta San Tomaso, a classic triumphal arch of Istrian stone with the lion of San Marco, the symbol of the Venetian Republic, prominently displayed in the center. Built in 1518 it has had several name changes through the years but its official name refers to a nearby church, now demolished, that was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury.

A crowd of people enjoying themselves outside a bar in the winter in Treviso
Not yet midday on a glorious Saturday morning in early February and every seat taken

This impressive gate is still flanked today by the 16th century city walls and now that this entrance is also pedestrianized, the area immediately inside the gate has developed into a convivial gathering point where even before midday on a sunny Saturday morning in February the locals are out in force and cocktails not coffee fill every table. Treviso may be a hard working city but the Trevigiani certainly know how to enjoy themselves when not at work.

A bar beside a canal in Treviso

This is why traveling in winter in Italy can be so much more interesting and informative because you can observe how the locals behave when they get their city back for a few months. The picture is much more confusing when tourists fill the streets and disrupt the normal patterns of behavior.

You also quickly find out which restaurants and bars are favored by locals rather than tourists - these are the ones that are crowded in winter and we came across three in particular during our stay in Treviso that are worth mentioning.

Antica Pallone, Treviso

The first, Antico Pallone (above), hidden down a narrow alleyway, is a typical Osteria Trevigiana with a good selection of beers and wine and a famous porchetta sandwich included among the usual selection of cicchetti. After a gap of 34 years it recently returned to De Checchi ownership when a nephew of the 1960s owner took over and behind the bar on the night we were there was someone I originally mistook for an ex Treviso rugby player but in fact was previously a professional Treviso basketball star. Unusually for an Italian city, it is rugby and basketball that dominate the professional sports in Treviso rather than football.

Hostaria dai Naneti, Treviso
Find some standing room inside and soak up the atmosphere of this historic Treviso establishment while you enjoy their food and wine

The second place can't really be described as a restaurant because it's a chaotic small space with standing room only; there are tables outside but you'll miss the atmosphere. Hostaria dai Naneti (above) is a Treviso institution whose history is lost in the mists of time but certainly measured in centuries. An authentic, timeless and thankfully still old fashioned hole-in-the-wall that serves up delicious cuts of meat and cheese across an old grocery shop counter.

The outside seating area at Hostaria dai Naneti, Treviso
The outside seating area at Hostaria dai Naneti, where the younger crowd prefers to be

Bric-a-brac and wine bottles take up every available shelf space and you have to muscle your way to the front for service, as if you're in a crowded English pub, past happy people munching and drinking. It can't be beaten for atmosphere and it wouldn't be this crowded in the winter if the food wasn't equally impressive.

This is the place to sip wine because they don't serve cocktails and I applaud them for that because bars like this with a long history steeped in tradition should never subject themselves to the whims of fashion.

Camelia bakery, Treviso

The final port of call the next morning was to the Camelia Bakery (above) to see what all the fuss was about regarding their Tiramisù. This dessert, known and loved throughout the world, was invented in Treviso. The name translates into English as 'pick me up' and it supposedly was invented in 1800 by a madam in a local bordello to reinvigorate her clients.

ladies lunching outside in Treviso
Ladies who lunch in Treviso wear fur coats in the winter

Camelia prides itself on having the best tiramisu in Treviso based on the original recipe, which means no cream, and the local citizens clearly agreed when they voted Camelia into first place in their local competition in 2022.

Across the rest of Italy, Treviso is much more famous for another product, something we also love, Radicchio Rosso di Treviso IGP.

This is a winter harvested member of the chicory family that is pulled from the ground with its roots still attached.

The roots are then placed for a period in a tank of flowing fresh water, in relative darkness, causing the leaves to curl and also the color to change from green to the very attractive red trimmed with white that is instantly recognizable.

Radicchio rosso di Treviso outside a grocery shop in Treviso
Radicchio rosso di Treviso tastes as good as it looks

During this process much of the chicory bitterness is purged leaving just enough to make it interesting. From field to table this is a manually intensive process but the result is a fabulous winter salad ingredient that is crunchy and incredibly healthy and we also use it very often in the winter in a risotto with gorgonzola and walnuts, requiring only a very quick sauté in olive oil.

Fontana delle tette, Treviso

Finally, you can't write about Treviso without mentioning the Fontana delle Tette.

The original sculpture, now in a display case in the Palazzo del Trecento, was made in 1559 following a severe drought. A free municipal water fountain after a drought makes sense but why was it designed as the top half of a naked female? I can't find that information anywhere so perhaps it was a just someone with a 16th century sense of humor.

Anyhow, for the remaining centuries of the Venetian Republic whenever a new Doge was elected, red and white wine poured forth from the breasts of the statue for a full three days.

All good fun until of course Napoleon's undisciplined soldiers took a break from their wholesale theft of the treasures of Venice to badly damage the sculpture during their looting spree so what you now see in the courtyard is a 1989 copy.


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