Do not dwell on yesterday’s resorts, on the trumped up pleasure domes of the 60’s or 70’s, look today at what is happening to the desperate few such as Asolo in Italian heritage towns.
San Gimignano is in every Tuscan tourist guide as a ‘must visit’, and the first time I went there in early summer, it was just that, wine tastings among the towers, artisan shops open late, hotels booming, music in the piazzas, good fare, and late nights for the young in body.
I returned in the cold of early spring to find the town deserted, the towers looking sad and quite unimpressive, only one ceramic shop and one restaurant in the whole town open – we walked the length and breadth to prove this. Few people trod the stone pavements and, you could park near the town gates – a blessing that was not matched by the joys of the town. How could I explain to my doubting son who I had dragged here from the comforts of music and beer, that this was one of the great towns of Italy. ‘It’s OK, Dad, I understand’.
Asolo, is spoken of as the most beautiful walled town of Italy, tucked away above Treviso at the foothills of the Grappa mountain chain. It is just before Christmas, a Friday at lunch. We deign to risk driving into the square and immediately find a parking space in a crowded park, empty of any people.
We look around and admire the buildings and church tower, and gaze a little longer on the Albergo al Sole with its pale pink and beige façade, dressed up with nowhere to go. Selecting an eatery is not too difficult as Asolo consists of clothing stores, a few jewellers and many restaurants, all ready for the Christmas rush. On the left of the square, you can follow the road and in a few minutes circumnavigate an old shopping and restaurant block.
I led this survey and apart from the inevitable ‘Liquidation’ signs and possibly three shopkeepers, we spied nobody except three locals, dressed for a meeting, standing near a beer seller. On returning to the square, we decided to seek the comfort of a restaurant serving ‘bollito’ and found to our somewhat joy and surprise, a restauranteur who was excited by his menu and by having the drippings of humanity share lunch with him.
Apparently we started a rush as during the next hour three other groups entered and, smelling our repasts of Baccalà – stockfish – (for her) and specially simmered ‘bollito’ (for him), decided to stay.
I dare to say that if these two towns, Asolo and San Giminiano had been of equal size and somewhere else in Italy, without any renown or expectation, the piazza and walkways would have streamed with the to-ings and fro-ings of the populace. We may also have found great Baccalà and bollito, and a splashing of local wine.