Updated: Dec 23, 2019
In August this year I had to visit Treviso; about 40 minutes by regional train from Venice in Italy’s Veneto region of north-east Italy. When I say I had to go, it was because I needed to speak with some local guides and hoteliers as part of our planning for our small group tours of Italy. But I didn’t go begrudgingly: I was absolutely looking forward to it.
Treviso is an attractive medium-sized town with a population of around 80,000 and it’s not usually on the map for travellers from Australia or America… but it should be!
As I was on my own this time, I decided to catch the local bus from the train station to the centre; and as we passed the old city walls and crossed the first of its canals its prettiness hit me and immediately I knew we had to find a place for Treviso somewhere on our itineraries.
For most tourists, Treviso is just a dot on the map when they’re looking for Venice. Or maybe it’s the airport they’ve arrived at if they’ve taken one of the budget airlines to get to Venice in which case it’s a word on a sign that’s pointing in the opposite direction to that in which they’re travelling as they race towards La Serenissima. And I get the feeling that the locals aren’t unhappy with that, because the last thing they want is to be a mini-Venice.
You can tell straight away that there is a connection between the two. Not only can you find a number of fine examples of Venetian architecture in Treviso, but if you’d never been to Venice and you visited Treviso, one thing you would say is that there are a lot of canals there. As you wander the meandering lanes within the city walls around almost every corner you will come across canals lined with houses or grassy banks, weeping willows, waterwheels and little parks.
Now, I’m not suggesting it is a ‘little Venice’ but the canals are a charming feature of a charming town, and while it can't compete with the overwhelming allure of Venice, Treviso is worthy of at least a day trip - and longer if you have the time, as it is a great base for exploring the Veneto or for just enjoying a quiet break in an authentic Italian town.
In the middle of the previous century, things were different. Treviso suffered during World War II when it was heavily bombed, however the impacted buildings have been rebuilt and restored, so that today its rambling centre reflects its original character. It’s really nice to stroll down its pedestrian-only cobbled streets, which are lined with arcaded walkways where you can look up and find fragments of the old frescoes that once were found all across the town centre.
And one thing that strikes you as you make your way through the town is that is seems to be doing well: all in all Treviso comes across as a prosperous Italian town going about its daily business.
For one thing, it is located in an area that produces some excellent wine, with Prosecco di Treviso probably the most well-known. And it may come as a surprise, but wine is popular in Italy.
But Treviso is also home to the clothing empire Benetton, which has a large store behind the Palazzo dei Trecento in the town centre, and which is one of a number of high profile businesses that offer the locals employment and opportunity.
In fact, the Veneto - and particularly the area around Treviso - has the highest density of companies in Italy and almost the lowest unemployment rate. Within close proximity, you’ll find the offices of shoemaker Geox, fashion companies Replay and Stefanel, Luxottica (the world's largest eyewear company with brands like Ray-Ban and Persol) and De'Longhi: maker of some of the most popular coffee machines in the world. Together these companies ensure that Veneto, and particularly the Province of Treviso, is in better shape than almost any other part of Italy and it’s that prosperity that is evident as you walk around town.
It also explains why you don't find rows of tacky tourist shops, street sellers or bullying tour guides in the town. Whilst it still gets its share of tourists – mostly Italian - unlike Venice, Treviso doesn't depend on tourism for its lifeblood.
In terms of tourist sights, there isn’t an over-abundance in town, but for me the main attraction of the place is its general charm – but there are a few things to see if that’s your want.
The town's defensive walls, moat and imposing gateways are worth locating, as is the Piazza dei Signori: the town's civic heart and a pleasant square with a street running along one side and cafés with outdoor tables along the other and from there you can head down Treviso's smartest shopping street, Via Calmaggiore.
For those who enjoy museums, the Museo di Santa Caterinais worth a visit for its art gallery and archaeological collection, as well as the frescoes along the cloisters inside the entrance and Tomaso da Modena's renowned St. Ursula frescoes in the centre of the building: a lovely old restored church.
Treviso has a few appealing churches, including the Chiesa di San Francesco: a brick structure with a massive ship's keel roof, and the strikingly-elongated Chiesa di San Nicolò: a fine example of Italian Gothic architecture which looks as though it has been stretched upwards to the heavens.
But, tourist sights aside, Treviso is a really lovely place to simply wander and explore; where you’ll come across any number of enticing bars, cafés and restaurants for sampling the local cuisine and sparkling Prosecco.
If you want a quiet getaway for a romantic weekend, or just want to explore a town a little off the tourist radar, Treviso is a great destination with the added possibility of a day trip to Venice!
We visit Treviso on our Small Towns of the Veneto small group tour. of Italy