Just Back From
I knew absolutely nothing about Asolo prior to arriving, and left feeling as if I had made a great discovery: one of those lesser-known places in Italy with a fraction of the crowds that is deeply satisfying. The town, one of the most beautiful small towns in Italy, is under consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We’re certainly not the first to make the discovery—royals from Monaco and England have stayed; as have Hollywood actors. Yet the hotel—and the town itself—remains blissfully under the radar. Unsurprisingly, Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley was one of only two people I mentioned Asolo to who already knew the Hotel Villa Cipriani. As a teenager, she had a memorable meal here with her parents in the garden when touring Palladian villas.
To start with the planning: My husband and I had already decided to take our five-year-old daughter to Venice for her half-term break from school in London. Five is the perfect age to fall in love with the water taxis, crumbling palaces and gelato on repeat—the first of many trips over a lifetime, I hope. Life is speeding by, so I thought—let’s add Asolo to this trip. I want to try that grilled chicken.
Upon arrival at the Venice airport, we were surrounded by masses of school groups and holiday makers, all swarming to the water taxis. We rented a car, said goodbye to the crowds (a bit smugly, though we’d be back) and drove an hour, ending with a twisty hill and tight roads up to Asolo.
The Hotel Villa Cipriani in its current form dates back to the 18th-century, and was owned for a period of time by English poet Robert Browning, who also wrote poems about Asolo. But it wasn’t until the Guinness family purchased it in 1962 and hired Giuseppe Cipriani—inventor of the bellini and then-owner of the Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca Island in Venice—to transform it into a hotel. Many of his touches remain, and like the Cipriani in Venice, the gardens are absolutely magical, filled with pomegranate trees and an enormous peach tree (for bellinis, of course). Everything cascades down to an infinity pool overlooking the Veneto region, where prosecco comes from.
I booked a junior suite, paying around 450 euros a night for the three of us. The keys to the rooms are heavy; they are left with the front desk when you leave. Though modest and without frills, the room was charming, filled with furniture you might have inherited from a relative, like cozy floral armchairs and wood dressers with gold keyholes. There was no iPad operating the lights—just switches to flick on and off. (How retro, and simple.) The beautiful, hand-painted tiles in the bathroom are a highlight. And open windows revealed panoramic views of the valley, vineyards and villas of Asolo. Each of the 28 rooms is different, ranging from smaller classics to the Grand Terrace Junior Suite.
Many guests dress up for a multi-course dinner in the main restaurant, though you can also order a la carte in the American Bar. But alas, I never tried Nora Ephron’s beloved grilled chicken—there was no grilled chicken anywhere on the menu. Nora had eaten it in 1982 and then again a few years later, so the menu has understandably changed. But we ate very well, including the best minestrone and a charming breakfast buffet where you can take your plate outside to inhale the fragrance of the garden.
Beyond the hotel, Asolo is a charming base for two to three nights of exploring the region, one of the most beautiful small towns in Italy. Our favorite activity was simply sitting at the town’s main cafe, watching the always-glamorous Italians have their coffees (or a few with chips and wine at 10:30am—why not?). Our daughter played with her Bluey figures for 45 minutes, and then switched to coloring books. Mid-afternoon, everyone moves on to paninis and aperitivo drinks. The cafe—now called Caffe Centrale—has been the center of life in Asolo for more than two hundred years, overlooking the winged lion fountain and shaded by red-and-white striped awnings.
After one too many espresso, browse the local shops of Asolo, including Boutique 181 for high-end women and men’s clothing, the Thereza Pedroso art gallery and Pot-Pourri for more women’s fashion and home goods. In the evening, we loved an early dinner at Pizzeria Cornaro (ownership is now being passed from father to son) as it felt like we were joining the locals for their Friday night out.
We stopped to look in the windows of the real estate office—apartments on offer for a few hundred thousand euros felt like a throwback to an era of affordable real estate. Also in the city: British travel writer Freya Stark, who wrote many books about her travels to the Middle East and died in 1993 in Asolo, lived here for many years—her villa, Villa Freya, can be toured.
Within half an hour’s drive are two remarkable sites—the Temple of Canova, designed by Antonio Canova, and across the way, the Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova, the artist’s birthplace. I recommend visiting the Temple (which is actually a Catholic church) first, and then the museum, with fascinating displays on how Canova created his life-like sculptures and models. At the center of the museum is a calming garden with rose bushes, apple and pomegranate trees. It is now one of my favorite smaller museums in all of Europe.
I am calling this trip the Tale of Two Ciprianis. After Asolo, we went on to stay at Giuseppe Cipriani’s first hotel, what is now the legendary Hotel Cipriani, A Belmond Hotel, one of my top ten favorite hotels in the world. But the Hotel Villa Cipriani (and our lazy days in Asolo) was my favorite discovery of last year. I’ll return to both, as often as I can.
*The hotel is closed for two months in the winter and reopens for glorious spring days. Reopening March 8, 2024.
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