Have you ever heard of Caldogno? I admit it. Until recently, I only knew that it was the town where Roberto Baggio was born. Caldogno is a town just north of Vicenza, surrounded by greenery and very rich in water. I spent a day and a half in this thriving area, among gardens, villas, excellent food and relaxation and now I’ll tell you everything: what to visit in Caldogno, but also where to sleep and where to eat.
What to see in Caldogno
First of all I recommend you to visit Villa Caldogno, a Palladian villa. Less known than others in the area, it is worth visiting for the cycle of frescoes and also for other peculiarities which I will now tell you about.
The history of this villa begins in April 1538, when Losco Caldogno, count of these lands, marries Doristella Muzani, who brings him a large sum of money as a dowry. The bride’s family presses for the count to have a beautiful country villa built, as befits the aristocrats of their rank.
The bride’s relatives were friends of an emerging architect, “a certain” Andrea Palladio. When asked to design the villa, Palladio was thrilled. The land was in the ideal position, between two canals of water, to experiment with an idea he had been thinking about for a while. That is to create a system to get the water inside the villa. Palladio succeeded and in fact, in the basement, it is possible to admire the sixteenth-century hydraulic system, used to channel the water and make it domestic. It is among the very few examples that have survived intact to the present day.
Meanwhile Losco dies and his son Angelo Caldogno takes over. It is he who summons the young artists Giovanni Antonio Fasolo, a pupil of Veronese, Giovanni Battista Zelotti and Giulio Carpioni to adorn the loggia, the central hall and the rooms on the west side with frescoes.
The villa was completed and frescoed in 1570.
The fate of the villa
It remained for three centuries the property of the family. After a short period in which it was the seat of an institute for disadvantaged children, it was requisitioned by the German army at the beginning of WW2.
At the end of the war, after a period of neglect, the Municipality of Caldogno acquired the villa at the end of the 1980s. Since 1996 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the city of Vicenza and the other Palladian Villas in the Veneto region.
The barchessa is now the seat of the Civic Library of Caldogno.
The frescoes of Villa Caldogno
The frescoes in the Loggia portray the delights of life in the villa and the Council of the gods observing from above.
The central hall is the most majestic. It features scenes of entertainment in the villa (The card game, The invitation to the dance, The concert and The banquet), while 12 giants hold up the ceiling.
- In the banquet scene, there is a tray that contains Caldogno bussolà, local sweet donuts, prepared with corn flour and enriched with raisins.
- Among the frescoes in the hall there is also a very rare portrait of Palladio.
South West: the decoration celebrates the virtues of Scipio, with valuable frescoes by Zelotti.
Pastor Fido’s room: the next room refers to Guarini’s pastoral drama, very popular at the time, and scenes from Torquato Tasso’s Aminta.
Sofonisba’s room: here Zelotti narrates the dramatic events of the queen of Carthage, Sofonisba, who, having fallen prisoner of Scipio, decided to die drinking poison in order not to become the spoils of war.
Also in this case I do not want to go further with more details but intrigue you to go and discover this villa in person. Learn more here: www.prolococaldogno.it
Behind the barchessa of Villa Caldogno, there is the 1944 bunker. A German militia forced the inhabitants of the place, who remained in the village during the war (women, children, elderly) to build it. The purpose was to house the wounded and operating theaters. In reality the war ended sooner than the Germans thought, thankfully. And therefore it was not used for long. Nowadays the bunker, renovated and rearranged, houses the permanent exhibition “From the First World War to 1945”. We didn’t have time to visit the bunker but I’ll be back.
The Longobards church
Inside the Caldogno cemetery, there is the small church of San Michele. In fact, it is the cemetery that was built around the church which is the oldest in the country. Unfortunately, neglect and time have meant that the interior frescoes were almost totally lost, of which some fragments remain.
In the municipality of Caldogno there is also the summer residence of the Vicenza writer Antonio Fogazzaro. At one time the villa included stables, a church and other rooms which, however, were requisitioned by the military during the First World War. The villa is private. Every now and then, the owners organize visits or events dedicated to Fogazzaro.
The Risorgive del Bacchiglione
Another attraction to visit in the area is the one of the Bacchiglione river springs. It is possible not only to arrive comfortably by car but also by bike, thanks to the presence of a protected cycle path that covers the entire municipality of Caldogno and reaches the Bacchiglione park.
I was unable to visit the springs due to bad weather but I’m happy to have left behind something else to explore for next time.
Where to sleep in Caldogno
Villa Solatia is a unique place. An oasis where you can regenerate, both thanks to the beauty of the architecture you can admire, and to the vegetation that surrounds the property. But also to the indoor wellness area which was a plus, given the weather of the days I stayed. There is also an outdoor swimming pool. Or, better, a bio-lake, but I will describe it better in the next paragraphs. If you want to take a look at their website, here it is: villasolatia.com.
Well, I fell in love with the atmosphere of the place and the people who run it. So much so that I hope to have the opportunity to return in the future, perhaps in good weather.
The Villa has had a troubled history. The construction site was opened in 1559 on a project by Andrea Palladio, perhaps later built by Serlio. Eight years later it was completed. It was once called Villa Muzari, then brother-in-law of the owner of Villa Caldogno at the time.
The frescoes, by Veronese and Zelotti, have unfortunately been lost. At the end of the eighteenth century the villa is described in a treatise on the Palladian villas as being in poor condition. After a passage to the Viscontis of Milan, who fixed the degraded structure, it became the property of the current owner’s great-grandfather at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In all these years, artworks and furnishings have been lost or stolen.
The recent restoration run by the current owners has filled the void with pieces of Italian and international art and design, creating an impressive dialogue between ancient and modern.
The Villa offers 15 Suites, each characterized by a different identity. There are, for example, rooms with a Palladian or botanical theme. I want to tell you the names because already from there you understand many things: Forest, Hellas, Sculpture, Temptation, Vicenza, Aurea, Arcadia, Risorgiva, Palma, Serenissima, Biloba, Pigafetta, Water, Barrier and Corfu. Each is equipped with a bathroom, bathrobes and pool towels, hairdryer, WiFi, TV, courtesy set. We slept very well. It is really a quiet area.
The Barchessa houses the wellness area, the gym, the breakfast room and four of the apartments. The breakfast is continental, with a choice of croissants, cake, biscuits, cereals, yogurt, juices, cheeses, cold cuts, bread and eggs prepared at the moment. Obviously drinks (coffee, cappuccino, tea).
Built in the early nineteenth century to house the workers of the property, today it houses 9 of the suites of the complex.
The garden includes:
- The Great Parterre, an English lawn overlooked by the Barchessa Palladiana.
- A small water garden, with pools and fountains fed by the natural aquifer of the villa, whose water is drinkable.
- The Arboretum was born at the end of the seventeenth century to create a place where you can find shade and refreshment on hot days. Of the original trees, for example, a plane tree that is 400 years old survives. I found it wonderful to have placed under the most interesting specimens of the lecterns where it is possible to learn their history and curiosities.
- The Orangerie is a real treat. A small house with large windows from which to admire the arboretum. Among potted plants, colonial furniture and design pieces, it houses a corner for contemplating nature, with a majolica stube, magazines and botanical books.
- Vegetable garden and orchard with organic and synergistic cultivation of vegetables, fruit, aromatic and medicinal herbs and edible flowers.
- Soon, the Pavilion inspired by the Palmenhaus in Vienna will also be ready. That is a structure that can host weddings, events and conferences at any time of the year. It will have a transparent structure so that people can always be surrounded by nature.
The bio-lake, better than a normal swimming pool
Installing a simple pool here would have been totally out of place. It would have been very out of tune with the elegant and sober atmosphere of Villa Solatia. The property has therefore invested to create something that integrates perfectly with the environment and with the Renaissance architecture. A bio-lake, inspired by the ancient fish tanks typical of Palladian villas. It is a central bathing pool, whose waters are purified thanks to the plants and fish present in the pools that surround it. It is therefore free of chlorine or other harmful substances.
Villa Solatia is Pet Friendly and there is also a small dog walking area.
Where to eat in Caldogno
Housed in an ancient mill of the sixteenth century, with a wheel still working, the restaurant is a fairytale place surrounded by greenery and waters, which come from the springs of the Bacchiglione river. Here you can taste dishes of the Vicentine culinary tradition, based on local products, with extensive use of aromatic herbs grown in the officinal garden (which includes 100 different species).
In the summer it is pleasant to sit on the terrace by the lake. The restaurant has several more or less large halls and lounges, so much so that, in addition to the normal restaurant service, they organize wedding banquets. Here you can find the website of the restaurant: www.molinvecio.it.
The furniture and lithographs
The decor of the restaurant is delightful: you feel you are inside an ancient mill, among light wood furniture, exposed beams and bricks, tools for ancient crafts and above all, on display here and there, the splendid lithographs created in collaboration with the artist Galliano Rosset. The owner, Sergio Boschetto, whom I met and loved for irony and for his ability to tell the food and the territory, had the idea several years ago. They started with the illustration of the Venetian Villas in the area. And then continued with the ancient crafts, officinal herbs, Vicenza traditions, up to a huge collection.
I had the pleasure of dining here with a menu based on local and seasonal ingredients. As an appetizer with ricotta and Berici truffle with local mushrooms (a delight). First course risotto with tastasal with rosole and pisacàn. Tastasal is a mixture of minced pork and spices. Rosole are the wild poppy plant, while pisacàn is dandelion.
A matter of ingredients
As a second course, a dish that surprised me: fried avannotti (small trout) and polenta. First of all for the taste, delicious. Why? Because at Molin Vecio they use the brown trout, native and much more valuable, both for its tasty taste and for its organoleptic properties, compared to the rainbow trout, which in many places has taken over because it grows faster and is more resistant to high temperatures.
The second reason was digestibility. You must know that I have no gallbladder and, since the operation, I had a hard time digesting fried food. Not this time. It was so light that I finished it all and didn’t have the slightest digestive problem. Zero. For the polenta they use Pignoletto di Rettorgole, a De.Co product, municipal denomination. Sergio told us that it is an ancient native corn, almost lost for years. Fortunately it was recovered thanks to cryopreserved seeds at the Strampelli Institute of Agricultural Genetics in Lonigo (Vicenza). With Pignoletto corn you can prepare cakes, focaccia, biscuits, fresh pasta, as well as my beloved polenta of course. Mind it is a product so peculiar, I had never heard of it (and I live 40 minutes away. This is an example of the biodiversity in Italy).
Zenere is a bakery, but also a small bistro for breakfasts and quick lunches, with its own production workshop. Here three sisters, Elena, Enrica and Elisa, produce and sell high quality bread, biscuits, focaccia and sweets.
The Zenere bakery is a historic place, opened in 1937. Over the years it has been able to renew itself, producing 41 types of bread (some available only on a specific day of the week), adding new formats, using different cereal flours (spelled, buckwheat for example), wholemeal, organic, as well as special breads. So much so that it received a special mention from Gambero Rosso (an authority on Italian food) for the goodness and quality of its products.
They pay a lot of attention to the choice of raw materials, such as, for example, the organic flours and sustainable mills. And also towards the traditions of the territory, such as Vicenza bread or products with Pignoletto corn flour.
A flood in 2010 unfortunately destroyed the historic workshop, including the grandfather’s sourdough after 73 years. At that point, the family decided to fight back and , within a year, opened a new workshop. And not only that, Dolci di Zenere was born, to complement the bread with croissants, cookies, cakes and such.
I stopped here for a delicious brunch based on savory and sweet products of the bakery. Plus I took home a brioche bread filled with apricot jam which was amazing.
In short, I hope to have given you some ideas on what to see in Caldogno and to have instilled a bit of curiosity to go and discover its specialties.
Article in collaboration with the Pro Loco of Caldogno.