Most people speed through the Veneto on their way to our favorite Italian city, Venice. From the train, the landscape sometimes looks flat and unappealing, yet its small cities are fascinating treasure troves of art and beacons of fine living, and only a few miles to the north the Alps begin, their foothills dotted with charming towns and lined with picturesque world-class vineyards. Because the average traveler aims only to see the city on the lagoon, the rest of the region is blessedly devoid of tourist crowds, and yet, consider what they are missing.

Verona, home to Romeo and Juliet, one of the prettiest and most historical little cities in the whole country. Vicenza, the memorable "laboratory" for a man who may have been the most influential architect in history, Andrea Palladio. Treviso, birthplace of radicchio and our favorite authentic Italian town. Soave, a fairy-tale castle town whose name you may already know from your local wine shop. Abano, a classic 19th-century thermal spa town. Chioggia, a mini-Venice with all the canals and none of the crowds. Lake Garda, flanked by lemon and olive groves, with the snowy Alps reflected in its silvery waters. Teensy Marostica, where you can watch a human chess game whose living pieces are garbed in Renaissance costumes. Bassano del Grappa, the sub-alpine home of white asparagus. Cortina d'Ampezzo, one of Europe's classiest ski resorts.

Valpollicella, a verdant valley strewn with countless family wineries. Padua the Erudite, where lovers of Renaissance painting can see Giotto's memorable fresco cycle.