Venice: sparkling, extraordinary, unique, with its brilliant glow, has always created a sort of shadow on the rest of the surrounding region, hiding from the sight of travelers the beauty of both larger and smaller cities that are true treasures of beauty. Treviso is no exception. Notwithstanding its proximity to Venice, some 20 miles away, alas, it is unknown to most visitors of the lagoon city. Yet this city deserves a visit, even of a few extra days if possible, to enjoy the slow and quiet lifestyle of the people of Treviso.
Treviso is a small jewel of a city, made up of elegant squares and streets paved in porphyry and Istrian stone, flanked by arcades, elegant buildings with antique pink, yellow and light brown façades, often frescoed - not surprisingly they call it "urbis picta" - windows and serliana, the signature Venetian window style, small loggias, cobbled alleys, and ancient, simple and elegant churches: Treviso is definitely a town with a late-medieval soul.
Two rivers cross Treviso, the Sile and the Botteniga. They form an intricate system of canals, the cagnan, which intersect in the city, a placid emerald artery that flows calmly, furrowed by battalions of ducks and pairs of elegant swans. The presence of so much water has given Treviso the title of ‘Little Venice,’ but do not be fooled, the references to the lagoon city are in the details, the traces. A barbican here and there, some passages reminiscent of some narrow Venetian calle, some loggia that is reflected in the water, yet the character of the city is very different from that of the Serenissima. Treviso retains its ancient character almost intact: the modern buildings are hardly noticeably included in the substantially late medieval city layout, with very few concessions to modernity. The churches are mostly Romanesque, and I personally like San Nicolò with the extraordinary cycle of frescoes by Tommaso da Modena.
Both rivers, Sile and Botteniga, arise from springs, to the west and east of the city respectively, and — compared to their impetuous and unpredictable bigger brothers such as Piave, Adige and Brenta — are not subject to changes in flow, with constant level and temperature all year round. There are no dry periods, nor danger of floods. There is no high water. The waters flow calm and clear and constantly feed over thirty city fountains, including the most iconic of all, the Fountain of the Tits. It was erected in 1559, to celebrate the election of the new mayor, who ordered that for three days it gushed wine, red and white, from each breast, and every citizen could drink for free. The fountain has in some way become the symbol of the city and its province, already defined many centuries ago as the "Marca Gioiosa et Amorosa.”
If in the Middle Ages, in other cities during the knightly feasts, the nobles challenged each other in duels or tests of muscular strength, in Treviso they had to challenge each other in a love courtship competition instead. Near Porta San Tommaso, a large wooden castle of love, harnessed with precious fabrics, velvets and damasks, was lifted, and a group of two hundred young ladies was brought in. The noble maidens had to defend the castle from the conquest of knights, armed with flowers and fruit, while the young boys (who came from all over the region), preceded by their town flag, tried to conquer the castle with the same means and also a few more expedients: songs, poems of love, bottles of perfumes, nutmeg and bags of precious spices.
The history of the feasts of the Castel D'Amore, which probably earned Treviso its famous appellation "joyful and amorous," has come down to us thanks to coeval writings and precious images. But it was not always a joyful event: the feast of 1214 became notorious as it almost ended up in a swordfight. When the Paduan rustics understood that the launch of sweets and tortellini and even some roast chicken were not very successful compared to the launches of perfumed essences and gold ducats by the Venetians, the Paduans snatched the flag of San Marco from the hands of the standard bearer and reduced it to shreds, unleashing a fight that was quelled on the spot, but gave rise to a subsequent war with the assault on a real castle, that of Bebbe. The war had a fatal outcome for the Paduan, but that is another story.
I don't know if it was the story of the Castel d'Amore that contributed to the myth, or the appellation of Gioiosa et Amorosa, but they say that the Trevisane are the most beautiful women in all of Italy and undoubtedly the great local Renaissance painters, from Titian to Giorgione, and from Veronese to Jacopo Palma, have made quite an homage to the local female sex appeal.
Forget the Florentine madonnas, forget Botticelli: the Treviso goddesses are blonde or red-haired deities, nymphs or muses, lying on the grass, relaxed with seductive smiles as if they were keeping a special secret. Contemporary Trevisan women share the same understatement even if they go around the city on foot or by bicycle with many more clothes on, well-selected from the elegant and creative boutiques of the historic center.
Cycling, here, is as natural as walking: Treviso is home to one of the most iconic bicycle manufacturers, Pinarello, a brand that has made elegance combined with technology its hallmark, so much so that it could not fail to pass under the radar of the LVHM group who recently acquired it. Treviso is also the perfect base for exploring the Veneto countryside by bicycle, with kilometers of cycle paths along the river, down to the Venetian lagoon and beaches, and up to the Prosecco hills and the Dolomites.
Walking around the city, crossing small bridges and discovering small squares, sitting in small and welcoming cafes where you can indulge in the morning ritual of "cappuccino-and-brioche, grazie", the inevitable spritz before dinner or a glass of Prosecco (we are in the capital of Prosecco after all) is like rediscovering the joy of a slow life that here seems like a philosophy applied everyday. Perhaps ‘slow life’ is only an impression because in reality Treviso is one of the richest cities in Italy, a sign that creative energies and fierce industriousness are stirring beyond the ancient city walls. In fact, the people of Treviso are hard workers and maybe it is no coincidence that the tiramisu, a dessert famous all over the world and certainly capable of infusing a quantity of energy to awaken even the dying, was invented here. If the invention of this dessert is lost in legends and rumors, credit goes to Ado Campeol for being the first to propose his wife Alba's tiramisu in his restaurant, Le Beccherie, which is still one of the best restaurants in Treviso today.
The recipe has numerous variations and probably originates from the Venetian habit of serving to children and convalescents the so-called sbatuin, egg yolk and sugar whipped by hand to a foam, practically the basis of tiramisu, to which mascarpone and ladyfingers dipped in coffee are then added, with cocoa powder sprinkled all over. Today Treviso celebrates its dessert every year with the Tiramisù World Cup: professional and amateur chefs from all over the world compete in the creation of perhaps the most famous dessert in the world. Whether it is for the pleasure of tasting tiramisu where it was invented or the desire to discover a place that invites slowness and savoir-vivre, do not miss the opportunity to visit this small city, capable of surprising you completely unexpectedly.