From the 'magical' fountains of Cison di Valmarino for one weekend a year, flows the water of gods.
Cison's got a lot going for a tiny village along the Prosecco Route with only 2000-odd inhabitants. Nestled in the shadow of Castel Brando, a cluster of winding streets centre around the church piazza beside a trickling Torrente Rujo once used to run ancient mills. There's a walking path that follows the stream past the stone mills where a celebration is held every 25th of April - “The Enchanted Wood on the Waterways”. Music, picnics, poetry, art and theatre flows through the forest ending in a village sagra at the Alpine Troops Memorial.
The picturesque village hosts a well-trod artisan festival, Artigianato Vivo, every August for a bustling week of creative traders who fill every corner of the streets and borghi with crafts, food, wine and song in an extravaganza Cison di Valmarino has long been celebrated for. In March and April Assaporando Cison hosts two food festivals in the main piazza and side streets turning the town into a taste explosion of local wines and produce to sample and purchase, naturally with long tables overflowing in jugs of wine and lots of eating.
Up on an outcrop, regal Castel Brando towers over town as a fortress once owned by the Brandolini family which is now a luxury hotel. The Brandolini governed much of the place once upon a time and continue to keep lodgings in the village in the form of a sprawling, 16th century palazzo - Villa Casagrande. Their sumptuous residence hosts Count and Countess Annibale and Ghislaine Brandolini d'Adda every summer and is rented out for the rest of the year providing 10 bedrooms, 4 lounges and 2 ravishing, designer kitchens to cope with banquets for up to 50 guests. Go have a 'squiz' here, it's on Airbnb at £1700 a night.
Sitting in on the church piazza, sipping thick cioccolata calda on an autumn afternoon, you'd never expect all this luxury and worldly fame from a quaint and peaceful place, most days there's hardly anyone around but it helps to be in-the-know, because one of Cison's best-kept secrets is the favoloso Fontane Magiche.
Held in June with a date under-published either by the village Pro Loco on Facebook or spread by word of mouth, this magical weekend was suspended for 4 long years during Covid, reopening only this year. The reasons were not so much to protect Cison's people, but also to mourn the sad passing of their beloved Franz Tubon. Francesco Buffon was a Cison-born local who managed the waterways. Now Cison is very much a water-driven village - the river runs through it, once powering the mills, the yearly festival centres around it and the number of stone fountains in town reflects this. Francesco Buffon's nickname was 'Franz Tubon' - 'Tubon' meaning 'tube or pipe' in local dialect because of the sheer amount of hours and dedication he put into his job - they said in a heart-broken message when he died, that there wasn't one water conduit in Cison that didn't have his signature on it and now, when it rains, it is he who is opening and closing the taps.
'Veglia su i tuoi figli e i tuoi fratelli da lassù e, quando pioverà, sapremo che sei tu ad aprire e chiudere i rubinetti' - Pro Loco di Cison
While restoring the old fountain piping, it was indeed Franz Tubon who had the mastermind idea to create a mechanism which would stop the flow of water and turn it into wine.
Well, you can just imagine when he put his proposal to the Pro Loco - they absolutely loved it!
And Hey Presto! Welcome to the miracle of 'Le Fontane Magiche' - 'The Magical Fountains'
This year, numbers were limited, Cison is only little, so tickets could be purchased beforehand through the Pro Loco (the town representative association) but it was a number to call in an office which opened at very sporadic hours or a message on WhatsApp.
Starting at the first fountain 'Della Crosera', you're handed a ceramic cup on a lanyard and a t-shirt for £15. The wine begins to flow through the fountain starting with a local white. Wines are supplied by farms in the area (there are many!), donated essentially, as all proceeds go to charity.
A marching band appears from a portico with an entourage of majorettes and you wonder how all of this fits into tiny Cison. Soon, after tucking into a soppressa roll and congregating for a while, we're following the crowds through the narrow streets to the next fountain where someone kindly opens the tap and fills our cups to happy cheering.
A snack is offered at every tappa (stop) in true Italian style, all part of the price - well, you can't drink and not eat! Panini di soppressa or simple chucks of Montasio cheese, this is Veneto, village grub at it's best.
Children, dogs, loud drums beating, trumpeting and dancing - things start to liven up and we head on to the next tappa and a different white until we get to the church piazza where the wine turns red! There's one more fountain of the six to try but most are opting out at this stage - no, not us! The band dissipates in jolly discord around the last fountain in Piazza Girolamo Brandolini - Francesco takes over the pouring, instruments play at random and the toasting becomes relentless...
When I look back at these photos from before Covid, I wonder how the Fontane Magiche went this year. Was everyone sharing sips, cups and bites of a sandwich? Hugging, kissing and embracing the tap?
We'll have to go back and see because there's nothing better than letting your hair down in a small Italian hamlet under a fading sky to the sound of clanging symbols in a festa where everyone is friends.
And, do you know what's even better? The panini and wine were merely an antipasto. because now we need to find a space at the table and get ready for roasted meat spiedo, polenta and more wine in Borgo Casa Marian courtyard where a sagra is about to start serving.