Virtually every acre of the Veneto bears the imprint of Venetian rule – Venice dominated this region for centuries and is still the capital of the province today. In Belluno, right under the crags of the Dolomites, the style of the buildings declares the town’s former allegiance, while the Lion of St Mark looks over the market square of Verona, on the Veneto’s western edge. On the flatlands of the Po basin (the southern border of the region) and on farming estates all over the Veneto, the elegant villas of the Venetian nobility are still standing.
Yet the Veneto is as diverse culturally as it is geographically. The aspects of Verona that make the city so attractive were created long before the expansion of Venice’s terra firma empire, and in Padua – a university seat since the thirteenth century – the civilization of the Renaissance displays a character quite distinct from that which evolved in Venice. Even in Vicenza, which reached its present form mainly during its long period of subservience, the very appearance of the streets is proof of a fundamental independence.
Nowadays this is one of Italy’s wealthiest regions. Verona, Padua, Vicenza and Treviso, 30km north of Venice, are all major industrial and commercial centres, while intensive dairies, fruit farms and vineyards (around Conegliano, for example) have made the Veneto a leading agricultural producer too.
The Veneto’s densest concentration of industry is at Mestre and Marghera, the grim conurbation through which road and rail lines from Venice pass before spreading out over the mainland. It’s less a city than an economic life-support system for Venice, and the negative impression you get on your way through is entirely valid. Some people trim their holiday expenses by staying in Mestre’s cheaper hotels (Venice’s tourist offices will supply addresses), but venturing further inland is a more pleasurable cost-cutting exercise.