Northeast Italy tends to get reduced to touristy heavy-hitters like Venice and Verona, but nestled just south of the Dolomites is the soft, dreamy city of Treviso, which feels like a storybook still on the shelf.
Much like neighboring Venice, which is about a 30-minute train away, Treviso’s center is bordered by a series of canals. These canals wind along the old city walls and connect the still-standing 16th century gates: stagnant symbols of medieval Italy. The ever-moving streams of water complement the flow of Italians out for their daily passeggiata.
Herein lies the allure of this overlooked treasure, where a stroll outside is the main event. On a recent two-week stay in Treviso, I formed a non-routine routine by following the route of the canals to start and end my days. These passages have created a city that is equally contingent on its natural environment as its built beauty. The landscape blends with the seafoam-colored dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral and a series of sienna colonnades–even a simple excursion into town feels like a portal into another era.
But while Venice’s canals have come with a price—a degree of chaos and kitsch that oftentimes feels gimmicky—Treviso boasts the sinking city’s trademarks–pick-and-choose cicchetti, architectural marvels, and plenty of prosecco–with a fraction of the crowds and much lower price tags. Treviso’s glow is subtle. It’s a city best appreciated on the small-scale with a morning stopover at the pescheria (the outdoor fish market) or a Saturday spent browsing the stalls outside Porta San Tomaso for the unlikely combination of in-season produce and discounted cashmere.
None of this is to say that Venice lacks charm: it’s a must-see for a reason, and its breathtaking beauty is both undeniable and unparalleled. Yet there’s something to be said for meandering a city that feels undiscovered, one that doesn’t reach out and cater to you, the tourist, but exists of its own, subdued volition. Treviso draws visitors in by offering uncurated glimpses of an uncommon landscape, infusing beloved Italian vibrancy with just the right dose of tranquility.
To Explore is to Graze (and Vice Versa)
Treviso is a city best digested in bite-sized doses. It’s perfect for ambling from one eatery to the next, thanks to hallmark finger foods like tramezzini: northern Italy’s version of British tea sandwiches. Tramezzini come in all shapes and fillings, from the tuna-stuffed domes at Bar L’Officina to the flat radicchio triangles at All’Antico Pallone. Order a few sandwiches alongside a sample of cicchetti, breads topped with any combination of Italian ingredients à la bruschetta, and mozzarella in carrozza, a slightly more refined iteration of mozzarella sticks.
For a more pronounced pause in your day, stop by Hostaria da Naneti, a quaint osteria in a lively square that feels oh-so-Italian. It’s the perfect place to nibble the likes of salty porchetta and local bastardo del grappa cheese. Settle into an outdoor table overlooking Palazzo dei Trecento, the town’s elaborate meeting hall, and watch fashionistas peruse sweaters at the neighboring United Colors of Benetton–the brand was founded in Treviso. Too full from tramezzini for a full lunch? The house wine begs to be sipped, no matter the time of day.
Treviso’s markets will tempt even the most incompetent of chefs into trying their hand at Northern Italian cooking. It’s easy to spend hours wandering amongst the stalls, and you may just find yourself with perishable souvenirs like homemade ravioli, melt-in-your-mouth polenta or a colorful radicchio. The eponymous radicchio rosso di Treviso is the city’s most vibrant—and bitter—claim to fame. Crisp in salads and delicate in pastas, radicchio rosso di Treviso is versatile but perhaps best on its own, grilled with a drizzle of olive oil that mellows out the sharp flavor. The leafy vegetable decorates the city with red-and-white stripes from fall through early spring.
The Sweetest Spots in Treviso
Tasting Treviso’s tiramisù is an activity in and of itself. The word “tiramisù” literally translates to “pick-me-up”: “tira” ”mi” “su”. The dessert is widely believed to have originated at Le Beccherie, a swanky bistro off of Treviso’s Piazza dei Signori. As the story goes, Alba Campeol, the restaurant owner’s wife, would start her days with coffee and zabaglione after the birth of her son in 1955. When she returned to work, those nursing breakfasts inspired a stretch of experimentation which ultimately gave rise to Le Beccherie’s meticulously layered tiramisù. Walk into any eatery across Treviso, however, and you’re sure to find a worthy competitor. For a slightly less decadent treat, pair your evening walk with a gelato at the award-winning Dassie.
Mug, Glass, or Flute? What to Drink in Treviso
If Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s culinary capital, Veneto is the capital for drinking.
For a leisurely start to your day, sip a specialty coffee from Taste Coffee & More: a hip cafe that breaks the mold of Italy’s drink-and-go espresso culture. There’s no better place to dilly-dally than at the bar’s canalside tables with a large mug and a dose of relaxation that seems counterintuitive to the caffeine. You may notice an artist or two set up shop to sketch. The alleyway practically begs to be drawn, though the less artistically inclined may find just as much joy in snapping a photo.
The evening, however, is when Treviso really comes to life. As the Italian dinner rush takes hold of the city center, opt for a seat on the sidelines at any number of Treviso’s wine bars—each of which provides the perfect opportunity to explore the Veneto region without ever leaving your seat. Treviso straddles both prosecco and grappa territory so either is a good order, though for a funkier taste of the area, keep your eye out for mezzo e mezzo. A mix of Nardini rabarbaro (a rhubarb amaro) and Nardini rosso (a vermouth-like red liqueur), the spritz-like aperitif was popularized by Bassano del Grappa’s acclaimed Distilleria Nardini.
If you’d rather taste grappa straight from the distillery, a day trip to Bassano del Grappa is well worth a visit. The view of Ponte degli Alpini, the town’s old bridge, makes even the strongest of shots go down easily.
Meanwhile, the nearby Prosecco Road—the stretch of land between Valdobbiadene and Conegliano—is full of can’t-miss wineries and sprawling hills that rival those of Tuscany. Tranquillo Prosecco, a still version of the normally bubbly wine, is the area’s most niche wine. It’s not as common as spumante or brut, but it’s just as refreshing—and easier to swallow. Not unlike Treviso, I think.