Everyone knows about the magnificence of Venice, the grandeur and exotic history that can be found merely wandering along its intricate pattern of canals, its squares that whisper secrets of bygone ages as you walk through them, the thrill to be had raising your eyes to sun kissed buildings in this architectural sweet shop of delights.
Verona also has captured the imagination of writers, lovers, poets, musicians through the ages and is a must on every tourists list.
In between these two magnificent cities lies Vicenza. Many might know it is the city of Palladio and wish to visit his famous villas built for rich silk merchants and scattered about the surrounding countryside, but before doing this stay awhile in the city of Vicenza and feast upon the architectural beauty of its really delightful centre.
Vicenza is a hidden gem. Nestled at the foot of the Berici Hills its historic city centre has been protected from urban sprawl. Just a short walk from the railway station and you will find yourself in Piazza dei Signori. It might take your breath away if you are not prepared for the beauty you will find there. One side is flanked by Palladio's Basilica, it's majestic archways, green copper roof and stunning clock tower a joy to behold.
At one end of the square two columns proudly stand. One bearing the winged lion that is the symbol of the Serenissima, the Venetian Republic, the other representing the Redentore. The buildings beyond the columns are painted in the colours of a rich golden Italian sunset. Opposite the Basilica is the imposing Loggia del Capitaniato and some fine palazzi adorned with frescoes.
We were lucky enough to visit at Christmas and on entering the square were overcome by the sparkling beauty of the Christmas tree the lights and the buildings. The square was covered with strands of light making it seem like a magical fairy kingdom. Children running around beneath this starlit canopy could be seen pausing to gaze in wonder at the decoration of their playground. Stalls selling mulled wine and hot chocolate took the chill off the winter air.
All around the square there are bars, restaurants and cafes catering for every age group and mood. Intimate candlelit bars, restaurants with log fires, open air bars with blankets provided to keep warm, like most Italian towns where sitting and chatting with family or friends is a timeless favourite pastime.
In the corner of the beautiful Piazza Signore, with its terrace that enjoys the most spectacular view, is the Caffè Garibaldi.
In the winter months the terrace is enclosed with glass and decorated with strings of lights and greenery. The moment you enter you are overwhelmed by the enticing aromas.
We had booked a table for twenty of us, ranging from one year olds to grandparents.
It seemed a tall order to keep everybody happy but the charming manager, Serena, had everything under control from the start. We were worried about disturbing the other customers who were quietly chatting and sipping spritz or espresso coffee but she reassured us by preparing our table at a distance. She also suggested a sharing menu that would appeal to everyone, children, vegetarians, babies. Two high chairs were provided for the little ones. Aperitifs and drinks were served immediately and we all sat back and relaxed, enjoying the enchanting view of the lights all around us which made us feel as though we were in the centre of a magical grotto.
The young men and women that served us were so friendly and courteous, happy to deal with any request, everyone felt at home.
At Serena's suggestion we started off with wooden trays of cheese and Italian ham and salami, vegetables and mozzarella fried in breadcrumbs, arancini ( made famous by the television series Montalbano), small bruschetta and various finger foods.
By this time a deep happiness had overcome us all, there we were, all together, enjoying each others company, sipping prosecco, tasting delicious food and wrapped in a magical winter wonderland of lights and beautiful buildings.
Our antipasti and aperitif were followed by the Garibaldi's speciality, would you believe it, fish and chips?. The fish were deep fried bite sized pieces of fish, cod, scampi, scallops, squid, accompanied by crisp chips and wasabi sauce.
By this time some of the children wanted to stretch their legs and so a quick run around the magnificent square was needed. A balloon seller added to the charm and excitement for the little ones. Looking at the Garibaldi from the square, from the outside looking in, our loved ones inside, warm and friendly, the feeling of enchantment continued. The day was darkening and the lights twinkled brighter and made the Garibaldi even more inviting.
Having let off some steam we returned to continue our delicious meal. the next course was Risotto with pumpkin, a hint of lemon and rosemary and decorated with toasted almonds, delicious.
While the orders for coffee were being taken the children and anyone else who still had room went to choose their desserts from a spectacular colourful display inside the caffe.
Lemon meringue, chocolate nuts, macaroons, raspberry shortbread, again, something for everyone.
It was hard to leave the Garibaldi, such a magical occasion for us all.
Thank you Serena and all your lovely staff.