For centuries the Venetian Republic ruled most of the northeastern region called the Veneto, but many of those inland cities had been around for centuries when the city of Venice was officially founded with the election of its first doge in A.D. 726. As ancient Roman strongholds, these cities had already lived through a glorious period. Verona has even been called "Little Rome" for its wealth of Roman sites and magnificent ancient amphitheater.
The first architectural movement to sweep through the entire Western world has its roots in the Veneto. The geometric and classical form of the High Renaissance that local architect Andrea Palladio practiced became the model for the rest of the world's Renaissance builders -- from England's Inigo Jones to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Throughout the Veneto you'll find a wealth of Venetian Renaissance palazzi, frescoed churches, and basilicas, which makes a tour through the region a rewarding and fascinating trip.
Geographically, the Veneto is a region of great diversity. It abuts the Adriatic Sea to the east and shares Lake Garda with Lombardy to the west. Its northern boundaries reach up to the pale, pink-tinged mountain range of the regal Dolomites that separate Italy from the Austrian Tirol. The southern boundary is the mighty Po River, its relentlessly flat alluvial plains punctuated by the Berici Mountains south of Vicenza and the Euganean Hills near Padua. But the Veneto is really defined by the valleys flowing down from the Dolomites and Alps in the north: The Adige, Brenta, Piave, and other rivers make fertile the Veneto's middle hills, rich with the vineyards, fruit orchards and small-scale farms that create the agricultural wealth that has been the Veneto's sustenance.
The Veneto's three major cities, Padua, Vicenza, and Verona, hold the most historical and artistic interest in the region, and they are all accessible by public transportation. Trains between these cities run on the Milan-Venice line and hence are inexpensive, frequent, and user-friendly. In fact, the distances between the cities are so small that you could very well stay put in Venice and tool into Verona -- the most distant of the three -- for an easy day trip. But this would be a great shame since each of the cities warrants a slow exploration.
Enjoy the Veneto in the late afternoon and early evening hours when the day-trippers have gone; sip an aperitivo or take a leisurely passeggiata along streets lined with tiny boutiques. End your day with a moderately priced meal of home-cooked regional specialties in a characteristic wine tavern amid much bonhomie and brio, followed by a good night's rest in a small, friendly hotel located just off the postcard-perfect main square.
Spend time in the region's lesser-explored cities and small towns such as Treviso, Bassano del Grappa, and Asolo. All offer a host of excursions into the real countryside, where you only need a car or the slightest sense of adventure to jump on a local bus and enjoy the back roads of the Veneto. Top it off with a leisurely cruise down the Brenta Canal to return to Venice.