LA PIANURA DEI DOGI
Boundless fields, verdant expanses stretching to the horizon, interspersed with symmetrical springs. Land and water chase each other, intertwining, then separating and embracing again, a little further on… We are about to discover the Plain of the Doges, or Bassa Veronese. Here, in the rays of the sun, wheat and tobacco plants grow, and boundless rice fields spring up. The Adige River flows through the valley, skirting the cultivated areas and caressing the villages of the plain. Rural courtyards, villas, castles, and churches from past eras stand out with mysterious charm, all waiting to be discovered.
The Plain of the Doges is an area of inestimable wealth, although it is not yet well-known to large-scale tourism. Precisely for this reason, we advise you to visit it as soon as possible, immersed in sweet calm.
The Plain of the Doges coincides with the area south of the city of Verona, making it one of the must-visit places near Lake Garda.
During a normal regional train journey on the Milan-Venice line, you will certainly catch a glimpse of it. But let’s start with a fundamental point… Haven’t you ever wondered how Bassa Veronese got its name?
DISCOVERING THE PLAIN OF THE DOGES (OR BASSA VERONESE)
In the Serenissima Republic of Venice, the Doges were those who held the highest office: magistrates and heads of government, in a nutshell. The Doges used to spend their summer holidays in these lands, far from the built-up areas and the crowd. But they were not the only ones! Nobles and landowners also loved this territory. So, some court houses became truly luxurious villas, surrounded by huge gardens. Others remained the same but were modernized inside. The classic courtyards still look as they once did: they have a dovecote tower, walls for defense, and residences for the peasants. In fact, they were the real protagonists of the area and continue to be so today, given the agricultural vocation of the area.
But apart from the peace that reigns supreme, what is really important here? Well, we are in the Land of Rice! Vialone Nano IGP rice is an Italian excellence, recognized even at the European level. You have certainly heard of the Isola della Scala Fair, for example. But it is not the only quality product from this area. There is also Radicchio Veronese di Casaleone, Patata di Cologna Veneta, and Mela di Zevio. Once upon a time, the plain was covered with vast forest blankets: the inhabitants of the area knew how to make the most of the wood obtained from the trees. In this period, the first engravers and carvers were born… And that’s why even today the Plain of the Doges is recognized internationally for the local production of furniture and ornamental objects.
VILLAGES AND TRADITIONS OF THE DOGES’ PLAIN
Before going into detail, it’s right and proper to make a clarification: the borders of the area enclosed by the name are not perfectly delineated. The locals, however, include in the Plain of the Doges all the municipalities already known as part of Bassa Veronese. Here we will look at the main ones.
Isola della Scala
The Isola della Scala Rice Fair now enjoys national fame. But how was it born? It was in 1967, and among the locals in the village, the idea of a competition to award the best risotto began to take hold. A competition that over the years has become a veritable institution. Some people in northern Italy take their holidays just to participate in the fair, which has become increasingly successful over the years. I ate the best risotto ever there!
The stands are scattered around, presenting menus with numerous proposals. From the great classic, Risotto al Tastasal, a soft sausage; to the variant with herbs, potatoes, and speck, with vegetables, with cheese… Even with fish! In fact, another typical local dish is Risotto with “Pessin”, a freshwater fish found in the rice fields. The Fair also includes a play area, a farm, sales of handicrafts and clothing, and an exhibition area. Here you can learn about the operation of the stacks, cultivation, and irrigation systems of the Plain of the Doges in a curious and interactive way.
Isola della Scala is also the realm of the Boiled Rice Fair with Pearà, a tasty sauce made from breadcrumbs and pepper. While the Rice Fair usually takes place between September and October, this one welcomes the first cold days of November.
The journey of discovery of the Plain of the Doges continues in Zevio. A town that welcomed and witnessed the marriage of the famous opera singer Maria Callas, an exceptional soprano. In her honor, a museum within the musical academy of the same name has been inaugurated. Among the things to see in Zevio, in addition to the museum, there is Villa Sagramoso, also called ‘Zevio Castle’ by its inhabitants.
An important event that takes place annually in Zevio is the Apple Festival. The cultivation of the ‘Mela di Verona’ in Zevio goes back to ancient times, as far back as Roman times. The apples are cultivated on clayey, sunny grounds, becoming crisp and low in acidity… A treat for the palate!
The calm that reigns when you are surrounded by nature is something incomparable. That is why the Adige Natural Park in Legnago is also known as an oasis. Thanks to the La Verbena dell’Adige Association, the right riverbank has 6 km of nature trails. Strolling along the riverbank, you can immerse yourself in the vegetation, among willows and reed beds, spotting flocks of birds that populate the park.
But Legnago is also steeped in history: the Cathedral of San Martino, located opposite the Torrione, watches over the city. The Romanesque Church of San Salvaro can also be visited inside. You will also find the Museum – Archaeological Environmental Centre, suitable for the whole family, and a theatre dedicated to Antonio Salieri, a pillar of sacred and classical music.
Don’t forget that Legnago was part of the notorious Habsburg Quadrilateral along with three other places to visit near Lake Garda: Peschiera del Garda, Verona, and Mantua.
After a visit to the town, I suggest lunch or dinner at the Ristorante ATipico. This restaurant is atypical in the true sense of the word! Just think about the dining room, which was carved out of a Second World War ship. The ship was later converted for civilian use and became a proper restaurant in 1983.
The architectural symbol of Bovolone is the Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop’s Palace), dating back to the 12th century. Over the years, the palace has been modernized, some elements gave way to others, such as the “barchessa” and “bugnato”. With its regal appearance, the Bishop’s Palace also hosts the ‘Furniture Styles from the 14th to the 20th century’ itinerary, as well as the Civic Library. On the other hand, Bovolone is famous for its majestic villas: Villa Gagliardi, Villa Baldoni, Palazzo Corte Salvi, among many others.
When I ventured to discover the Plain of the Doges, I would never have imagined that the Menago Valley Park was right here. The “Menago Valley” stretches for 35 hectares, marked by the Bosco di Sopra and Bosco di Sotto. Bounded by two rivers, the Menago and the Fossa Nuova, it incorporates walking and cycling paths. As you wander along, you might see an artificial island. No, you are not mistaken, what you see is an ancient prehistoric village! Remember also to pass by the deer and the Animal Farm, while you’re having fun finding swans hidden among the aquatic vegetation. The humid environment, typical of the Bassa Veronese, also favors the stopover of numerous species of migratory birds.
If to the question “What are your favorite Christmas sweets?” you would answer by including almond cake, then you are definitely from this area. Or perhaps, you have been there over Christmas and tasted this delicacy, on the occasion of the Festa del Mandorlato (almond cake festival): a very important occasion for the town of Cologna Veneta, which falls every year on 8 December.
How was almond cake first created, have you ever wondered? Well, let’s just say that one day someone thought of mixing honey, sugar, egg white, and almonds… That’s how, in the 19th century, this sweet was made, which you can’t fail to taste on your itinerary to discover the Doges’ Plain.
Cologna Veneta is also a historical village. If you love visiting towns with an important past, rich in evocative monuments, you are in the right place! The Scaligero Castle houses the Lapidary Museum and a bell tower that looks like the one in St Marco’s Square in Venice. Impossible not to mention the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, an architectural masterpiece in neoclassical style, with a facade of 8 columns. Also Palazzo Pretorio, the ancient seat of the Podestà, has an indescribable charm, as also does the Archaeological Museum. The things to see do not end here… To discover them all, we invite you to visit Cologna!
Villafranca di Verona
Every year, artists of national and international importance choose the Castello Scaligero di Villafranca as a location for concerts and shows. Imagine being here, on a summer evening, embraced by the charm of the walls of the Rocca, in the moonlight. Perhaps listening to your favorite singer… A dream that will really come true in Villafranca!
For a breakfast with the scent of history, we invite you to drop by the ancient Caffè Fantoni, present in town since 1842. The founder of the café is none other than Giovanni Fantoni, the creator of the tasty sfogliatine! A specialty that you will still find on the menu today.
Villafranca is also home to one of the most interesting places to visit, close to Lake Garda: the Nicolis Museum. Those who love engines and vintage cars will not fail to be enchanted.
Other towns and things to see in the Plain of the Doges
The perfect itinerary for visiting the Plain of the Doges is undoubtedly the one traced out by the Strada del Riso (Rice Route). Starting from Isola della Scala, you can venture into the Veronese territory passing through many other small towns. Nogarole Rocca, Bonferraro, Nogara, Sanguinetto, Salizzole, Concamarise, Roverchiara, Oppeano… Along the way, we recommend you a stop at a rice mill. Usually, the best time to visit is in spring or before autumn.
However, if you have a dreamy nature or simply love reliving past eras, you cannot miss the most beautiful castles in the area! In Sanguinetto, Salizzole, and Bevilacqua you will be amazed by elegant fortresses that have survived time and wars. In Gazzo Veronese, you will find another WWF protected nature oasis, the “Palude del Busatello”. The oasis is of great importance, especially for the breeding of the fauna species that dwell there.
Another fundamental product in the agriculture of the “Bassa Veronese” that we told you about at the beginning is the “Red Radicchio”. This is the reason why a dedicated fair is held in Casaleone every year. Among the typical risottos of the “Bassa Veronese”, there is also that with Red Radicchio! Instead, for those who love cycling, San Giovanni Lupatoto is the starting point of the Resurgence Cycle Route.