Noale – a tiny medieval town in the plains of Veneto – became the perfect setting for one of my very best Sundays here in Italy so far.
Everyone has a different recipe for a great weekend. Mine is a bit of travel, a bit of history, some picturesque surroundings, a pinch of tasty food, a large dollop of excellent Italian gelato and a walk to burn it all off.
Noale happily delivered all of this.
You know, I have a very big soft spot for small medieval walled towns here in the Northern Italian region of Veneto. Having already explored the more popular of them, like Marostica, Cittadella, Soave and Montagnana, I was looking to explore another one of these atmospheric little places where you can literally touch history without having to battle with large hordes of tourists.
My go-to reference lately has been the website of the Association of the Walled Towns of Veneto and in the past year or so I have picked several day trip destinations from the long drop down list with their members.
This is how I came across Noale. I hadn’t heard its name mentioned before in any context, so my curiosity was instantly picked. Of course, I did the obligatory search online, but, it would seem, the available information in English was rather succinct, most notably mentioning in passing that Noale is famous for its traditional horse race and as being the hometown of a relatively well-known hard-rock/heavy metal band which sang in the local Venetian dialect (yep, I gave a little chuckle reading this, but apparently they were quite popular and had a big following, so don’t judge!).
With such relatively limited information on the internet, there was only one thing to do – go there and see for ourselves if the picture, which popped in every web search of Noale and showed a mighty fortress surrounded by a green field and a deep moat was as dreamy in reality as it looked online.
This is how this past Sunday we piled in our little red car and drove for just under an hour through small villages with white asparagus fields next to large family homes. The GPS led us from Vicenza up towards the province of Treviso and then down into the lands of Padua.
Just as we were discussing the weather and wondering if the grey clouds, that had taken over the sky, would drench us with rain then and there or have the courtesy to wait for our day trip to actually end, we glimpsed a tall tower on the horizon and a sign with the name Noale flew past us.
We had arrived.
First impressions always count, so let me tell you what I saw.
A long street flanked by colourful houses…
stretched from the 43-meter tall bell tower known as the Torre dei Preti…
down to the 32-meter tall clock tower known as the Torre Est.
The two towers presided over the west and the east gates which, many centuries ago, formed part of a thick defensive wall encircling the small town. Nowadays, the gates still stand, but the wall is not there anymore.
As it was Sunday, the streets were quiet, but just by the church of S.S. Martyrs Felice and Fortunato, a group of scouts had set up a stall selling sweets and biscuits for a charitable cause. We bought a pack of chocolate pralines and (following that old travel tip to always ask a local as to what to see in their town) we enquired about Noale’s sights.
Armed with some first-hand recommendations we started to explore. Our first stop was to be La Rocca dei Tempesta – a stronghold dating back to the 12th century.
We found it very easily. La Rocca was a five-minute very leisurely walk from the church and we followed a quiet street lined up with pastel-coloured houses. I admired the little details adorning their facades…
and especially loved the painted sundial on this gorgeous house.
A few more steps and we found ourselves on the edge of a deep moat. On its opposite side and on top of the softly rising ground stood La Rocca. It was as beautiful as the pictures of it we had seen online.
We crossed the small bridge and got closer, eager to explore.
A large lock on the gate stopped us from going inside the stronghold, so we followed the local people and their pet dogs along the circumference of the walls for a leisurely walk.
Along the way, we glimpsed groups of teenagers sitting on the soft green grass. It looked like La Rocca was quite central to the local social life.
The infamously cruel feudal lord Ezzelino da Romano commenced the building of La Rocca back in 1245 and Artico from the noble Tempesta family finished the stronghold 27 years afterwards.
Nowadays parts of it are preserved and built upon, so that it circumference still appears whole from the outside. Yet, looking closely at the original masonwork of its towers and its walls you can gauge how destructive the hands of men and the hands of time had been.
La Rocca was completely surrounded by a moat filled with the waters of the river Marzenego. The interesting thing was that the river waters not only encircled the stronghold, but also circumnavigated the entire historical centre of Noale, too. You could clearly see that in the past (and especially in conjunction with the now defunct defensive walls) the town must have been a very well protected place in the Venetian plains.
Once we had our fill of gorgeous medieval views we retraced our steps through the picturesque streets to the bridge leading to the other side of the river where a nice little promenade stood.
Called ‘Remembrance Avenue’ and dedicated to the Fallen in the two World Wars, it followed the river and afforded us some panoramic views towards Noale’s historical centre.
Just then the bells of the bell tower began to sing. For a minute or two they rang loud and clear in the air above us and they made me think of a little story I once heard about the curative properties of sound and how the sound of bells is believed to be able to positively influence your energy field.
Honestly, I am not one of those mystic and spiritually elevated people, so don’t expect me to start preaching now. I am naturally quite cynical in fact. Still, the sound of those bells felt good reverberating through us and adding to my (so rarely) completely calm and relaxed mood.
Soon, we had reached the bridge crossing over the river and leading through the Western gate back into town.
The scouts had by now dismantled their stall and left, but led by the pointers they had given us and some more information glimpsed on a large map of the town by the Remembrance Avenue we continued to explore.
Here I must say that all sights in Noale seemed to be very well marked with signs giving their respective names and short historical annotations. It would seem the local Rotary Club is very active in maintaining the town’s look and feel, which left me with the impression that the local people really care for their heritage.
We walked the short distance down the street swiftly reaching the clock tower and the adjacent Porta Trevigiana. This was formerly the main entrance of the local castle. Centuries ago it also had a drawbridge and a stone bridge attached to it, but nowadays they are no more.
Right after the tower and the gate we came across the Palazzo della Loggia.
Originally it was erected in 1389. By 1525 it was considered to be too small and by 1557 the palace was rebuilt again. The current building dates back to 1848 and is a great representation of the Venetian Gothic style. All through its existence and until the second half of the 20th century the palace served as the seat of the local government. Nowadays the building is a gallery and a museum, but as we were there in the early Sunday afternoon, we found it closed for visitors.
I loved its vaulted gallery…
and the intricate wrought-iron decorations of its big entrance door.
In the gallery of the palace we also saw a First World War remembrance memorial…
and the tomb of Pietro Fortunato Calvi – patriot and martyr of the Italian Unification.
From there we continued our walk towards the sprawling Piazza Maggiore (also known as Piazza XX Settembre). It was flanked by beautiful weathered houses and mansions quite a few of which were covered in beautiful albeit faded frescoes.
Unfortunately, the square (lovely as it is) had been turned into a huge car park which detracts quite a lot from its beauty. In fact, this was my only grievance with Noale – both of its main squares (the aforementioned Piazza Maggiore and also Piazza Castello which is between the Church of the S.S. Martyrs Felice and Fortunato and the clock tower) are nowadays used as car parks.
On one hand this is great, as it means you can park right inside the little town instead of having to leave your car outside of the historical centre and then walk a bit. On the other hand, it sorts of spoils the view quite a lot. I wish that in this respect Noale was a bit more like Marostica which has a fabulous central square and the cars can only circumnavigate it.
Anyway, slightly put off by all the parked cars, we decided to walk back to the bell tower and have lunch in a small bar which we had glimpsed there during our exploration of Noale.
The Miraflores bar turned out to be just what we needed. It afforded great views over the bell tower and the old houses, it served some very nice finger food and the service was charming and authentic. I am sort of gushing here, but the place really deserved it.
We had a selection of Venetian cicchetti – bite-sized appetizers with different toppings on a bed of crispy bread…
followed by a selection of tramezzini – triangular deep-filled sandwiches with soft crust-free bread.
Next, we walked into the gelateria next door and indulged in some of the best Italian gelato flavours I have ever had the good luck to taste.
In fact, one of the flavours I had, allegedly had been a finalist in the Gelato World Cup 2016. It was a gorgeous combination of white chocolate, vanilla and lemon. And I also asked for a scoop of caffettella – which was a mix of coffee-flavoured gelato and Nutella.
Feeling decidedly heavier after our little lunch, we decided to explore one last sight before heading back to Vicenza.
We had been told earlier in the day that just outside of Noale there is a small yet lovely oasis where birdwatchers would be in their element. Called Cave di Noale (from cave meaning ‘quarries’, as formerly there were clay quarries there) nowadays this is a quiet refuge with two lakes, birdwatching shelters and picnic spots. The oasis is managed by the WWF.
It only took us about five minutes to drive the short distance from Noale’s historical centre to the oasis (it is easily walkable, too) and then we explored the paths along the lakes’ shores. It was very peaceful and relaxing and we saw two workmen painting the benches and the tables, sprucing the place for the warm season ahead.
There were also a couple of people who, binoculars in hand, were quietly standing still hoping to glimpse one of these beauties.
We saw a few birds from afar, flying above the waters of the lakes. Our most curious sighting though was a large (albeit dead) yabby in the mud by the smaller lake. It was huge – easily 15 cm in length.
We asked the workmen what was the yabby doing there and they explained that the yabbies were originally from Louisiana, were an invasive species and have been multiplying there for the past ten years or so. Limited by our poor Italian skills, we didn’t find out how the yabbies ended up in the Cave di Noale oasis in the first place.
Just then the skies finally did what they had been threatening to do all day long. The dark grey clouds started discharching their heavy watery loads. There was nothing else to do, but to run back to our little red car, quickly jump in and drive back home.
Noale was a great day out for us. One of those little pearls which Veneto reveals to you if you only step off the beaten track.
P.S. Here is the recipe for the chocolate balls we bought from the scouts in Noale. The recipe was attached to the little bag, so, I hope, they wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you:
Praline al Cioccobiscotto (Chocolate and Biscuits Pralines)
300 gr biscuits, 200 gr butter, 1 cup icing sugar, 6 spoons ground hazelnuts, 3 spoons Nutella. Mix all ingredients, then form small pralines and roll them in cocoa and sprinkles. Put in the fridge to harden a bit. Enjoy!
Have you been to Noale yourself? Which other small towns have stolen your heart in the Veneto or other parts of Italy? Let me know.
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