I thought, having lived in this part of Italy on and off for 8 years that I knew all the local interesting places, but this afternoon I discovered another. The Santuario at Monteortone, only about five miles away, is half hidden in the hills near Abano. It has a very tall campanile and a lovely former convent with Venetian Gothic windows, a cloister and frescoes.
We parked near the church and went in: a lovely cool building after 30 degrees outside. Then we followed the path to the convent next door and were rather surprised to hear a jazzed up version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons coming from inside. There was a wedding reception in the cloister, with lots of tables and people eating and drinking, children running about, and the head waiter wearing a captain’s cap which he changed for each course, next a red sequinned trilby and finally a top hat. We chatted to the guests for a while, then strolled into the gardens following a home made sign that said to the ‘ mostra presepe’.
Round the back of the convent, up some crumbling stone steps, was a strange sight. Six guinea pigs on a triangle of lawn were nibbling away against a miniature backdrop of mountains and chalets with tiny people and animals going about their lives. As we stopped to look more closely, an old man approached and started to explain that it represented life in the Dolomites. But there was more to come.
He produced a key and unlocked a door into the hillside. He let us into an air raid shelter used in the last war when the convent was turned into a military hospital. But this long tunnel was full of nativity scenes made by local people. They were all lit up, many with moving parts, and it was quite magical.
Italy never fails to surprise and delight!