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Sailing Along the Brenta Canal

Apart from such irresistible cities as Venice and Verona, which tend to hog all the tourists’ gazes and flashes, Veneto also has other jewels to be seen and discovered and places which will quench your wanderlust. Not far from one of the leading lights of the region lies the Brenta Canal, linking Venice to Padua. It is well worth getting off the beaten track to discover it.

The river Brenta, which rises in the province of Trentino and flows into the Adriatic, was channelled between Venice and Padua in the 16th century to facilitate travel and the flow of goods between the two cities. Noble Venetian families then started building grand villas along the banks of the river. They served both as the agricultural headquarters of farming estates and as leisure resorts where their owners arrived in the summer months and where lavish parties were held. Over time, the canal became known as the “Riviera del Brenta”, where aristocrats flitted from party to party in luxury barges called burchiellos.All this splendour came to an end with the arrival of Napoleon, but those opulent villas, some of which have priceless gardens, have survived to the present and become a tourist draw in the area.

The best way of touring the Brenta Canal is obviously by barge. This will enable visitors to see first-hand the unusual system of locks, as well as the villas that are still standing, which number about eighty in all. You can take a barge either from Padua or the Venice ferry terminal and some of them include villa tours on the ride. Here, then, are the the standout villas, among those open to the public:

Villa Foscari

This beautiful villa, the work of Andrea Palladio, is nicknamed “La Malcontenta” because legend has it that Elisabetta Dolfin, the wife of Nicolò Foscari, was confined there allegedly for being an adulteress. Built from 1555 to 1560 on the Brenta riverside, it is noteworthy for the huge pedestal it is set on and its spectacular portico in the form of a classical pronaos, surmounted by a pediment, reminiscent of an ancient temple. The interior boasts some magnificent frescoes depicting mythological themes executed after 1566, the work of Giovanni Battista Zelotti.

Villa Pisani

Built in the 18th century and commissioned by the Pisani family, this spectacular villa with a certain Versaillesque air is an obligatory visit. Among the marvels to be seen in its interior is Tiepolo’s Glory of the Pisani family, which adorns the ceiling of the Dance Hall. Other highlights of this building include the enormous gardens, with ponds and a large maze which invites visitors to get lost in search of its Minerva statue, which crowns the belvedere. The stables, too, are worth visiting.

Villa Widmann Rezzonico Foscari

This villa was built in the early-18th century by the Scerimanns, a family of Venetian nobles of Persian extraction. The simple lines of its exterior strike a contrast with the richly ornate interior, decorated with French-inspired frescoes and Rococo stuccowork.

Book your Vueling to Venice to see the wonders of the Brenta Canal and its spectacular villas.

Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS