Located only 27km as the crow flies from Venice, Treviso has always lived in the shadow of the campanile of San Marco. For most of its life, that was a good thing. Its proximity to the capital of the great Venetian Republic meant that the government ringed it with a great defensive wall and moat which made the city impregnable. The wall is still there today and can be walked almost in its entirety.
The great ceremonial gate, the Porta San Tomaso, built in 1518 by Doge Leonardo Loredan acted as one of the two main entrances to the city, and the huge lion of Saint Mark, symbol of the Venetian Republic, leaves you in no doubt as to who was in charge.
Today the city still lives in the shadow of its neighbour. The place people are most likely to visit today is the airport, used by low-cost carriers as an alternative to Venice’s Marco Polo airport.
However, the phrase ‘pick me up in Treviso’ doesn’t only refer to the airport. It was in 1960s Treviso, at the Osterie alle Becchiere that one of the most famous Italian desserts of all time, whose name translates as ‘pick me up’ was born. I am referring of course to tiramisù.
It’s now generally accepted that tiramisù, or tiramesù to give it its original name in Trevisan dialect, was invented by chef Roberto Linguanotto in the 1960s and it even has its own website today with the original recipe and an interview with the creator who is still going strong.
I spent last weekend exploring this hidden gem of the Veneto staying in the centro storico. What I discovered was a beautiful city, which often looked like a quiet version of its more famous neighbour. In fact, much of the architecture is of the style found in Venice and there are moments when you could be forgiven for thinking that you are walking down a filled in Venetian canal, rather than a street.
There are indeed some canals in the city, many of which were once used to power the city’s many mills producing flour and later polenta for the area. Many of the water wheels are still in evidence and working in the city today.
In the centre of the city is a new fish market which sells fish from the Adriatic sea, a staple of cuisine in the Veneto.
One particular fishy delicacy in Treviso is eel (anguilla) fished right out of the river Sile which flows through the city. Today however, many eels are farmed so as to not overfish the river.
Another culinary product which is associated with Treviso is the famous radicchio di Treviso tardivo, a red chicory which is grown in such a way that it looks a bit like an octopus. You can find more information about it and pictures here.
Unfortunately the radicchio is now out of season but walking in the market I did find a huge amount of fresh peas, which were so super-sweet that I decided to buy some and take the home for lunch.
I did manage to find some radicchio however, but it was baked into a fregolotta a traditional large crumbly cookie typical to Treviso. There is evidence that these large biscuits, the name of which derives from the word for ‘crumb’, have been part of the local cuisine for about 1,000 years. I decided it would make a good pudding.
When I got back to the apartment where I was staying I decided that there was only one thing to do with the peas: risi e bisi one of the most traditional dishes of the Veneto and a perfect showcase for its peas. You can find my recipe for it here.
After lunch, and a siesta, we explored the area around the river Sile and a complex of old buildings and warehouses that has recently become a colony for the Universities of Venice and Padua.
It was a great way to pass a beautifully sunny spring afternoon before heading off for a glass of Treviso’s other famous product: prosecco. The Valdobbiadene a few km away in the province of Treviso is the leading producer of this amazing sparkling wine, which needs no introduction.
I’ll leave you with some more pictures of this amazing little town. The proximity of the low-cost airline hub makes Treviso an excellent location for a long weekend which I would thoroughly recommend.