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March 04, 2009
I’ve gone to Asolo, the “town of a Hundred Horizons.” From this medieval village perched on a hilltop, the view is so grand that I’m destined to find what I’m looking for, namely the Veneto’s heralded ceramics.
Founded in the final days of imperial Rome, Asolo’s charms are legendary. Its residents have included Robert Browning, Eleonara Duse, and Igor Stravinsky.
I check in to the idyllic Hotel Villa Cipriani, part Palladian palazzo, part country inn. Refreshed by a little lunch of wild mushroom timballo, tagliatelle with duck ragout, deep-fried Scampi tails with vegetables, and a torta di ricotta, followed by due espressi, I pronounce myself fit for the drive to the nearby town of Bassano del Grappa.
An ancient fortified town at the foot of the Dolomites, Bassano is renowned for its ceramics made from a local white clay that closely resembles porcelain, and its grappa. After visiting several artisan workshops, I go for a brisk walk along the Brenta River. By the old pedestrian bridge, traders once sold their goods before imbibing the local grappa. Now, they just go to the busy Bar Nardini for the prodigious grappa rossa made from red grapes. It’s definitely worth a shot, maybe even two.
Next, I travel to Marostica to see the legendary central square, site of the biennial chess game.
The tradition dates to 1454, when two noblemen, Rinaldo D'Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, fell in love with the beautiful Lionora, daughter of Taddeo Parisio, the Lord of Marostica's castle. As was the custom, they challenged each other to a duel to win her hand.
Not wishing to make an enemy of either suitor or to lose them in a duel, the lord forbade the encounter and decided they should settle the matter with a game of chess with the bride going to the winner. Every September in even-numbered years, the game is re-enacted with human chess pieces.
I’m still trying to decide what my opening gambit should be. What about yours?
Then, there were eight or nine islands in this part of the Seine as opposed to the present-day two. In pre-historic times, the Seine was a wide, slow-moving river, 100 feet higher than today.