Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 16: Belluno

After a breakfast with some more of the delicious Belluno cornetti, we get in the car to drive to Feltre, a town about 20 miles to the south and west of Belluno. Today the sky is completely overcast and there are no signs of the Dolomites that usually dominate the views from Belluno.
Feltre is a another one of the seemingly endless small to medium-sized Italian cities with an attractive, intact historical center and a sense of style. The center is still enclosed by the medieval walls (there is even a pedestrian/bicycle tunnel that is dug under the town and allows access to both sides of the “modern” town without climbing into the “centro.”) The “modern” town is not particularly modern but it is a bit newer than the orginal walled town….it is quite commerical but the streets are cobblestoned and the buildings share a lot of the charming attributes of those inside the walls.
We park outside the walls, enter the center through the lower “porta” and walk up the gentle slope of the main street–the Via Mezzaterra. There are large “palazzi” lining the main street, many of them still displaying the designs of the mediveal painted walls.
The main piazza is also quite attractive with statues–one of the Venetian lion on top of a column–the town hall and a large church on each side.
As attractive as the “centro storico” is, it is strikingly quiet…there are few stores and fewer people, quite a contrast to the business district in the “modern” town outside the walls. When we pay to enter the Feltre Civic Museum, we are greeted warmly by the staff and made to feel very welcome. We are the only visitors. The museum contains the usual array of displays which are found in most museums of the type–some Roman statuary and inscriptions, representative pieces of furniture from old houses in the town, a Gentile Bellini portrait and some very nice paintings by local artists, some from the 15th and 16th centuries.
We spend a very pleasant, leisurely hour in the museum but that means that we won’t be able to get into the Modern Art Museum (Museo Rizzarda) before it closes midday, which features a collection of wrought iron (ferro battuto) by a local master, Carlo Rizzarda. However, since Diana is such a fan of wrought iron work, we may well decide to stop in Feltre tomorrow on our way to Venice.
We finish our circuit of the “centro storico”, stopping to admire a handsome iron gate in front of one house -maybe the work of Rizzarda.
At the bottom of the hill, we see a small sign for an “osteria” and a menu posted outside. It looks very appealing and, since it is lunch time, we peek inside. It is just before 1 pm but almost all of the tables are filled with locals, some eating and some drinking small glasses of wine. We later see that the name is “CRASH Osteria”.
We are seated at the only remaining table which we share with another couple. Lunch is terrific–pizzoccheri (a thick tagliatelle from the mountains north of Lake Como) with mushrooms for me and some very tasty pork ribs with roast potatoes for Diana. We share a half-liter of a very pleasant local cabernet. Sometimes the spur of moment dining decisions work out very well.
After lunch, we head back to the Strada del Prosecco for a look at another of the wine trails and we make a short stop in Conegliano, another small Veneto city with a lovely historical center and an attractive vibe. There are arcaded sidewalks and buildings with flowers hanging from pots and biblical scenes painted on walls.
We walk around the main street, make a short visit to the Duomo and admire an altarpiece by the famous local Renaissance painter, Cima di Conegliano, have a gelato and leave town but we would happily come back for another visit on our next trip to the Veneto.
The road to Vittorio Veneto takes us through more beautiful prosecco vineyards
but we don’t stop in town, instead heading directly back to Belluno on the autostrada.
On our last night in Belluno, we decide to try Ristorante Terracotta. It had been recommended by the hotel desk clerk but we don’t know anything about the place. While looking at the menu outside the door, a young woman comes out and tells us–in Italian–that Terracotta has the best food in Belluno. The menu is in fact a little bit on the “creative side” and slightly more expensive than the other places where we had eaten in town.

But we decide to go in and take our chances. The room is striking and austere and the tables and place settings are very stylish. There aren’t a lot of choices that appeal to us but there are enough. Diana has a caprese salad followed by a grilled shrimp dish, served on a skewer of lemongrass with a side of crunchy black rice. I have a pasta dish–maccheroni with swordfish, lemon and capers (a bit heavy on the capers but pretty good) and then grilled pieces of tuna steak, very rare and delicious. Since it is our last day in the home of prosecco, we order a bottle and easily finish it.
We have our final stroll through the quiet streets of Belluno. Tomorrow to Venice.
NOTE: Why do we find the menu offerings in Belluno so limiting? First, they seem to offer a lot of heartier pasta types and there is a lot of polenta. Even though it is an hour or more from the sea, there is a lot of seafood but the emphasis is on octopus and squid. Pumpkin is often on the menu which neither of us like and many dishes have mushrooms which I like but Diana doesn’t. Many places featured goat, horsemeat, donkey, deer, speck (smoked ham) and snails, which don’t appeal to us. There is a definite Austrian influence in the cooking style and the combinations of ingredients sometimes are off-putting to us. In any case, we both had the same reaction to the restaurant menus and to the food in Belluno. We certainly didn’t starve but it is not our favorite cuisine.


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