Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Noemi Meneguzzo, a teacher, philosopher, dancer, traveler, artist, and cancer survivor here to tell us all about Vicenza – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Italy’s wealthiest cities.
First, tell us about you.
I was born in Vicenza and lived there until 2005. Then I migrated to San Diego, California for three years and now I’m back in Italy. In my spare time, I love studying modern and contemporary dance, reading, going out with friends, or just walking in the countryside.
If someone is visiting Vicenza for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Downtown Vicenza is beautiful and charming. I love walking in Corso Palladio early in the morning or during the night. The buildings are wonderful, elegant really, and nobody is there during those times of day.
In my personal opinion, the places you have to see are Basilica Palladiana and Piazza dei Signori, Teatro Olimpico, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Museo di Palazzo Chiericati, Museo Dicocesano, Chiesa di Santa Corona, The Rotonda, Monte Berico (for the city view), and Villa Valmarana ai Nani.
Also, the countryside is beautiful: Bassano del Grappa and Marostica are very nice and are livelier than Vicenza.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
Vicenza is very quiet and generally safe, but the neighborhood around the train station is not very safe at night. If you are in Vicenza as a tourist, the hostel is right downtown. The city is well served by public transportation compared to the American cities in California where I lived.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
Bassano has a cute center with a famous bridge. It’s also famous for the ceramic art pieces and for the Grappa Nardini wine. In Bassano, nights are very lively. People are all around and you feel safe. There are many cultural events all year around.
Marostica is known for the Partita a Scacchi, a living chess game (real people play the roles of the chess pieces) performed every two years in the beautiful Piazza degli Scacchi.
The Altopiano di Asiago is a touristic and popular place in the mountains. If you would rather get off the beaten path, you can visit Campogrosso instead—or Monte Pasubio, with its trail of 52 galleries. The mountains that surround Vicenza were involved in WWI and you can see interesting foxholes, trenches, and forts there.
Close to Vicenza, there is a small lake called Lago di Fimon, where you can go for a walk and a picnic. There are also places where you can go rafting, like Valstagna.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Vicenza is well known for the polenta (cornmeal porridge) and baccala’ alla Vicentina (Vicenza-style cod), but each village has its own specialties. For instance, Creazzo is very popular for the broccolo fiolaro (Venetian broccoli), Bassano for the asparagus, Grumolo della Abbadesse for the rice, and Asiago for the cheese.
There are many gelaterie downtown. The most elegant is Caffe’ Garibaldi, but I highly recommend OLLY, a bio-icecream shop in Corso Fogazzaro. The gelato is very good…better than Grom (the popular gelato)!
The most popular cake is the puttana or pinza, which was the cake of poor people, made with leftovers, like polenta, bread, pinoli, and raisin.
In Vicenza, you eat very well, even though the restaurants are not very cheap. I won’t recommend any international restaurants because they are expensive and the quality of food is not so high.
In Vicenza, you also can enjoy wine. I like the Prosecco from Gambellara, but also the red wine made from local wineries. You should visit some cantine (Italian bistros) in Gambellara or Breganze!
There is a popular saying “Vicentini magnagati,” meaning that the people here (Vicentini) are cat (yes…cat!) eaters. Is it true? Well…every Vicentino seems to know someone who says he/she has eaten a cat.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
I like Righetti, at Piazza Duomo 3, which is a self-service restaurant with popular meals. Food is fresh and homemade. You find the real Vicentini (locals) eating here during their lunchtime.
Cafe’ Borsa (at Piazza dei Signori 26), The Grottino (at Piazza delle Erbe 2), and L’Antica Casa della Malvasia (at Contrà delle Morette 5) are nice bars where you can find a good selection of wines and good music.
My favorite place is Osteria al Centro on Via Valle dei Mulini in Fimon, which is about 15 kilometers outside Vicenza. The owner is Carletto, a real character. He is a musician and a painter; he loves to talk and complain about politics; and he serves good wines, beers, and bruschette (sandwiches). He used to serve the fragolino, a sweet red wine, but now the production of this kind of wine is prohibited. The place is very social; you sit with other people, and there is a good selection of table games.
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
After the invasion of Iraq and the construction of a new base, some of the locals don’t like American soldiers…especially when they are drunk and walk downtown.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Go out at 6 p.m. and have an aperitif (I recommend a spritz, a sparkling, wine-based cocktail) with local people if you are downtown. Other places to go are the Wenge Cafe and Feel (a restaurant, pizzeria, wine cellar, show club, and dance club). You can also meet interesting people in local activity clubs, like Teatro Kitchen (for theater buffs) or Cai (for hikers).
Why should people make sure to visit Vicenza?
Vicenza offers many ways to enjoy life. First of all, the city is a Palladio jewel. The countryside is beautiful too. Just take a look from the Piazzale della Vittoria, a square on the top of a hill behind the train station, for a stunning view of the surrounding beautiful hills and mountains.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
Downtown. Ponte San Michele and Ponte Furo offer you a beautiful view of the city, buildings with terraces and flowers, and the roof of Basilica Palladiana.
Anything else you want us to know?
Vicenza has a good location. You can stay here and visit the other Venetian towns easily. Verona and Padua are just 30 minutes away and Venice is less than one hour.
Vicenza is beautiful all year around, but in the summer it is very hot, so I suggest you come here in spring or fall.