An evening in the Country
A beautiful tasting menu paired with the perfect wines, a beautiful country setting on a perfect August evening, a celebratory family event on a property that has witnessed many such occasions… these combined to create an evening of celebration greater than the sum of its parts.
Photographs courtesy of JoLene Hum – Portraits by JoLene
A visit to the Cordouan lighthouse
Driving out of Paris, with a necessary stop in Cognac, we made our way to the Cordouan Lighthouse at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary off the west coast of France. The last seven kilometers proved the most challenging. Traversing the rocky estuary, which historically claimed to be the graveyard of sailors, and racing the rising tide, caused the image of the distant lighthouse to appear that much more breathtaking. Cordouan is the most beautiful construction of its type since the Pharos of Alexandria, which was both model and inspiration for this Renaissance structure. The final building served as chapel, lighthouse, and royal residence. Started in 1584, with a commission from Henry lll granted to architect, Louis de Foix, the royal project took 25 years to complete. Louis XlV, so enamored of the building and the extravagance of his ancestors, had his initials and those of his queen, Marie-Therese, blazoned all through the structure. Rising 67.5 meters above sea level, this still active lighthouse protects all seafaring vessels navigating the hazardous waters where the Gironde Estuary meets the Atlantic, while bearing witness to the perfection and balance of Renaissance architecture.
From Bologna we set out in search of Palladio, or at least his magnificent buildings, which have inspired many architects and lovers of architecture from the mid sixteenth-century through the present. Andrea Palladio, born in 1508, recaptured the classical Roman architectural canon, and through a lens, both intellectual and sensual, re-introduced western culture to the principles of classical design… at the same time adding an interest in light and color. His villa designs addressed the needs of the domestic interior and the working farm. He created both an appropriate setting and grand seat for the noble families of the Italian Veneto. We started our Palladian journey in Vicenza, where Palladio lived from the age of sixteen on, and from which he worked his entire professional life. Our friends, Kathy and Mark Carter, helped set the itinerary, and provided the much needed language assistance and the transportation.
Our journey started on bicycles, riding past a grand staircase with obelisks designed by Palladio and on through farmland making our way to Villa La Rotonda.
The acropolic position of the villa, crowning a small hill, makes for a stunning presence in the landscape. Inspired by the Baths of Caracalla and the Pantheon… inspiring in turn, Chiswick House in London and Jefferson’s Monticello, to name a few.
As I left La Rotonda, I recalled what Goethe wrote regarding this amazing structure, and now understood what he meant, “Today I have seen a splendid villa called La Rotonda, half an hour away from the city, on a beautiful hill… Maybe art has never reached such a high level of excellence.”
The Teatro Olimpico was Palladio’s last and one of his most noted achievements. Proposing the replication of a Roman amphitheater, Palladio’s design was realized in his town of Vicenza. Started in 1580, the year of Palladio’s death, the work was completed by Vincenzo Scamazzi.
The central street is 12 meters in length but appears much longer. The floor rises, the sky descends, the buildings draw closer together creating the illusion of depth.
After a few days in Vicenza, we set out into the countryside of the Veneto to discover other architectural wonders of this master artist… in search of more Palladio…
Driving north and slightly east from Vicenza, we made our way to Maser to view one of Palladio’s most perfect houses, the Villa Maser also called the Villa Barbaro, as the house was commissioned by the Barbaro brothers. The Barbaro clan, a wealthy Venetian family, produced ambassadors to the courts of France and England, representatives to the Council of Trent, and close advisers to the Venetian doge. The main structure, whose central portion served as the living quarters, is flanked by two pavilions which housed cellars, granaries, and stables. The villa, with interiors decorated by the Venetian painter, Paolo Veronese, is set in an exquisite Giorgione like landscape. The harmonious proportions of the house, the perfect dialogue between the house and the landscape, the bold references to the Classical past, all contribute to make this one of Palladio’s greatest achievements.
After leaving Villa Barbaro we found our way to Asolo. Though there are no Palladian structures to be seen, it is impossible to resist this hillside town known as “The City of 100 Horizons.” A favorite of poets and musicians, Robert Browning, who declared, “Italy has been my University”, purchased Villa Cipriani in 1889. Today it is the Hotel Villa Cipriani.
Finishing our tour of Palladian structures, we ended with a stop at Isola di Carturo, known primarily as the birthplace of the early Renaissance artist, Andrea Mantegna. For our purposes, the town hosts a monthly antiques fair and market. Setting up booths in the shadow of the beautiful Villa Contarini, dealers offer pottery, silver, furniture, fabrics, and all forms of decorative arts.
Packing our finds and returning to Vicenza, we prepared for our visit to Venice, to see and experience, once again, the beauty and magic of that special place.