Tuesday, 2 February 2016

North-Eastern Italy - Getting Around

Conegliano is a town of about 36,000 people in the Province of Treviso, and about an hour's local train ride north of Venice, Italy.  In our urbanised home state it would be regarded as a major rural city, with a population second only to the state capital of Adelaide (about 1.2 million).  In Italy it's still a "town"!  

It is the town in Europe where, thanks to the great generosity and friendship of the Feletto family, we have spent more time than anywhere else, and so it's only right to mention it specifically as most other references to it have been along the lines of "north-east of Conegliano" etc. 

View of the not-so-distant foothills of the Dolomites
It's an old town at the foot of the Dolomites with archaeological finds indicating millennia of settlement.  The castle was built in the tenth century and its tower (now a museum) still stands on a hill overlooking the town.  Substantial portions of the old wall remain.

The tower of Conegliano Castle

Frescos on the wall of the Conegliano cathedral

The frescos are a reminder of the history embodied even in small regional towns.
On the walls of some of its older buildings are metal and stone plaques denoting significant events or visits by significant people:  "Napoleon slept here" (my paraphrased translation), "Garibaldi spoke to the people from this balcony..." etc.
Those familiar with the Italian language will recognise the word "parlava" ("he spoke") from the verb "parlare".  "Parlare" is related to some of our words such as  "parliament", "parley" and indirectly the slang "parlaver" meaning unimportant talk or chatter.  I'm sure Garibaldi's "parlava" was more than just chatter.

Conegliano's real importance is as a centre of excellence in the production of Prosecco wine.  Visitors can drive the "Prosecco Trail" between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene which delimit the finest production areas.  In Australia "Prosecco" is usually thought of as a lightly sparkling wine ("Prosecco Frizzante") but large volumes of still "Prosecco tranquillo" is also consumed here.  The hills are covered, almost as far as you can see, with vines.  Some of them are growing in vineyards we would regard as unsuitable - on steep mountain sides, and in vineyards which get appreciable snow - but they are clearly not unsuitable at all. 
The hills are covered by grape vines, almost entirely for Prosecco.
Our host at some Prosecco tasting.

The "Il Colle" winery is located in the small town of San Pietro di Feletto,  on
the northern fringe of Conegliano,  It is well know for its superior production.
(photo from www.proseccoilcolle.it)
 Only a few hundred meters from our "home base" is another of Conegliano's contributions to  wine culture and industry: the Scuola Enologica, which is Italy's oldest and most prestigious wine school.  Our host, Dottore Giacinto Feletto, is a recently retired Director of the school.

Judy and Giacinto in the main theatre of the school
The spacious corridors of the main building are used to display artefacts
 and reminders of some of the research history and achievements of the school.

Scuola Enologica di Conegliano (established 1876)

The Road of the Hundred Days
The Italian provinces to the north and west of the city of Venice saw years of bloody fighting during WW1.  Italy fought with the "Grande Entente" Allies (British Commonwealth, France, Belgium, Russia etc) against Austro-Hungarian troops, assisted by some German forces.  Many battles were fought between early 1915 until the closing days of the war, and the hardships of the battle lines which ran through the snow covered mountains were probably the equal of those experienced on the Western Front. The author Ernest Hemingway was a volunteer ambulance driver in this conflict and his novel (made into a film) "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was based on his experiences.  Extreme wintry weather conditions and transportation difficulties made life tough for troops of both sides who sought shelter in the rocky mountain crags.

On our road trip from Conegliano to Belluno we saw something of the difficulties faced by construction engineers when we drove up the "Road of a Hundred Days".  The 17km stretch of steep road was built over the San Boldo Pass by Austrian military engineers between 1st February and 1st June 1918 to permit Austrian reinforcements to participate in the Battle of Solstice.  It soon became an escape route as the Austrians withdrew.  The road is a long stretch of hairpin bends passing through terrain so steep that at one place 5 tunnels are located almost above each other.  The work was carried out by 1400 workers made of some skilled engineers; local men, women and children; and prisoners of war.

Yes, we are going up there!

Road passes through tunnels
(one lane, with traffic lights)

At Passo San Boldo (aka Umbaldopasso)

Commemorative marker board
Our destination was Belluno, another town with an ancient history.  Its name was given by the Celts who were here first: "belo-dunum" or "splendid hill".  The local people swore "friendship" to Rome in the 225BC struggles against the gauls, and again  during the Punic Invasion by Hannibal.  In later centuries it was under the influence of the Lombards, the Carolingians (Charlemagne's empire) and eventually was allied to the Venetians (1404).  After the fall of the Venetian Republic it became Austrian territory before being annexed to the emerging Kingdom of Italy in 1866. 

Mountain views on the road to Belluno
Approaching Belluno
The historic, fortified part of the city sits up on a large rocky outcrop
The Palazzo dei Rettori
On the day of our visit the local car club was showing off
its vehicles.  So many Fiat 500 Bambini in one place.
The apse of the 16th century Duomo towers above the hill slope.

Feltre is another hill town in The Veneto, about 20 km from Belluno.  The town was established by the Rhaetians (according to the Roman historian Pliny.  It achieved status as a municipium in 49BC and was on an important trading route.  The Lombards and later various powerful families held the town until it was conquered (with Belluno) by the Venetians in 1404 who built a new set of town walls.  In 1797 it passed to the French, and then to the Austrians, and finally became a part of Italy in 1866.

There was some snow on the streets - at least enough to make this snowman

Several fine buildings display faded frescoes.

A closer look at some of the detail on the building above.
Piazza Maggiore (the Great Square) of Feltre
In this, as in so many others in this region, the columns in the
square still carry the "winged lion" of the Republic of Venice.

The Office of the Health Department
The familiar "winged lion" column erected in towns under Venetian control.
The buildings around the piazza have a very "Venetian" look to them.
Looking upwards along a narrow foot lane to buildings in the upper town.
The Feltre Duomo
Memorial on a cathedral wall.
The passageways beneath several buildings provided some
 protection from the weather as we walked around the town.
The Duomo in Feltre
(The belltower at rear is hidden by fog)
One of Feltre's many remaining grand palazzo.

Valdobbiadene is a familiar name to those who drink Prosecco.  The belt from Valdobbiadene to Conegliano produces the highest grade of the wine.

We finally got there - here's the photo to prove it.
We are joining the "Strada del Prosecco" (Prosecco Road)
through the best Prosecco country to "home" in Conegliano.

The Venetians just loved building huge bell towers
 in the towns within the Republic of Venice.

Judy, Giacinto and Egidia admire
the Christmas tree in a wine shop.
We saw many large, warm fur coats whilst in Europe.  This
short style and the hat has a distinctly "mountain" appearance.
Prosecco, prosecco ..... it's planted everywhere.
Trade legislation changed the grape's name to "Glera" a few years
A large and elegant wine shop and art gallery.
They do stock other wines.  See plaque below.
That's novel - a gallery-wine cellar.   Appreciate the wine
and become familiar with the associated art and history.

A little bit of Christmas lingers on

Vines are just everywhere.  Picturesque views of the Alps in the distance.

And as the sun sinks it briefly bathes the vine-covered hills in beautiful golden hues, and then in shades of pink.  All too quickly it's gone and we return to Conegliano in the dark.

Many thanks to Giacinto and Egidia Feletto, and their family for their generous hospitality and enjoyable, inspiring tours of their region.

With our kind and generous hosts: Giacinto and Egidia
Paul & Judy
January 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment