Step into one of Veneto's most charming (and powerful) of hamlets.
Step into Serravalle and step into history for this small, walled hamlet used to be one of the most important hubs of commerce in Venice's bygone Serenissima Republic. Touches of Renaissance and Medieval grandeur line the Istrian-stone Piazza Flaminio where conversation, food, friendship and playing children have filled the place for millennia.
There's a road through the heart of Serravalle which narrows and winds under an arched bridge at the spot where the Monte Marcantone and Monte Baldo mountains almost touch. Alongside, flows the Meschio river, gushing past ancient mills and factories, reminiscent of years when the waters were put to commercial use.
Because of its strategic position, Serravalle has always had a significant road running through it. Built at a natural gateway between northern Alpine states like Austria and the Pianura Padana governed by Venice, the arched entrance was once gated and guarded as a form of defence and road-tax revenue. So much so, that stone walls were constructed up the sides of the steep hills to deter any travellers from sneaking through the forest, ruins we eagerly seek to spot from our car windows as we drive into town.
The Castrum would have once formed the heart of Serravalle at the place of a once prominent Roman fort. In the twelfth century, the small city began to gain popularity and status when one of Treviso's most influential families moved in and set to building a 'proper' castle on the site of the Castrum by order of the Venetians. Major restorations and significant alterations saw the 'Castello di Serravalle' become a luxury seat for the Bishop who also decided to set up residence in this upcoming part of the Republic. The Da Camino's were renowned for promoting commerce and development, investing in all kinds of industry including wool and sword making, boosting the area so much that tiny Serravalle soon flourished as an important mercantile hub and chief magistrate seat of the entire Serenissima Republic which lasted for almost 5 centuries. Fortune and fame aside, these were nevertheless troubled times riddled with battles between magistrate and noble families which put a slight dampener on the city's growing glory.
In 1866, Serravalle joined Ceneda, the next important town along the valley, creating Vittorio Veneto, aptly named as 'the Victory of Veneto'. It was here in 1918, that the Italians epically defeated the Austro-Hungarian army in a decisive battle. Since then, the city of Vittorio Veneto has filled the gaps between Ceneda and Serravalle becoming a long, narrow centre of industry and commerce, well-placed on the Veneto map and overshadowing the ancient epicentre of trade, Serravalle, which now sits peacefully as a little hamlet at one end of town, nestled cosily between the mountains with a contended, lazy smile.
My mom always says if she'd choose one place to live near us, it would be here. Apart from the charm and classic, Renaissance glam of this small town, Serravalle seems to have it all. Under a stylish, wide portico sits all the shops my mom could ever desire... a cheese shop, a pet shop, a chocolate shop, a glasses shop, a café, a bar, an art shop, a florists and an erbosteria. Around the corner, find one of our most favourite osterie of all time, Sempre Queo, and a couple more tucked into corners here and there. A bustling weekly market takes over every Monday morning, filling the streets with flowers, fish, fresh bread, fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, clothes and shoes, curtains and kitchen gadgets - you can do your weekly shop here without leaving the borgo!
On Piazza Flaminio, is situated one of the best gelaterie in the area and a few scrumptious trattorie; there's Da Ponte Theatre putting on theatre and music concerts, a grand, pillared piazza next door hosting wine-tasting festivals and an antiques market under the porticoes every first Sunday of the month - sound like pure bliss? It sure used to be! And maybe still is... especially for my mom!
Il Meschio runs through Serravalle where you can follow its banks on a path all the way through Vittorio Veneto into the vineyards or head north out of town past old wool factories now turned museums and art galleries. Here, behind the Castrum, is one of Serravalle's oldest and quietest cobbled streets - Via Caprera - a hidden gem of old osterie and tiny trattorie where only the locals gather for casual meals and a catch-up. Hosteria Caprera is a real treat of traditional Veneto cuisine with menus and dishes in dialect, if you'd like to sample the local wares.
An perfect base to explore the Dolomites, the Prosecco Hills or catch the train to Venice or Trieste, Vittorio Veneto is positioned half way between 'il mare e le montagne' the sea and the mountains, with roughly an hour's journey either way but there's so much to see and do right here with excellent skiing on Col Visentin, hiking trails amongst the ancient beech forests of Cansiglio and food from nearby agriturismi that will leave you with delectable lasting impressions. Stay in town, hire a car and after day tripping, spend your evenings on sun-kissed piazze sipping Aperol spritzes invented in nearby Padova, before tucking into some of Veneto's finest or make a date of it and catch one of Serravalle's food or drinks festivals, listed here.
In March, the Vittorio Veneto half marathon “Maratonina della Vittoria” takes place.
In April, La Città e il Fiore fills Serravalle with flowers for a day!
In May, the Castrum hosts the musically entertaining Serravalle Festival with jazz concerts art installations, foods and entertainment.
Every July, Serravalle lights up with le Lanterne di Serravalle hosting music, theatre and all kinds of celebrations under the porticoes, on the piazze and venues throughout the city.
And in August, during the week of Ferragosto, the place becomes abuzz with funfair rides, fireworks and parties in the streets to celebrate Santa Augusta, Serravalle's patron saint. It does become a little manic with wine, merriment and song but if you love a good, festive party, you can't go wrong here! This celebratory week, known to us in dialect as “Foghi de Sant’Augusta”, concludes with fireworks from the Chapel of Santa Augusta up on the hill, which we all watch from our windows in glee, feeling our summer holidays go out with a bang!
What to See and Do
Besides day-tripping around the Veneto countryside, which is truly beautiful in itself, Serravalle has a few gems tucked up it's sleeve to see:
The Duomo (Cathedral) built in 1755, boasts a stunning altarpiece by Titian truly worth beholding, spend some extra time here for some deep-rooted peace and quiet.
The intricately-affrescoed Loggia Serravallese from 1462 faces the main square, you can't miss it. Once seat of the government, the building is now a museum boasting a Madonna by Andrea Sansovino with Roman relics and all kinds of intrigiung artifacts.
Santa Augusta is a small chapel built on a high outcrop overlooking the city which can be visited by walking the many steps leading up from beside the Duomo. It's sort of a pilgrimage with stops and benches along the way for resting those weary legs and contemplating. Well worth the views and satisfaction of completing it!
Visit the Castrum for events and an insight on the Da Camino's lifestyle in those glory days. You can also stay here in their Bed and Breakfast and relax in their dreamy garden.
Where to Stay
Serravalle Castle is clearly the number one spot if you'd like to live out a bit of a fairy tale and it doesn't get more central than this!
On the Agriturismo.it website, there are many farm stays to choose from close by which we'd heartily recommend for excellent hospitality and farm-fresh food or have a look on your trusty booking.com or airbnb.com for all kinds of options from budget to luxury.
Vittorio Veneto has a train station but hardly any of us use it - the trains are sparse and only go to Conegliano, from where you can jump onto the Mestre-Udine line taking you to Venice, Treviso, Trieste and beyond!
It's worth having a car to truly explore the area so either fly into Marco Polo Airport in Venice with many routes into and out of, or Treviso Airport, linked just as sufficiently. From Venice and Treviso Airports the drive is all motorway on the A27 and very easy to get to, in under an hour.
If you do visit Serravalle, we'd love to know! And are always here for tips and advice if you'd like some. Under the porticoes find a little art shop, pop in and say 'Ciao!' to Mariangela, tell her, 'Alison sent me.' Amid her talented artwork, feel free to stay and chat for a while, her English is fantastic (she had a good teacher...) and she always loves a chance to practice it...