I visited Venice last month and was charmed, not for the first time, by that incredible city. Like many tourists, however, I let it blind me to the rest of the region surrounding it, to its beauty and its charm. It is not uncommon for tourists to only visit the regional capital of Veneto: it is the most iconic city in the world after all. However, I didn’t want to do what most tourists do, so I decided to explore some more of Veneto. I ended up staying in a historic mansion, one of many beautiful Venetian villas near Treviso. Here’s how it went.
Venetian villas

The grounds of Villa Tiepolo Passi

The country home as innovation

The story of the Venetian republic is also a story of entrepreneurship and a story about the birth of agriculture, trade, and retail. I literally fell into it when I was looking for last-minute accommodation near Treviso airport. I clicked on “hotels near you” and found a place called Villa Tiepolo Passi, checked the pictures, and noticed a beautiful composition featuring a red Smeg refrigerator in a 16th-century kitchen. My gut feeling told me this was a nice place, the kind of venue where the old republic meets the present-day made-in-Italy. So off to the Villa I went and, because of a few business appointments, I arrived there very late. The opening gate reminded me of the opening sequence of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and I wondered whether the movie actually had Italian origin and how Rocky Balboa (which is an Italian immigrant’s story) might have something to do with it. Alberto welcomed me – the only guest – with a warm “This is not a hotel. It is private property” and by that point, I was being reminded of “The Shining”, rather than Rocky Horror, and wishing my son were with me, while at the same time being glad he was not. In the end, I was happy to be able to close the ancient wooden door properly, from inside. Then I relaxed because that’s the effect of being surrounded by endless beauty, whether by day or night. The only sounds I could hear through the open windows were the forest animals doing their mysterious dancing and singing. The next morning, Count Alberto, who is not only the owner of this corner of paradise but also the president of the Venetian Villas Association, was kind enough to take the time to give me the grand tour of the venue and sharing his vast knowledge of Venetian villas. These buildings’ unique history is deeply intertwined with that of the Venetian Republic, its rise and fall and second rise. They have what Alberto calls a “multi-tasking” approach, encompassing an interest in agriculture, guided tours, and slow tourism.

My new friend, in front of his mansion.

Villa Tiepolo Passi and the magic of the Venetian villas: a history

It turns out that Count Passi is a fellow journalist, as well as being chairman of the organisation whose job it is to promote and protect the unique architectural heritage of the Venetian villas. He was able to tell me much that I never knew or imagined about these remarkable businesses and their contribution to the glory of the old Republic. Properties such as this one were built by the Venetian aristocracy, as far back as the XV century, as summer residences. From the coastline to the hills, from the countryside to the nearby Alps, the most beautiful corners of the regions were selected by wealthy landowners as seasonal retreats to escape the sweltering heat and the bustling city life. This tradition lasted well into the XIX century and pretty much died with the Serenissima Republic, with heirs and families being left to contend with the grandeur and expenses of a kind of real estate that does not adapt easily to the modern times. Nowadays, about 75% of these villas are excellently preserved, but only 10% of the properties are open to the public or hold a role in the tourism industry (as destinations for guided tours, food tours, weddings or other events). Villa Tiepolo Passi is one of the most beautiful mansions in the area and, as well as welcoming visitors, its owners also produce wines, jams, sweets, candied fruits, and Venetian mustard according to ancient recipes, using products of the estate. As a wine lover, I did not pass on the opportunity of taking home a magnum of delightful Fiol prosecco, a local product that made made many of my friends back home very, very happy.

Villa Tiepolo Passi

The Vision

This villa resonates with history but also embodies Alberto’s idea of a 4.0 version of what Venetian villas should be: innovative, a unique experience and a chance to honour, rather than exploit, this priceless cultural heritage. This isn’t the kind of venue that would let a rowdy wedding party run rampage among XVI century statues wrapped in tacky decor. Villa Tiepolo Bassi is neither a hotel nor a B&B, neither a party venue nor a farm-house. And yet it is a place you can visit, a facility with three rooms to rent and an enterprise that produces organic food. It is none of these things and all of them, but it is also more than the sum of its parts. What will you experience here? Peace. Beauty. Calm. Art. Nature. Taste. You will find a level of deeper awareness that only comes with silence, with the kind of environment that invites you to look inward. You should try it.