Lose Yourself in the Garden Maze of Villa Pisani

Il Labirinto, The Maze, is only part of the gardens that stretch splendidly behind the grand façade that Villa Pisani turns toward the Brenta Canal.

As if Venice’s streets aren’t enough of a labyrinth, you can get just as lost in the world’s most difficult garden maze: Il Labirinto. It’s in the town of Stra, just outside Venice, on the grounds of Villa Pisani, one of the great villa palaces that face the Brenta canal.

Like many other grand sights in the Venice area, Villa Pisani, also known as Villa Nazionale, was built for a Doge, Alvise Pisani. But unlike the other great villas in the region, it was not designed by Andrea Palladio. The Doge commissioned his architects to design the maze as part of the extensive gardens, and they attacked the project with as much zeal as they did the 114-room villa.

While most kids will probably lose interest in the villa itself pretty quickly, ours did like the trompe l’oeil painting in the rather grandiose ballroom. The ceiling seems to open into the sky, with architectural features and the painting overlapping. They had fun trying to separate the real from the illusion, which of course is the whole point of the trompe l’oeil technique.

Lost in the Garden

The garden will be the highlight for kids, with its intricate and very confusing Il Labirinto. Forget other hedge mazes you’ve found your way through. This one is not only bigger, with layer after layer of pathways in 12 concentric rings, but the hedges are high enough that no one can see over them. Once inside, all you can see is the top of the tower that stands in the center. Keep a close watch on smaller children, because once they are out of sight it will be very hard to find them again.

The reward of finding your way through is the tower, ascended by a double-spiral staircase. On the tower someone is usually posted to call down directions to those who are hopelessly lost. Don’t feel bad if you are among them—Napoleon was lost in it (he once owned the villa) and when Hitler and Mussolini held their first meeting here, neither one was willing to risk a similar ignominy, so they stayed out of the maze.

Getting There

Like every place else in Venice, you can get there by boat. Day-long tours on Il Burchiello leave the city on alternate days, ending in Padua and returning the next day. While the boat tour, which includes tours of three villas, is a good way for adults to enjoy the Brenta Riviera it could be a long day—and a lot of villas—for children. Better to go by car and be able to spend longer in the gardens and enjoy a picnic, as we did, along the grassy banks of the canal.

Destinations: Venice, Italy

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Parks and Playgrounds