A walk among the prosecco hills

19 December 2023
Written by
Paola Pardieri

With a focus on Gastronomy

In medio stat virtus: a Latin phrase that perfectly describes the hilly area of Prosecco Superiore in Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. This small area, dotted with rows of vines that fade into forest at the highest points, is in fact located about halfway between the Dolomites and the Adriatic Sea (Cortina d’Ampezzo and Venice are more or less an hour drive away), and this right distance gives unique morphological and geological characteristics to the terrain. Not to mention the historical, artistic and cultural riches preserved in this strip of Veneto: it is no coincidence that from 2019 the Prosecco hills are a Unesco World Heritage Site, that has recognised their universal value as a Cultural Landscape.

A Cultural Landscape, which from the town of Valdobbiadene stretches eastward to the town of Vittorio Veneto, shaped and preserved over the centuries by generations of winegrowers who, with great tenacity and skill, have been able to shape the steep slopes that characterise it by resorting to a particular type of terracing that uses grassy soil instead of stone, thus helping to solidify the land without eroding the soil and giving harmony to the landscape. A viticulture that is still defined as “heroic” because, precisely because of the slopes that reach 70 percent, it is done almost exclusively by hand and requires up to 800 hours of work per hectare per year compared to 150 in the plains.

To discover the historical, artistic, cultural and enogastronomic riches of this magical strip of land in Veneto, called Alta Marca Trevigiana, one can take the Prosecco Route (follow the sign Strada del Prosecco e vini dei colli Conegliano e Valdobbiadene). Established in 1966, it is the first Italian wine artery and winds for a hundred kilometres passing through vineyards, countryside dotted with villages, castles, abbeys (stop at the Cistercian one of Santa Maria di Follina), factories and wineries. 

Prosecco Hills

You can start from Conegliano, a walled city built around a Mediaeval castle and the birthplace of Giovanni Battista Cima (1457-1517), among the most important painters of the 15th-century Veneto school. After visiting his birthplace, which houses artefacts from the Bronze Age and some reproductions of the master’s works, you can head to the Renaissance cathedral to admire the panel depicting the Madonna and Child among angels and saints painted by Cima in 1492. Not to be missed, above the porticoes of the cathedral, is the Sala di Battuti, frescoed with the Stories of Christ, painted by the artist Francesco da Milano. In Conegliano, however, there is more than just spirituality: here, in fact, is home to the historic G.B. Cerletti School of Oenology of Conegliano, the first in Italy to be declared a National Monument.

Slightly off the Prosecco Route, is the castle of San Salvatore in Susegana. It is an ancient 14th-century fortification, perched on a panoramic hill, which every year in May hosts Vino in villa, the most important event dedicated to Prosecco Superiore Docg, and from this year also Co(u)ltura, the first Wine Literature Festival.

Continuing along the main itinerary, it is worth stopping at San Pietro di Feletto: here, in fact, stands one of the oldest parish churches in Italy, surrounded by a large frescoed portico and a mediaeval bell tower. Inside there are several interesting frescoes that frame the Chapel of Saint Sebastian. Among the significant works preserved inside the small country church is the Sunday Christ, depicted full of wounds inflicted on him by farm tools-a reminder to farmers that they should not work on Sundays, a day dedicated to the Lord. 

Departing from San Pietro di Feletto, one quickly arrives in the vicinity of Refrontolo, a municipality near which is the enchanting and ancient Molinetto della Croda, one of the most evocative places of the area, with its large water-powered wheel. Moving toward Farra di Soligo, it is worth making a stop at the church of San Vigilio, dating back to 1100, which dominates from above Col San Martino and the entire valley down to the Piave River and beyond. Also near Farra is the Sanctuary of Collagù, which houses the relics of Saint Emilio. A delightful place from which starts a walk that winds through vineyards and woods: westward it leads to the Credazzo Towers, a fortified complex probably built between the 9th and 10th centuries. 

Back on the Route and continuing westward, you reach Cartizze, which gives name to the iconic sparkling wine known all over the world and covers only 108 hectares. This small area, called the Golden Pentagon, can also be discovered on a hiking trail that starts from and returns to the parish church of San Pietro di Barbozza, a hamlet of Valdobbiadene.

The last stop is Valdobbiadene itself, the other “capital” of the appellation, whose territory is enriched by mansions and religious architecture: Villa dei Cedri, where silk was once spun; the parish church of Guia, attributed to the most famous sculptor Antonio Canova; and the 15th-century church of San Gregorio. Near the village, there are the northernmost heights of the appellation, where rows of vines create a particularly striking backdrop. You might spontaneously think of the Prosecco to come and of the words written by local writer Giovanni Comisso: «A blond, serene and enlivening wine that is also a mirror of the landscape of these unique hills: a golden diadem shining with gems».

Routes organised by the Prosecco Trail and other associations promoting the area are available here.

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