Hoping to escape marauding Huns, Goths and Vandals as the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century, refugees built a little settlement they called Venice on tiny islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. By the 12th century, Venice was the wealthiest and most powerful city-state in Europe, controlling the Mediterranean and all European trade with the East. It's merchant-aristocrats lavished their wealth on palaces and churches, art and music, creating a city that is truly like no other. Today, seawater laps at the foot of thousand-year-old houses, but the glorious palaces and romantic canals enchant visitors just as they have for centuries.
Sometimes called "Little Venice", Chioggia is a picturesque fishing village is a popular place for artists as the seaside air and sweeping views are simply spectacular. Chioggia spreads over several islands, and though it boasts notable landmarks, including a 17th-century cathedral graced with work by Tiepolo, it's essentially a fishing village. Canals are lined with colorful fishing boats, fishermen mend nets and neighbors chat from their windows - a perfect canvas for painters. View the Vena Canal
from the marble bridge at the end of Corso del Popolo, the town's main boulevard, or if you are ambitious and would like a view of the whole village, climb the bell tower of San Andrea.
Polesella (Bologna & Ferrara)
Polesella is your jumping off point for Bologna
. Bologna is the culinary capital of Northern Italy and birthplace of Bolognese sauce and locals claim to have invented the first chocolate bars. Bologna's green market brims with local produce and its specialty food stores and food halls are unmatched; locally made mortadella, luscious balsamic vinegar from nearby Modena, ham from Parma and, of course, great rounds of Parmesan cheese. Enjoy lunch at one of the city's celebrated restaurants and then stroll through the streets to see some of the lovely historic buildings in the city center. In Ferrara, medieval walls surround the old city (providing a popular walking and biking route for locals and visitors alike), and cobbled lanes might make you think you were visiting the Middle Ages. See the huge fortress castle surrounded entirely by a moat, Castle Estense
, built by the city's Renaissance rulers. the Este family, in the center of Ferrara in the 14th century.
Venice Islands (Burano, Mazzorbo, Torcello)
Hundreds of small islands surround Venice, including Burano, Mazzorbo & Torcello and each offer its own history, heritage and charm. Burano is known for its eye-popping, colorful houses of hot pink. chartreuse, orange and lemon yellow - which are strictly regulated and the homeowner must obtain state permission to change the color of the house. Burano is even better known for its lace-making tradition; the exquisite craft has been practiced here for 400 years, handed down from mother to daughter. In Mazzorbo you will find a different craft practiced: wine-making! Once an important trading center, but is now known for its vineyards and orchards. A delicious golden wine is produced here with Dorona grapes, which tolerate the salt air - and the occasional saltwater bath during very high tides. Torcello is perhaps the most surprising of all the islands. Settled before Venice was founded, it was at one time the most populous city in the Venetian Lagoon; now, however, only a handful of people live here. It's centerpiece is the basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, the oldest church in the lagoon.