If the rabbit hole leading down to Wonderland were in Vicenza, it would definitely be hidden somewhere in plain view in Parco Querini.
It’s the kind of wonderfully wacky place where it’s easy to imagine Alice playing croqet clutching a disgruntled flamingo.
Parco Querini has a classical temple, a murky pond, a huge henhouse built in a dilapidated greenhouse, a statue-brimmed alley and, no, there are no flamingos, but a mischievous mix of hens, roosters, rabbits, ducks, turtles and nutrias roam freely the place.
The park is lush and relaxing and it is all too easy to forget that it is nestled in the centro storico of Vicenza, only ten or so minutes brisk walk away from the high street.
I like popping in there as often as I can. Sitting on a bench under the weeping willows is a great way to disconnect from everyday life and enjoy a few minutes of being close to nature without actually leaving the city.
The main attraction here are the animals.
As soon as I walk through the park’s gates there is a rooster flapping his mighty wings, a couple of little chicklets running after their busy hen mum and a riot of rabbits of all conceivable sizes and possible colours.
They are so used to people that they don’t run away from you and the braver ones come close to inspect what food you might have brought them.
So, don’t forget to pack a couple of carrots cut into batons or some leftover toast. Feeding the feathery and furry inhabitants of Parco Querini is so much fun.
Here my husband is hand-modelling how it’s done.
Once the feast is served, the most curious thing happens. Animals you wouldn’t see in close quarters otherwise, come together to munch away.
The big furry creature at the front is called a ‘nutria’. I remember watching them as a child in their small enclosure in the zoo in my hometown of Varna in Bulgaria, but my husband had never seen one.
Noticing his puzzlement an Italian couple standing close to us explained to him what a nutria is with the following quite appropriate Anglo-Italian phrase: ‘Grande Micky Mouse!‘
Nutrias are fabulous swimmers and we watched them for a while snatching pieces of bread in front of the ducks’ beaks in the pond.
Much shyer than the nutrias and much more difficult to spot are the turtles who also live in Parco Querini. I’ve only managed to glimpse them on two occasions of the many times that I’ve gone to the park.
So, keep quiet! Shhhhh…
The pond surrounds from all sides a small conical piece of land on top of which is perched a temple in the Ancient Greek style. It was built in 1820 and I can’t help it but stop and admire it for a while as soon as I walk into the park.
The temple is majestic. Seeing it from all possible angles is an incentive enough to go for a walk following the outline of the pond.
The temple is often used as a backdrop in photosessions held both by just married couples and new parents with their tiny cute babies. They stand on the little bridge connecting the islet with terra firma and smile happily whilst the photographer snaps away.
No matter what’s the weather the park seems to always remain green and lush, just the tall trees around the islet change their outfits in line with the season.
Unfortunately, you can’t go onto the islet itself. The gate at the end of the bridge is always locked. So, people gather instead on the bridge observing the enormous fish and the ducks in the pond.
Sometimes, a pigeon would also perch on the handrails of the bridge and peek down at the flock of birds below, so as to get a different point of view.
Beyond the bridge is the big expanse of the green which is crossed by the statue-brimmed avenue.
Apparently, Parco Querini used to be a private park adjacent to one of the many palazzi in Vicenza and it was open to the public only in the 70’s of the last century.
It is a gorgeous and tranquil place. Do pay it a visit when you are in Vicenza. You never know when a white rabbit may show you how to get to Wonderland.