Hire a bicycle
Treviso is a cycling city. We all get around the historic centre on two wheels: it’s a good way to avoid traffic jams, and tourists have to get used to bikes weaving between them in what look like pedestrianised streets. The surrounding region is perfect for both serious 70 to 80km routes – around picturesque hilltop Asolo and the climb up 1,775-metre Monte Grappa – or a lazy ride and picnic on the banks of the Sile. There is a municipal bike-sharing scheme, TVBike (€2 an hour), but serious cyclists should head to world-famous Pinarello: the Treviso manufacturer’s bikes have been ridden by winners of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France (including current champion, Egan Bernal) but its local shop at at Borgo Mazzini 9 also hires town bikes from €15 a day.
Eight centuries of art
Over the past few years, Treviso has become a great place for art and culture. The beautifully restored 14th-century Santa Caterina church, convent and cloisters form part of the Musei Civici (€6), where the art collection spans exquisite frescoes by Tommaso da Modena to paintings by Titian, Pietro Longhi and Tiepolo. There are never crowds around the artworks. Avant-garde installations can be enjoyed for free in the Gallerie delle Prigioni near the cathedral, in an old Habsburg prison transformed by Luciano Benetton’s Imago Mundi art initiative. Visitors from all over the world have flocked to blockbuster Van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol exhibitions at the privately run Casa dei Carraresi (€12) on the banks of the Cagnan by the Pescheria. And don’t miss the little-known Salce Collection, an ever-changing exhibition of graphic advertising posters, featuring iconic images for Martini and Campari, Vespa and Ferrari among thousands of others.
Historic watering holes
You can’t miss the crowds round the entrance to Hostaria dai Naneti, in a narrow alleyway just off grand Piazza dei Signori. And no wonder, as an ombra de vin (glass of local wine) still costs only 80 cents, while a generous plate for two of roast pork, mortadella, prosciutto and cheeses is around €8. Don’t think of ordering an Aperol spritz: they refuse to serve them. Two other bars to track down are All’ Antico Pallone, where they create tasty tramezzini sandwiches (€1.50), and Dalla Gigia, famous for tiny pizza slices fresh from the oven, and deep-fried battered mozzarella in carrozza sandwiches (€1.50) – totally delicious as long as you don’t think about the cholesterol.
For a small town, Treviso is spoilt for choice when it comes to markets. From Tuesday to Sunday mornings, seafood stalls on the Pescheria island in the Cagnan River and the adjoining fruit and vegetable market are filled with zero-km seasonal products, from chiodini mushrooms in autumn to late-harvest radicchio from November. An organic farmers’ market is held three times a week in Piazza Giustinian, but most trevigiani do their shopping on Saturday morning at the sprawling street market outside the San Tomaso city gate. Stalls are loaded with €10 cashmere jumpers (bargain factory rejects from nearby Benetton, Sisley, Geox and Diesel) and a brilliant stand selling vintage linen and leather Tyrolean outfits. Check the food stalls for local specialities such as ubriaco, cheese aged in grappa, or tasty sopressa salami.
Explore prosecco land
Immediately north of Treviso are the rolling hills that produce prosecco, recently given Unesco world heritage status. I advise visitors who come to our restaurant to take a day to explore the wine route up to Valdobbiadene, official capital of prosecco. Just south of there, on the Piave River, is Dal Din, which has been suppling Toni del Spin’s prosecco for 40 years: it is open for visits, from a simple tasting to a full cantina tour. Nearly every winemaker here welcomes visitors, and one not to miss is Casa Coste Piane, which does a very different kind of bubbly, the lightly fizzy artisan col fondo, made with natural fermentation.
On the waterfront
Treviso may not have gondolas, but within the medieval fortified walls, the city is crisscrossed by narrow canals and two fast-flowing rivers, the Sile and Cagnan. It’s at its most picturesque around the Canale dei Buranelli, in the historic centre, with red-brick renaissance palaces, shady arcades and wrought-iron bridges. I love walking here after lunch when no one is around. As dusk falls waterside bars such as Odeon alla Colonna on Vicolo Rinaldi and La Malvasia, round the corner on Vicolo Trevisi, are packed with locals enjoying a sunset spritz or prosecco. In previous centuries fishermen from the Venetian island of Burano came here to sell their catch: hence the name Buranelli. The 19th-century Pescheria market, on its little island, is surrounded by traditional osterie. One of the best is Muscoli, which serves surprising natural wines and local craft beers.
High and low fashion
Some of the biggest names in Italian moda are based near Treviso, but apart from Benetton fashionistas should not expect to discover too many Milan-style boutiques here. An exception is local designer Stella Zwieb, whose atelier-showroom, displaying her handmade outfits, is in a 10th-century tower on the chic Piazza Pola. Next door is Lazzari, part couture outlet, part art gallery, while across the square, Chance is a luxury vintage store selling everything from Gucci sunglasses and Fendi handbags to Valentino dresses. But Treviso still has many old-fashioned shops: I remember sweetshop Confetteria Flavia on Via Palestro being like an Aladdin’s cave when I was a kid, and Signora Flavia is still there today, surrounded by hundreds of different caramelle.
Restaurants stay open until after midnight, and there are a couple of terrific cocktail bars serving till 2am. Mixologist Samuele Ambrosi, who has won bartender awards across the world, holds court at his speakeasy, Cloakroom Cocktail Lab, on Piazza Monte Pietà. The front bar is often packed, and it can take a while for them to fix a bespoke cocktail using homemade bitters, syrups and infusions, so head to the back, where a tiny salon is dedicated to drinks from their collection of 320 gins. A more recent opening is funky Jibo’s Bar on Borgo Mazzini, whose welcoming Somalian owner, Jibril, was brought up here in Treviso. His speciality is pairing cocktails with creamy cakes (dolci) baked by Silvana, his girlfriend. Even here, a spritz is €3, and a vesper martini or manhattan €7.
Sport – but not football
Trevigani are serious sports fans, but unlike most Italians we are not calcio-crazy, as this part of the country is more famous for rugby and basketball. For a really authentic experience, I tell all visitors that nothing can compare with joining the crowds of green-jerseyed fans at Stadio Monigo, home of Benetton Rugby , who compete with top teams from Britain, Ireland and France in the Guinness Pro-14 and Heineken Champions Cup. Tickets start at €15 and the stadium is a 10-minute bus ride from the centre. The atmosphere can be even more intense inside the Palaverde Arena, home of Treviso Basket, who are sponsored by another of city’s global brands, De’Longhi electrical appliances. Again, tickets cost from €15, and the area is a 15-minute bus trip away.
Lunch with noisy locals
Eating out is one of Treviso’s top attractions. Rather than chic Michelin-starred food, what we do well is rustic Veneto cuisine, in large helpings and at affordable prices in our many historic wood-beamed osterie and no-frills trattorie. The 150-year-old Osteria Arman, a noisy bar with locals playing cards at rough wooden tables while talking politics and sport, gets packed out for lunch and dinner. There is no service charge, no tourist menu, just a tempting daily list of ever-changing seasonal dishes: ravioli stuffed with locally grown radicchio and smoked ricotta (€9), plump gnocchi with rich duck ragù (€9), porcini risotto (€10) or sopa coada (pigeon soup with bread, €10), followed by tiramisu – a dessert created 50 years ago by a chef right here in Treviso.
• 27 Via Manzoni, on Facebook
Trains run to Treviso from London St Pancras via Paris, Milan (or Brussels, Munich) and Venice, taking from 14 hours, from about £250 return with trainline.com.
Where to stay
Il Focolare (doubles from €88 B&B, ) is a small, centrally located family-run hotel, with 14 individually styled rooms that balance retro with modern design.
When to visit
April-June or September-October. Treviso gets more rain than London but has fewer rainy days. Museo Santa Caterina’s major Natura in Posa exhibition of still-life works, from Jan Breughel to Robert Mapplethorpe, opens on 29 November and runs until 31 May 2020 (visittreviso.it).
Nicholas Sturlese works with his father running Toni del Spin, a famous Treviso trattoria
Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips