Along the Brenta River between Venice and Padua are many beautiful villas, originally built to house owners of farm estates and later as summer homes for wealthy Venetians, dating from the 15th - 18th centuries. Some of the villas were designed by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio in the 16th century. The Brenta River is really an extension of Venice's Grand Canal and this area is called the Riviera di Brenta. It's part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Italy that includes other Palladian villas and monuments.
Although most of the villas are not open to visitors, they can be seen as you drive, bike or boat along the river and some of the gardens are now public parks. A few villas can be visited, however. The best to visit is Villa Pisani, now home to an art museum, with its beautiful gardens and famous maze. Find out more about Villa Pisani on the next page.
Villa Pisani - Venetian Villa, Garden, and Labyrinth
Villa Pisani, built in the early 18th century, is one of the top Venetian villas open to the public. It houses a national museum of 18th and 19th-century art and furniture. You'll also get to see original frescoes and decor in many of the 30 rooms open to visitors. Special exhibits are held in some rooms of the museum and in the gardener's house.
In addition to the villa itself, the garden is beautiful with many large statues throughout. The best-known feature is The Labyrinth of Love. It's easy to get lost trying to navigate the maze but at the center is a tower with a guide who yells out helpful directions after you've wandered around for a while. When you reach the center, climb the tower for a view of the labyrinth and gardens. The Villa Pisani Garden received The Most Beautiful Garden in Italy award in 2008.
The cafe at the back of the gardens is open during visiting hours and in nice weather, they'll lend you a basket and mat with your food purchase to enjoy a picnic on the grass. There's also a small shop near the entrance.
Villa Pisani Visitor Information:
- Museum opening hours: Tuesday - Sundays (closed Mondays) at 9AM. Closing time varies by season, usually 7PM April - September, 5PM in part of October, and 4PM in other months.
- Maze opening hours: 9AM. Closed between 2:30 and 2:15PM. Open until 7:15PM in summer with earlier closing hours other months. Closed in bad weather.
- Admission: Check current hours, prices, and exhibits on the Villa Pisani web site
- Location: The town of Stra, on the Brenta River, is between Venice and Padua. Buses from either city stop in the center of Stra and from there it's about a 5-minute walk. There's a parking lot near the villa for those arriving by car.
Villa Pisani is usually included in boat tours, normally starting or ending in Stra. Continue to the next page for more about boat trips.
Villa Foscari, or La Malcontenta, Designed by Palladio
Villa Foscari was designed by Andrea Palladio, a top Italian Renaissance architect, and is a good example of his architecture. It's also called La Malcontenta and there are several theories for the reason.
Inside the villa are many frescoes but currently it's only open to the public on Tuesdays and Saturdays, 9AM - noon, May - October. See the Villa Foscari web site for updated visiting information.
Villa Foscari La Malcontenta is in the Oriago section of Mira Taglio, just a few kilometers from Venice. Boat companies offering day cruises along the Brenta River to see the villas start from the small harbor by Villa Foscari. Taking a boat cruise along the river is a great way to see the villas and most boat trips include tours of 2 or 3 of them. Companies currently offering tours include Il Burchiello, I Battelli del Brenta, and Delta Tour.
The town of Mira makes a good base for visiting the Venetian villas. See my recommendations for where to stay and eat on the next page.
Where to Stay and Eat on the Brenta Riviera
We stayed at Bed and Breakfast Barchessa Levi Morenos, next to the villa of the same name (that we could see from our bedroom window) shown in the photo. The villa itself is not open but its former gardens are a small public park. The bed and breakfast feature large rooms with private bath and kitchenette, much nicer than staying in a hotel, and helpful owners. Our room had a small private terrace that was great for relaxing on in the afternoons. Bikes are available to ride along the river. It's in the Brenta Riviera town of Mira, about 20 kilometers from Venice and 30 kilometers from Padua, and right by the bus stop that takes you to either of the cities, making it a great budget lodging option for visiting Venice.
Our host told us that the Brenta Riviera is known for two things - women's shoes and fish dinners. We had a fantastic feast at Ristorante Isola di Capera (also a 3-star hotel), a short walk from the bed and breakfast. We had the tasting menu that included several unusual appetizers, a small portion of both risotto and a pasta, fried calamari and shrimp, and a succulent roast orata with potatoes. Dessert included lemon gelato with bits of licorice, my new favorite taste treat. The dinner included wine, water, coffee, and service for 55 euro each (in 2013). There are several other good fish restaurants in town too.
If you're looking for luxury, Hotel Villa Franceschi is a 5-star hotel near Mira's charming port area. Villa Alberti is another 3-star option in Mira.