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Between art and wine in the Venetian Mainland: small groups guided tour of Villa Barbaro at Maser.

Today we leave Venice and by car we reach a fabulous place, full of peace and silence, where our love for art and beauty in general can be fully satisfied. Monica is driving, our journey will take about one hour. So we have plenty of time to chat and gossip, which is quite natural when you have three women travelling together! We are heading to Maser, to visit Villa Barbaro, an ideal place where it is easy to loose any perception of time. Today there we do not have guided tours for small groups of tourists or families, so the three of us can simply enjoy the magic of this place.

Entirely surrounded by nature, on the top of a hill, this villa is a real masterpiece by Andrea Palladio, who projected it right after 1550 for two Venetian brothers,Daniele Barbaro, a learned man and Patriarch of Aquileia, and Marcantonio, a politician as well as a diplomat of the Venetian Republic.

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Villa Barbaro

The Barbaros were one of the most important and richest families in Venice. Daniele and Marcantonio were the descendants of the eminent Zaccaria Barbaro, who had palazzo built for the family along the Grand Canal and who was elected in 1465 Procuratore di San Marco (i.e. the most relevant administrative figure of St. Mark's Basilica, the State Church).

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Palazzo Barbaro along the Grand Canal in Venice

Their villa in the mainland was meant to exalt the importance and the glory of the whole family, underlying their social status. They asked then their friendPalladio for the project and commissioned the frescoes to Paolo Veronese and the sculptures to Alessandro Vittoria: the three main expressions of art, architecture, painting and sculpture, in the hands of the greatest artists of Renaissance Venice. It is not a case, then, that this side is patronized by UNESCO.

So here we are: we park our car, approach the villa on foot and once again, as it always happens to us in this place, the surrounding landscape inspires us with a sense of serenity and quietness.

The central part of the villa, its lateral structures, called barchesse, with their dovecotes and their sundials seem to greet and welcome us.

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Details of the dovecotes and the sundials

Let us enter this magnificent building. First of all, we are invited to wear slippers: this is actually mandatory, so that visitors do not damage the floor and at the same time they polish it. Moreover, since the new owners of the villa still live in there, the noise of the steps could be annoying to them.

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The slippers

We are immediately attracted by a window that opens onto a breathtaking view: fields, parks, vineyards everywhere; different shades of green dominate the countryside.

The Barbaros projected their residence in the mainland not only as a pleasant and luxurious house where to find shelter from the hot humid Venetian summers, but also as a real farm, where the main activities would be hunting, cereal cultivation and wine production.

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The extraordinary panorama out of the window

Palladio himself in 1570 wrote in his "Four Books on Architecture" about the importance of producing wine, which would be a reason of joy and pride for the family: "On both sides (of the villa) there are loggias with two dovecotes at the end, and under these loggias there are places where wine is produced...".

The genial architect projected the barchesse as areas where to store all the instruments and tools needed for agriculture and wine production, and where to store wine as well. Up to the middle of the 19th century, in fact, under the arcades of the barchesse grapes would be stored and then transformed into wine. Eventually the new proprietors decided to build a separate structure for this purpose, a detached winery.

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The new winery

The rooms of the Villa have different names: of the Olympus, of the Dog, of the Love Tribunal... It is definitely not a case that we can also find Bacchus's Room, to stress once again the Barbaros' passion for grapes and wine: we can quite easily imagine the slight drunkenness, the euphoric happiness of the landlords and their guests during parties and feasts.

Bacchus's Room is rather small; however, thanks to the light, pastel colors used for the decoration, the visitor does not feel suffocating: Veronese, by painting fake architectural settings, trompe-l'oeil columns, deep perspectives of countryside landscapes, succeeded in giving the room an aerial atmosphere. Our impression is that we are actually outside in the country yard, as if the walls of the room had disappeared.

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Bacchus's Room

On the ceiling Bacchus is represented while donating grapes to some men, possibly shepherds. He stands out on a vivid light blue sky with white clouds.

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Bacchus donates grapes to the shepherds

One of the shepherds is helplessly lying, tired, since he has probably drunk way too much of the delicious wine. In his drunkenness he dreams of dancing putti and violin music.

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Detail: Drunk Shepherd

At the sides of this central fresco on the ceiling we can admire florid vines full of grapes: Veronese, with incredible ability, gave to these rows of vine plants an upward thrust, and as a consequence our gaze gets lost in the infinity of the sky.

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Vines with grapes

Each of us three has her favorite color: Monica loves red, while Marialaura and Cinzia prefer purple. But even Monica does not despise the color that Veronese used for the grapes... It is so realistic, that we can almost feel their inebriating smell. Purple can be a fairly heavy color when used for large subjects. But when it is used to paint small details it becomes elegant, refined. Bacchus's Room then represents to us perfection, with its luminous atmosphere, and its decorations create an ideal fusion between the room itself and the nature outside.

Walking out of this room, we visit the other halls of the villa and then take a relaxing walk in the park. Although excited by what we have experienced, we feel a little tired and we are also definitely hungry. It is about time to have lunch in the restaurant close to the villa. We decide to go for appetizers: ham, salami, different sorts of cheeses, seasonal vegetables and, of course, a taste of the typical wines of Villa Barbaro at Maser.

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The typical restaurant by the villa

The tradition of wine production continues even nowadays in this villa, and anyone can try the peculiar wines of the area: certified Prosecco and Chardonnay, or, for those like Cinzia and Monica who prefer red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon 60%, Merlot 40% or Merlot 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 35%, Cabernet Franc 5%, or the typical Villa Maser wines, or Maserino, or the certified Red Wine of the Treviso Hills, which in 2009 won the Bronze Medal of the Decanter World Wine Awards.

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Villa Maser Chardonnay of 2007

And while enjoying our wine tasting experience, we all agree that a visit to Villa Barbaro is definitely complete. Visitors can taste both art and nature, as well as the peculiar wines and cuisine of the place: this a perfect mix that our guests from all over the world seem to appreciate, especially if they are looking for special tours that are different from the usual ones.

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Internal decoration of the restaurant

As to whet your appetite, we add a picture of what we had for lunch... Monica actually has not tried too many different wines: she has to drive the three of us back to Venice!

Hope to see you soon! Cheers!

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