After another scrumptious breakfast and an easy morning, we board our private boat to cross the lagoon to pick up our private coach tour along the Brenta Canal, passing some of Italy’s grandest waterside villas along the way.
The eighteenth-century topographical genius Canaletto painted a wonderful picture in the 1730s, Dolo on the Brenta, now in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. Dolo is about 15 miles west of Venice, and the image clearly shows the mills clustering beside the river and the lock gates for the canal with their wooden paddles and lifting mechanism. There are boats and barges and a lock keeper.
It was in this century that Venice turned her attention from her maritime empire to her agricultural hinterland. The new rich built dozens of superb villas along here, demanding attention from the riverbanks, like an earlier version of the Hudson Valley in New York. Dotted among them are some far older buildings – excellent examples of the work of the Padovan architect Andrea Palladio, who worked in the sixteenth century and whose four-book series, I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura, based on studies of classical buildings in Rome, influenced European architecture for generations.
Look out for his elegant, severely geometrical facades, pediments and colonnades giving them the formal appearance of temple-palaces, with the family floor, or piano nobile, raised above ground level. They are often set in wonderful gardens, and we will visit two or three of these en route.
We will take a break for a light lunch in a local restaurant en route as we make our way back to Mantova, villa hopping along the way.