The quaint walled town of Castelfranco Veneto, in the Veneto region, province of Treviso, is too often overlooked while visiting the area for the more popular destinations of Venice and Padua. The town, located between Treviso and Vicenza, has a small yet lovely historic center, and is surrounded by high defensive walls, developed and fortified by the nearby patrons of Treviso in 1195. Its central area, the stunning Castello, consists of a large square fortification with high walls and a moat, and nowadays is the heart of Castelfranco.
The town’s cathedral, the Duomo, sits behind a row of statues opposite the town hall, and is a large 18th century building, designed by Francesco Maria Preti famous for designing the grand Villa Pisani in Strà. The church’s greatest treasure is a stunningly beautiful altarpiece by Giorgione, who was born here and whose statue stands outside the walled town overlooking a piazza named in his honor. Legend has it that Giorgione (‘Big George’) was born in Castelfranco Veneto around 1478, and died in Venice in 1510. His works of art are few but very important, and renowned for their allure. The vestry (sagrestia) on the left of the nave is also worth a visit, mostly to admire a collection of local paintings including some pieces of fresco by Paolo Veronese. Mind that the room is locked, so ask for admission and you will be let in.
Next door to the Duomo is the Casa del Giorgione (House of Giorgione). The house has been restored and opened to the public by the local council: the interior is fairly bare, but contains some attractive remnants of fresco, including a long allegorical frieze attributed to Giorgione himself.
Wandering along the little arcaded streets so typical of the Veneto region is also an experience worth having while in town: look out for the Torre Civica, a clock tower above the eastern gate of Castelfranco, bearing the Venetian winged lion and surmounted by a little dome.
If you enjoy looking for bargains, keep in mind that a bustling market fills Piazza Giorgione on Tuesdays and Fridays, selling everything from fruit and vegetables to towels and local artifacts..
Outside the clocktower gate you will find some more beautiful buildings, some with external frescoes still visible and definitely worth a picture. A short walk along Borgo Treviso is the Villa Revedin Bolasco. Its garden, the Parco Revedin Bolasco, is open to the public, and is a peaceful and unique spot to stroll to enjoy an hour or two away from the crowds.
As with most Italian towns, Castelfranco offers quite a few appealing bars and several great restaurants around the historic center and the surrounding streets, perfect places to enjoy an aperitivo or a leisurely meal. A local specialty are pumpkin-filled ravioli, which can be enjoyed pretty much everywhere in town, dressed in browned butter and sage. Local radicchio, too, is a must try: unlike most radicchio served elsewhere it has a much rounder, less bitter aftertaste and is especially good when grilled and sprinkled with salt and olive oil. Second courses include both meat, especially pork, and a great deal of locally produced lunch meats such as soppressata, a real treat for those who like prosciutto, salame, coppa and the likes. Wine lovers will definitely enjoy local wines, as the area is famous around the world for its Prosecco: the bubbly wine from Valdobbiadene is great with everything, from appetizers to desserts.
The rail connections make it fairly easy to combine Castelfranco with another nearby destinations to make the most of a day trip from Venice or Padua. Cittadella, only about 15 minutes away by train, is a good additional destination – another walled town, where one can take leisurely walks around the restored walls. Villa Emo, one of the region’s most famous grand country villas, is also a short train trip away from Castelfranco. The little town of Asolo, beloved of Robert Browning, is also within easy reach, while larger towns of interest nearby include Vicenza, Treviso, Padua, Bassano del Grappa, and Venice.