Italy: Venice - All Roads Lead from Venice ; Swap Your Gondola for Four Wheels and Float Past the Luscious Veneto Landscape, Says Richard Lofthouse
Lofthouse, Richard, The Independent (London, England)
Venice's unique appeal rests as much on the absence of roads and traffic as on the presence of canals and gondoliers, so it was with a certain degree of incredulity that journalists recently flew there for the launch of Bentley's new luxury car, the Flying Spur. The Crewe-based car-maker even managed to hoist a car onto the threshold of the Hotel Gritti Palace, a few feet away from the Grand Canal. Whether a new benchmark in the history of car launches, or a mighty automotive oxymoron, the stunt was unquestionably ingenious.
Having zoomed around the mainland in a Flying Spur, the central impression, apart from the gloriously muted Bentley growl and its sumptuous internal appointments, is how stunning the region of Veneto actually is. Oh, for a humble Fiat rental car and a week of freedom...
Don't allow yourself to be misled about Venice's surroundings. The immediately adjacent Mestre " described as the ugliest city in the world married to the most beautiful " may explain why 90 per cent of visitors to Venice dash in and dash out, usually en route to or from Florence or Rome, but Mestre is the only exception in the beautiful landscape of Veneto.
So pick up a car from Avis or Hertz at the Piazzale Roma in Venice, drive across the Ponte della Libert, which connects the city to the mainland, and immediately escape the sprawl by heading for the A4 going north, branching left on the A27 and driving the 100 miles towards Cortina d'Ampezzo, deep in the Dolomite mountains.
Just before you cross the Piave river it's possible to divert west a few miles and take in the Villa Barbaro, one of Andrea Palladio's finest palaces, commissioned in 1555 and today open to the public. If, on the other hand, you're a keen driver, stick to the road, which follows the river all the way to Pieve di Cadore, where you should take the S51 to Cortina. After lunch, drive the Strada delle Dolomiti, or S48, from Cortina to Bolzano " one of the most beautiful drives anywhere in the Alps.
South of Bolzano, pick up the A22 and head south in an arc culminating at Lake Garda, another haven of tranquillity from the sometimes oppressive humidity of the coastal plain. Drive either to Lazise or the Sirmione peninsula on the southern shore, and don't miss the Rocca Scaligera, a 13th-century castle built into the lake at Sirmione and designed to ensnare invading boats in a watery courtyard trap. On the eastern shore, meanwhile, Bardolino hosts a grape festival every September celebrating its namesake light red wine, distinct from the valpolicella that Veneto is famous for.
Landscapes are one thing, culture is another, and just a few miles from the lake is Verona, host to the truly spectacular Shakespeare and opera festivals in July and August. The point is not to try and understand The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice or Romeo and Juliet in Italian, but to visit the Teatro Romano on a hot night and sit with an extended Italian family picnicking amid the hot scents of cypress trees, wild roses and jasmine, listening to the cool tumble of the river Adige. …