Michael Portillo takes the train from Turin to Venice. Along the way, he recreates the Italian Job, follows fashion in Milan and visits Shakespearean Verona.
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I'm embarking on a new railway adventure
that will take me across the heart of Europe.
I'll be using this, my Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide
which opened up an exotic world of foreign travel for the British tourist.
It told travellers where to go, what to see
and how to navigate the thousands of miles of tracks criss-crossing the continent.
Now, a century later, I'm using my copy
to reveal an era of great optimism and energy,
where technology, industry, science and the arts were flourishing.
I want to rediscover that lost Europe
that in 1913 couldn't know
that its way of life would shortly be swept aside by the advent of war.
This new journey occurs in one of my favourite countries - Italy.
La Bella Italia.
I'll be crossing its northern plain
and with my Bradshaw's, hoping to find out how things stood
on the eve of the First World War
in this region of factories, Fiats, fashion and infatuation.
My Italian travels begin in the Piedmont region,
where I will visit the city of Turin,
from where I'll travel into Lombardy to another major northern city, Milan.
Away from the urban sprawls,
Como and its famous Lake will be my third stop
before I visit the romantic city of Verona.
The journey will end in the east, on the islands of Venice.
I explore some of the great passions of Italy,
from Milan's material magic...
Being measured for a suit in Italy is more like being measured for a body cast.
..to the extraordinary diversity of Italian cookery.
That looks a bit like a Ravioli?
-Agnolotti del plin!
-Yeah, yeah, it's different.
I find out how the Edwardian traveller discovered
a love of the high life.
A traveller with my Bradshaw's guide in 1913 could have gone up in a plane
-and seen this wonderful view?
And on the Grand Canal,
I hear about the amorous conquests of Venice's most famous son.
Casanova loved women. He only had a 130 lovers.
-That's extremely moderate!
My first stop will be Turin - Torino in Italian.
Bradshaw says that from 1860 to 1865 it was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.
I'd like to know how the city held that privileged position
and why it hugged the limelight for so short a period.
When Bradshaw's guide was written in 1913,
Italy was still a very young country.
Until just a few decades earlier,
Turin's kingdom of Piedmont existed alongside a jumble of states
controlled by competing European superpowers.
One of the busiest stations in Italy,
Turin's Stazione Centrale would have been the Edwardian traveller's first major stop in Italy.
Construction began in 1861, a crucial date in Italy's history.
This magnificent chamber
with its paintings and mirrors and chandeliers
was the waiting room for the royal family of Italy.
And their majesties then just had the briefest of excursions
from here to their waiting train.
I sometimes get a little bit excited about using the first class lounge at Paddington,
where you get a free cup of coffee and a biscuit.
But it's not just royalty who are catered for in this station.
There's also a plaque honouring British railway pioneers
Giorgio and Roberto Stephenson,
"who perfected the locomotive,
"opening new trade routes to the advantage of the brotherhood of peoples."
Turin has been at the heart of Italian industry
since my Bradshaw's was published,
so I'm curious to find out
how much of the old city centre described in my trusty guide remains.
This lovely square is called the Piazza Castello,
named after the sturdy castle,
and Bradshaw's refers to the Palazzo Madama
and the royal palace, the Palazzo Reale,
which apparently dates from 1646.
This is my first visit to Torino
and I'd been expecting a city of factory chimneys
and to find so much elegance and history is a very pleasant surprise.
Located on the Po river at the foot of the Alps,
Turin is a city with ancient roots.
But it's known for one thing above all -
it's the cradle of Italian liberty.
Its first prime minister was Count Camillo di Cavour,
who was an architect of the unification of Italy.
To find out more, I'm meeting historian Silvia Cavicchioli.
Who was Count Cavour?
Cavour was one of the most important Italian politicians during the 19th century.
He was the leader of the Liberal Party
and at the beginning he just wanted to modernise the kingdom.
Then he came to idea of a single unified great state
and a very modern state.
You have to know that when he was young he travelled a lot
and he made many journeys across Europe.
He was very interested in the British rail system.
He sounds like my kind of man.
I know that you are very interested in railways
and in fact, Cavour, he was amazed by the speed of this travel.
He realised that the railways were very important
in the modernisation of a country, of course,
and to overcome the barriers between people.
It's very interesting.
I often think about the social effects of the railways.
But here we are talking about the political effects of the railways as well.
Cavour's promotion of the railways
brought him to the attention of the British,
who sent envoy Sir James Hudson to Piedmont.
He and Cavour became very close friends.
The plaque suggests that Hudson was "a maker of Italian unification."
Why would the British be interested in Italian unification?
Because Great Britain wanted a stable and constitutional ally
in the southern part of Europe.
They wanted to play a role in the development of the industrialisation of Italy.
The British wanted to sell the Italians railways, that's what it was.
Ah, yes, and in fact after unification,
Great Britain produced 80 per cent of the railway machinery
and steam engines for Italy.
Britain was keen to have an ally in southern Europe
and was the first of the Great Powers to acknowledge the Kingdom of Italy,
actively undermining French influence in the peninsula.
Well, Michael, for you as a former politician,
it would be interested to know
that we are in front of Carignano Palace.
And this was the very building which housed the first Italian parliament.
On the 17th March 1861,
King Victor Emanuel II ceased to be the King of Piedmont
and became the King of all Italy.
Well, Cavour must have been delighted to see that.
Yes, he was very happy.
But the pity was that he died just a few weeks after that memorable day.
Well, at least he lived to see the Kingdom of Italy proclaimed.
Cavour was prime minister of Italy for just two months.
After his death, Turin remained the capital for only four years.
The title passed first to Florence
and then finally to Rome in 1870.
In time, Cavour's dream of a modern, industrialised Italy
would be realised
and one company became a driving force.
Founded in 1899, the Fabrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or Fiat,
went on to produce an icon of Italian car manufacture.
And here it is the Cinquecento!
-Fabulosa di lei!
En route, we pass their first factory.
Questa la vecchia fabrica della Fiat.
Ah! This is the old Fiat factory.
Very small in those days.
This pioneering company exploded in size in the early 20th century.
Founded by Giovanni Agnelli, it went on to construct an icon of modernism -
the first Futurist building in Italy the Lingotto.
I'm driving onto the roof of this former factory
to meet the head of the company archive, Maurizio Torchio.
-Hi, Michael. Welcome.
This is an amazing building! Tell me about it.
The first director of this building used to say
that the perfect plant has to be a concrete dress around the productive process.
And this has to conceal as little as possible of the flow of the materials.
You can imagine it as a kind of an Italian dress.
It is very, very beautiful. What does the process consist of here?
I mean, the raw materials arrived at the bottom
and then they started to go round and round, up and up,
until here on the rooftop, on the test track,
arrived the final product.
The cars were tested here and then again they would go down
and they would go to the railway to be delivered to the customers.
Ah! So even cars had to travel then by railway to be delivered!
At the time of Bradshaw's guide,
the company was just one of many small car manufacturers in Turin.
But it already had global ambition,
opening a showroom in London's Piccadilly in 1915.
This was a boom time for the car industry.
It was common in Italy and most of all in Turin
to get into this new, marvellous business of making cars.
I mean, the car industry was absolutely the technology of the future
and at the time it was something like the internet bubble.
In 1913, the company was expanding at a rapid rate.
As the demand for vehicles exploded with the advent of the First World War,
the workforce increased massively from 4,000 in 1914
to 40,000 in 1918.
What happened to Fiat during World War One?
If this plant was built, it's because of World War One.
I mean, during World War One, finally Fiat sold many, many trucks.
And with the profits from the war,
made possible to create a new plant,
styled after the way plants were built in the United States.
Though Britain was the first industrial nation,
the Italians were modernists,
adopting the latest ideas on industrial efficiency from America.
And thereafter, Fiat gets into all sorts of things, doesn't it?
I mean, for example, in Britain we're very well aware
that we have trains, Pendolinos, that are made by Fiat.
In the '70s, some countries hadn't the possibilities to invest.
So they decided, well, maybe if we create trains that can tilt
it will go faster in the existing railways
and we didn't need to create new infrastructure
and that's actually the Pendolino -
something that permits higher velocity on traditional railways.
And that is exactly the case with the United Kingdom.
To top off my adventure at the Lingotto factory,
I'm invited to carry out a test drive on this historic track.
This is where, famously, Michael Caine and others drove cars round and round
in that film The Italian Job
and I just hope that as I go round I don't blow the bloody doors off!
MUSIC: # "Theme from the Italian Job"
# This is a self-preservation society
# This is a self-preservation society
# Gotta get a bloomin' move on
# Jump in the jam jar Gotta get straight Hurry up mate, don't wanna be late
# How's your father? Gotta get a bloomin' move on. #
Cars may have been a twentieth century passion for Italians
but the country's love affair with food dates back to the Roman Empire and before.
Edwardian visitors to Turin would have had their taste buds titillated
by new, exciting flavours.
My stomach has steered me to a traditional Piedmontese restaurant,
La Taverna di Fra Fiusch, in the hills above Turin.
Chef Ugo Fontanone has kindly invited me to join him in his kitchen.
So Ugo is obviously making pasta. What sort of pasta is he making?
Well, the chef is making agnolotti del plin.
-Would it be possible to have a taste this already?
-Yes, it's very good.
Is it already good?
Mm. It is. A lovely mixture of meats and vegetables.
Mm. That's a great taste.
That looks a bit like a ravioli.
-Agneootti del plin!
-Yeah, yeah. It's different.
-Ah! There's his plin.
-That's the thing.
-May I have a go? Si, si.
So I have to take one teaspoon...
Perfect? He does speak English! I knew it!
-Me no speak English!
-He doesn't speak English.
Right, so now, Ugo, I should cut, should I?
-Little bit of water on there with what looks like a paint brush.
-All the way over? Cosi?
-No, no, no.
OK. And now the all-important pinch! Like this.
Plin. Cosi e cosi.
It's all in the technique of these fingers and thumbs.
Look at that.
And now I cut along here. Look at that lovely wiggly line it leaves.
And now I cut across here.
-Quasi perfetto, yes.
Yes almost perfect but not quite perfect.
In fact, look - that is decidedly wonky or asymmetrical.
And now what do you do next?
THEY SPEAK ITALIAN
And then we cook them and then we eat them.
That sounds a very good idea. Grazie tanti! Thank you so much.
What a wonderful view! And what a spread of food!
-Is this all from Piedmont?
-Yeah, it is.
So I recognize these. These are the agnolotti.
Exactly, the one you made.
These local specialities include a raw veal dish, carne cruda,
finanziera, a dish of offal,
vitello tonnato - veal with tuna sauce -
and this bagna cauda dip.
As I tuck into this dish of delicious Piedmontese tripe,
it's a reminder that whilst Italy has been politically united,
it's still incredibly varied in terms of culture and food.
And in this mountainous region I've been offered mountains to eat!
A new day and I'm following in the tracks of Edwardian train travellers
across Northern Italy
and I'm riding on a commuter service from Turin to Milan.
THEY SPEAK ITALIAN
Isn't that lovely? My espresso made freshly in the machine.
You get a lot of businessmen on this line?
Yes, at rush hour there are many businessmen heading into Milan.
-Milan is still the centre of business?
-Yes, but it's fashion of course.
-You look very smart yourself.
-Very nice uniform.
-Thank you very much.
Only in Italy would you see an espresso machine on the refreshments trolley!
This magnificent Red Arrow Italian train
is taking me to Milan,
which Bradshaw's tells me is "the capital of Lombardy,
"the most important commercial centre of Italy.
"The silk trade is the largest in Europe
"and the manufacture of woollen goods and machinery
"are prominent industries."
Well, I'm wearing a little bit of Italian tailoring myself
and I'm more than happy to exchange fashion tips with the Milanese.
After the fall of the Roman Empire,
Milan was ruled by a succession of foreign powers,
including Spain, Austria and France,
until the Risorgimento made it part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
This Milan station is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi,
the 19th century revolutionary, whose rebellion in Sicily
and intrepid march into the peninsula
freed vast tracts of Italy from foreign rule.
It made him a cult figure, both nationally and internationally.
Garibaldi visited the UK in 1860 to thank Britain for its support
during the struggle for liberation.
Viewed as a dashing, romantic hero,
he drew such massive crowds that he incurred Queen Victoria's displeasure,
perhaps because his popularity outstripped hers.
As I make my way into the centre of Milan,
there's no doubt that the Piazza del Duomo is the heart of the city.
Bradshaw's quite rightly has long paragraphs
about the cathedral of Milan, which it tells me was started in 1386.
I think of it as being shaped like a child's drawing of a house.
In the corners figures support the building
as though they were still helping to build it.
It's recently been restored
and we now see the marble as white and pink and brown and translucent
and we have a view of the cathedral that people probably haven't enjoyed for centuries.
Bradshaw's tells me that on the north side of the Piazza is
the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a handsome arcade.
Yes - for beautiful people.
For Milan is the global capital of fashion.
Completed in 1877,
this is one of the world's oldest shopping arcades.
Its towering structure and wonderfully ornate details reflect
the city's long-held obsession with fashion and beauty.
Here I'm meeting Lucia Mantero,
the director of a century-old, family-run silk manufacturer,
to find out more about Milanese style.
Why do Milanese have a sense of style?
We are lucky because first of all we are in a very beautiful country
and moreover we are really next to very, very cities -
first of all Venice and then Turin as well.
So I think it is also due to this that they really developed
a little bit of really... a sense of beauty
that then they put into the fabrics and then in the clothes.
At the time of my guidebook, 1913, what was happening in Milan?
Very important things. First of all, many companies started.
And one of these absolutely is Prada.
They started producing leather goods first
and they open in 1913 a store in Milan,
that was something, I think, very, very important for that day.
This blossoming Milanese fashion business
drew wealthy Edwardians here
who wanted the finest clothing that money could buy.
Over the years, Milan has become the birthplace of global fashion labels
like Dolce & Gabbana and Versace.
And while I'm here, I really should experience Milan's material magic first hand.
On Lucia's recommendation,
I'm visiting a traditional Milanese gentleman's tailor, Caraceni.
-Mi chiamo Michael.
-Buongiorno. Nice to meet you.
-Very nice to meet you.
I find you with some lovely cloths.
I've been learning about the Italian fashion industry.
These look very, very beautiful.
-Yes, these come from England.
Yes, we use a lot of English fabric.
-This is from Huddersfield.
-Made in Huddersfield, England.
Do you make the entire suit from English cloth?
No, it's a mixture, because inside we put the Italian silk.
What is the Italian style? I see for example your jacket.
Very slimly tailored. Is that the key to it?
Yes, this is the Italian style but depend on your measurements.
As we head into the fitting room,
it's clear that Massimiliano is interested in more than just my measurements.
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
He wants to know what my profession is.
Well, I travel by train a great deal
and I carry this book - I carry it like that, I carry it like that, and I carry it like that.
-And I always need room for my passport.
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
Jacket has to be off for measuring purposes.
Massimiliano takes pride in making suits for those with challenging professions,
for example, musicians and conductors.
They have highly physical jobs,
yet still need to look their best for a performance.
It's very important that he should feel me
because he needs to feel how these muscles work
and whether the shoulder is going in at this point
or whether it's stretched back.
I'm afraid in my case it's pushing in a little bit.
They take 26 measurements for a suit.
With these measurements we can imagine your body.
And some of the numbers are not very flattering.
-32 round there. My goodness. Who would have guessed that?
Cinquanta. Setantta sei.
I never remember having this particular measurement here
taken by an English tailor.
No, this is our particular measurement.
Being measured for a suit in Italy is more like being measured for a body cast!
Every single contour has been accounted for.
Now, just before we get too involved here, I need to ask you about price.
What might this cost me?
THEY SPEAK ITALIAN
From 5,400 euros upwards.
-And what does it get to?
-Venticinque mille massimo, massimo.
Up to 25,000. Mm.
Would it be all right if you just keep my measurements on file
and I maybe I'll come back when I'm a little richer?
The burgeoning Milanese fashion business of the early 20th century
was just one attraction of Milan.
Another was the opera.
The British King Edward VII was a keen opera goer
and the educated Edwardian traveller followed suit.
Sadly I don't have tickets to La Scala,
so I'm on the tram to find the next best thing.
One of the great tourist attractions of Milan is its old trams.
This one dates from 1928 and has been running ever since.
It's not that Milan can't afford new ones
but the Milanese love the old trams and I don't blame them!
For my overnight stay, Bradshaw's mentions the Grand Hotel of Milan near La Scala Opera House
and "frequented by the elite of English and American society."
I must join them.
OK, so, Mr Portillo, this is your room. The Verdi's apartment.
It's a beautiful apartment.
Is it called the Verdi suite because La Scala is so close by?
No, it's called Verdi's apartment because he lived here for 27 years.
-He lived in a hotel!
We used to consider him our first corporate account.
Did he write any music here?
-Yes, he wrote the entire Falstaff right at this desk.
Giuseppe Verdi was a prolific composer
who wrote some of the most beloved operas in the repertoire,
including Aida, La Traviata and Nabucco,
which features the famous Chorus Of The Hebrew slaves.
This was adopted as the anthem of Italian liberation
and Verdi became a hero
and was elected as a member of the new parliament of a united Italy.
There is another interesting story about Otello.
The opera was successful
and once Maestro Verdi and the tenor Tamagno went back to the room,
people was crowding from outside,
so Verdi told to the tenor Tamagno "Sing to the crowd."
-And, of course, no orchestra, unaccompanied, he sang to the crowd.
MUSIC: TENOR SINGING ARIA
Today I am heading away from the city
to visit some of Italy's most spectacular scenery.
-Buongiorno. Uno biglietti di treno per Como Lago, per favore.
-Uno, si. Sola.
This is very unusual for us. You can buy your railway ticket in the newsagent.
This double decker train is taking me towards Como.
Bradshaw's tells me that it was a centre of silk manufacture.
Apparently the region was covered in mulberry trees.
But there's a hint here of a change.
"The Lake of Como is incontestably the most beautiful and picturesque in the Alps.
"It's 32 miles long, two to three miles in width,"
and already in 1913 Bradshaw's tells me
that villas of the wealthier Milanesi were to be found here.
Yes, it was converting to tourism.
The railway line to Como was completed in 1875
and by the early 20th century the British had established their own community.
But our love affair with this place goes back to early Victorian times.
John Ruskin, a writer later much admired by the Edwardians,
wrote of Lake Como, "There was blue above, and blue below,
"And the gleam of the eternal snow."
It's hard to believe that so very close to the city of Milan
you can be in such wonderful countryside. It is delightful.
The houses, villas and hotels blend into the green hillsides.
And even on a summer's day like today,
I suppose the deep water of the lake keeps it delightfully cool.
It wouldn't be right to travel all the way here
and not to take to the lake,
so I've joined boatman Max to get a feel for the place from the water.
I'd like to learn more about how British tourists amused themselves in Como
and sample some of the delights of the lake,
so I've arranged lunch with tourism officer Monica Neroni.
So, welcome, Michael, how are you? Nice to meet you.
Monica. So nice to be here.
Monica, for how long have travellers from my country been coming to this beautiful place?
Tourism started on Lake Como thanks to the British,
because for them we built the first hotels on the shores of the lake
and still today a few of them preserve the name
in honour of your country or of your Queen Victoria.
-Lake Como was
welcoming not only Queen Victoria
but also writers such as Byron, Shelley and, later, EM Forster.
It was the playground for the rich and famous
and remains so to this day.
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
-Thank you very much indeed.
-Enjoy your meal.
So this fish has been dried and then it's served, obviously, with a little polenta here.
-Mmm. It's excellent.
At the time of my guidebook, 1913,
what sort of people were coming here?
You know, the middle-class tourists started to come here
because of the railway.
It was the time when they could use the train.
What did people find to do here in those days?
They relaxed, they enjoyed the landscape, they visited the gardens.
They talk about music and poetry
and, of course, they fall in love
because, you know, the lake was called the romantic lake.
The lake of lovers.
You're referring, of course, to married people.
In 1913 a new toy landed on Lake Como to amuse British tourists -
So after my delightful lunch, I want to follow in their slipstream.
-Nice to meet you. Hello.
-Very good to see you.
-Here we are.
-OK, this is your book.
Such a fantastic view!
Cesare, how long have people been flying on Lake Como?
-Since 1913 exactly.
-The year of my guidebook.
Ah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Were the public able to fly as well?
So a traveller with my Bradshaw's guide in 1913
could have gone up in a plane and seen this wonderful view!
It wasn't just tourists who were interested in seaplanes.
Though Italy was neutral for the first year of The Great War,
they were building up their air defences.
When they did join the Allies in May 1915,
their air force dominated the skies against their Austrian foes.
Here on Lake Como, the navy tested the Macchi seaplane in 1917
as it was considered an excellent way
to patrol Italy's long, exposed coastline.
After the splendour of Lake Como,
I'm moving deeper into the romantic heart of Italy.
My journey takes me via Milan to catch the mainline
to a town where the most famous love story of all was set.
Milan central station, where I'm changing en route from Como to Verona.
It is enormous. You might say it's fascist architecture.
It was opened during the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini,
but actually it's always reminded me
of some of the great American stations.
It turns out in a way I was right
because the original design from around the time of my Bradshaw's guide was based
on Union Station in Washington DC.
After my sun-drenched day,
I shall spend the night in the city that Shakespeare described as "fair Verona"
and I shall rest my head where Romeo and Juliet found eternal rest.
The ancient city of Verona boasts
some of the finest Roman and medieval architecture in Italy.
The city straddles the Adige river,
which reaches the sea just south of Venice.
Before I turn in, I've come to enjoy a nightcap
by the spectacular Roman amphitheatre.
Whilst Verona's rich Roman history was enticing,
it's not the only thing that drew the Edwardian visitor.
British tourists had already started to come here in the 19th century
in search of Shakespeare's classic story of love.
Bradshaw's tells me that "in the Via Cappello, is a house,
"marked by a tablet, where Juliet's parents are said to have lived."
Over the centuries since Shakespeare wrote his play
about the star-crossed lovers, Juliet and her Romeo,
people have been moved by their story.
And I won't be the first British traveller,
clutching a Bradshaw's guide,
to make my way to the house of the Capulets.
At this fictional house of the Capulets,
bought by the city of Verona as a tourist attraction in 1905,
I've been told I'll find Shakespeare expert Eleonora Oggiano.
Hello, Michael! Come up here and join me!
You're on the balcony! Do I climb up?
There's no ivy.
Now, Romeo and Juliet were fictitious characters,
so how can this be Juliet's house and Juliet's balcony?
Actually the balcony was added in the 1930s
after the success of George Cukor's Hollywood adaptation of the play.
Tourists expected a balcony, so Verona gave them one!
That's rather disappointing. But at least this is an old house, is it?
Yes, it is. It dates back to the 13th century.
-So it could have been the Capulets' house.
-Yes, it could be.
Why do you think he chose to set Romeo and Juliet here in Verona?
Shakespeare was inspired by an Italian novella
written by Mateo Bandello, in 1554,
which was translated by Arthur Brook.
So to some extent Shakespeare did what Hollywood producer do today.
He adapted an Italian story based in Verona to the stage.
-classic story of tragic love, isn't it?
And I see people leave things and they draw hearts on the wall and so on.
So it's still a magnet for lovers and people obsessed with love.
Yes, it is.
They're opening the gates and already people have come.
It's 8:30 in the morning but they've torn themselves away from their breakfasts.
They must be very lovesick!
-Why have you come here?
-WOMAN: The romance.
-You're romantically involved?
-Ah, that's very, very nice.
So what's the attraction of Romeo and Juliet, do you think?
I think that it's one of the largest love stories out there.
So do you think your relationship will be stronger and warmer now you've been here?
Yeah, it's so cute and all the little history and love and romance
and all that, so it's cute, it's fun - it's fun.
-Well, enjoy it.
What's brought you to Juliet's house?
Ah, just to get caught up in the romance of it all.
A-ha! Is love on your mind at the moment?
It's on everyone's mind, isn't it?
And what do you think of Romeo and Juliet? What's the attraction of them?
-Er, forbidden love.
Yeah. Forbidden love. I guess it shows that love conquers all.
You're in for a bit of forbidden love?
Well, I hope that Romeo and Juliet help you on your way!
-Thank you very much.
-Great to talk to you. Bye-bye.
Star-struck lovers, forlorn lovers, thwarted lovers,
unrequited loves write letters to Juliet.
She must get almost as many as Father Christmas!
I just wonder what happens to them all.
These letters to Juliet were first penned in the 1930s
and left here at her fictional tomb.
I'm amazed to discover
that these precious love letters continue to be collected
and carefully replied to here at the Club di Giulietta.
-Who is Manuela? Ah!
-Nice to meet you.
-Very nice to meet you.
-Thank you very much.
So this is the Juliet Club where people write letters to Juliet.
-When did they first start doing that?
-The club was born in 1972.
Mr Giulio with some friends started this club.
-Buongiorno, Signor Giulio.
It's easy to make fun of people writing to Juliet,
who never existed and anyway is dead.
Why do they write to Juliet?
People consider Juliet a very strong character.
People writing to Juliet just want someone to take care of their pains.
She had the strength to fight against her parents' will
and she was not afraid to express directly her feelings to Romeo.
Those are very good reasons. How many letters does Juliet receive?
About 10,000 letters per year.
-Do you try to reply to everything?
-Yes, we try to reply to everybody.
It's an enormous undertaking and you're all volunteers!
Yes, we are.
Maybe I should try my hand at replying to a letter.
-Have you got one there?
-Yes. I suggest you do this.
"I am a 6-year-old and live in England.
"When I grow up I want to get married
"but I don't like any of the boys at school.
"My granddad says I should find a nice Italian man with a villa and a boat.
"Do you know any?"
-OK, let's try that one.
-There you are.
Very good. Erm...
"Thank you for your lovely letter.
"You are still so young.
"Even younger than Juliet!
"Romeo was a nice Italian
"but Juliet loved him
"even though he had no boat!
I think that had better not be the final version!
A very nice answer.
All these passionate letters inspire me
to continue in the footsteps of those Edwardians looking for love
here in Italy.
I'm now embarking on the final leg of my journey
to the most romantic city in the world.
And now for the climax of my Italian journey Venice.
Bradshaw's says, "it's an agglomeration of about 117 small islands
"and also upon intermediate piles,
"the houses and palaces have been built.
"There are 150 canals, crossed by nearly 400 bridges."
When I first approached Venice 40 years ago it was also by train
and I couldn't believe that moment when I stepped from the station
and saw that ahead I could only proceed on foot or by boat.
It remains one of the great experiences open to the European traveller.
-Are you going to Venice?
-Are you excited to be going to Venice?
-Your first time in Venice?
-Yes, the same.
-Are you excited?
-Yeah, of course.
It's a beautiful city, you know, built on water.
-I hope you enjoy it very much.
-Yeah, thank you.
Can we just swap books for a moment? Would you like to look at my book and I'll maybe look at your book?
-Thank you very much.
This long causeway carries the railway
towards the islands that are Venice
and it's a bridge between a world of tarmac and a world of water.
We exchange the screech of brakes
for the low throaty throb of motorboats.
And though I've experienced this before,
I somehow still can't believe it that as you leave the station,
you enter a different universe.
And such a concentration of beauty!
The Edwardians weren't the first Britons to fall for this unique city.
To learn how we became transfixed with Venice,
author Michelle Lovric will take me back in time.
-Ciao, Michael. Benvenuto Venezia.
Thank you very much indeed.
-What an elegant form of transport!
-Absolutely beautiful, isn't it?
I've just arrived at the railway station,
which is obviously quite a modern building,
but arriving here in 1913, what would I have seen here?
There would have been a huge pack of gondolas,
all touting for business.
So you'd arrive to an enormous chiasso, a great noise and bustle.
The railway arrived here in the mid-19th century. What impact did it have on Venice?
In my opinion, it was deeply disturbing for the Venetians.
For hundreds of years, Venice had been an island state
and suddenly a huge industrial construction arrives in Venice
and the rest of the world can get here.
The extraordinary two mile long rail causeway across the lagoon
was built by the Austrians and opened in 1846.
Only two years later the Venetians rose in revolt against their foreign masters.
In the end, the Austrians were expelled but the railway remained,
heralding a new business opportunity - tourism.
An educated British traveller arriving here in 1913
would have had in one pocket John Ruskin's Stones Of Venice
and maybe in the other pocket Casanova's memoirs.
But John Ruskin's Stones Of Venice shaped
what every British person thought about Venice.
He had a mission here.
He wanted to teach the world about the virtues of gothic architecture.
Gothic architecture was God's architecture, God's geometry.
God never made a straight line.
And that was good enough for God and that was good enough for Ruskin.
But there's something in Venice
that particularly binds the British imagination to the place
and that something usually seems to be romance.
Yes, well, I think of it as a very romantic place.
A place where people fall in love.
So when can we trace the British connection with Venice back to?
Oh, goodness. Very early.
The British tended to come here because it was the place that invented sexual tourism.
And as early as 1611, Thomas Coryat came here
and said that the city was full of 20,000 courtesans,
loose women who were so loose
that they would open their quivers to every arrow.
Sounds pretty unhealthy!
I suppose one of the reasons why Venice is associated with love and indeed licentiousness
is because of Casanova - he lived here, didn't he?
Casanova was born here in 1725
and he probably is the most famous son of Venice.
I consider him to be dreadfully misunderstood.
Casanova loved women, he was no Don Giovanni.
So Casanova, though, develops this idea
of the man who has many, many lovers
which is then handed down into the Don Juan, Don Giovanni theme.
He did but in fact in all his life, he only had 130 lovers.
It's basically only three lovers a year, which isn't that extraordinary.
-That's extremely moderate.
In his memoirs, only a third of those are devoted to sex.
The rest of it is a kind of Hello! magazine for the whole 18th century.
-Well, I think I've met the president of the Casanova appreciation society.
Michelle, thank you. An unforgettable tour!
Recalling those British visitors
intoxicated by the licentiousness of Venice,
I've found a suitably romantic place for my evening meal.
As evening falls in Venice,
I've decided to treat myself to a dessert that was invented in this region.
It contains coffee, which is important in the history of Venice,
and Savoyard biscuits,
which in turn were devised for the Counts of Savoy
who were the distant ancestors of Victor Emmanuel I, King of Italy.
And with all that caffeine and sugar,
not surprisingly, it's called tiramisu "pick me up".
This morning I've decided to get up early
to experience something of the timeless romance of Venice
before the crowds descend.
I turn to my 1913 tome for guidance.
Here's a tip from Bradshaw's.
"When the traveller has only a day or two, hire a gondola.
"Nervously affected persons will find the noiseless highway a relief."
-Thank you very much.
-Where you want to go, sir?
-Just show me Venice, please.
I love this place because the composition is perfect.
There are two sides to walk, the flowers -
different styles of construction.
After all that hard work, I'm in search of a good cup of coffee
and I know just the place.
A beautiful cafe on St Mark's Square,
where I'm meeting Sylvia Zamella.
-Hello and welcome.
-Thank you very much.
Cafe Florian is very, very famous and very old.
Is it one of the oldest?
It's the oldest in Italy and I'm quite sure it's the oldest in Europe.
It was founded in 1720.
The most famous cafe in Venice,
it's long been a haunt for the world's elite.
One of the most famous Venetians is Casanova.
Did he come to the Cafe Florian?
Yes, he used to come to the Cafe Florian
because Cafe Florian was the only coffee shop in Venice that allowed women to come in.
So it was the hunting ground for Casanova.
It's all part of the British love affair with Venice.
Of all the sites in Venice,
St Mark's Square, with its great bell tower,
has to be the most famous.
It's extraordinary to think that it had only just been reconstructed in 1912.
Bradshaw's tells me about the new campanile or bell tower
on the site of the old tower, which collapsed on July 13th 1902.
Extraordinary to think that for a decade, tourists coming to Venice
could not see this famous landmark.
What's so interesting to me about it is
that it's completely out of scale and style with anything else in the square
and yet somehow, the juxtaposition works perfectly.
For those travellers in 1913,
clutching their Bradshaw's in one hand and John Ruskin in the other,
Venice was the ultimate art-lover's destination.
It was a reputation that Venice was quick to make the most of.
At the end of the 19th century,
a highly cultured mayor of Venice, meeting with some friends at the Cafe Florian,
had the idea of an international art exhibition.
It's been going on since 1895
and I'm very lucky that my visit coincides with it
because it's only held every two years and hence its name.
It's the Venice Biennale.
Held in the park, or Giardini,
the Venice Biennale is the international showcase for art.
Everyone who's anyone wants to be here.
Andrea Rose is Director of Visual Arts at the British Council
and is showing me around.
I've not been to the Biennale before and I'm surprised to find
that it has permanent national pavilions.
Was it like that from the early days?
At the very beginning, everything was in one big building
but the Italians asked countries to have a room of their own.
The Belgians built their pavilion first in 1907,
and then the Italians were keen that the Brits got in on the act,
so they came to London to persuade us to do it and we did in 1909.
It's fascinating that what we see today at the Biennale is
a microcosm of Europe on the brink of the First World War.
While I'm here, Andrea takes me to the British Pavilion,
where artist Jeremy Deller presents an exhibition entitled English Magic,
which he describes as "wistfully aggressive."
It opens with this provocative image
of a giant hen harrier crushing a Range Rover.
What was the state of British art at the beginning of the Biennale in Venice?
It was fairly conservative. It was genteel, I suppose.
The Italians weren't too happy
about anything that was controversial or provocative
or indeed very modern.
Curiously enough, Spain tried to show Picasso in 1910
and the work was removed
because it was regarded as far too daring and provocative.
When did it become, as it is now, more provocative?
I think really after the Second World War.
It became the showcase for international contemporary art,
as daring as possible.
In fact, if you come to Venice and you're not daring, you're damned!
What do you think has been the significance of the Biennale?
This is really like the Olympics.
If you're not here, you're not in the race.
It's an enormous platform. A global platform.
This is a cultural coming of age.
If you Azerbaijan, if you're Colombia, if you're Kuwait,
and you don't have a pavilion, you still want to be here.
It shows that you have a creative heart
and that the world will recognise it.
And it strikes me that with countries like China and Russia coming back to the fold,
actually the makeup of the Biennale is something that would be recognisable
to the Bradshaw traveller of a hundred years ago.
In 1913 British tourists criss-crossed Europe in search of adventure,
drawn by the eternal romance of Italy.
This international love affair continues to this day,
overwhelming Venice, this ancient floating city.
It's a place with which the traveller falls in love over and again,
being irresistible to every generation.
Britons have been infatuated with Italy for centuries
and I'm no exception.
I think the reason is that we find in Italians what we fear we lack.
For example, a sense of style expressed in a zippy little car,
a sexy dress or a natty suit
and we flock to Verona and Venice magnetised by their romance,
hoping that somehow a little of the Italian knowhow in fashion -
and in love - may rub off on us.
Next time, I'll discover how Kaiser Wilhelm II's militarism
threatened Europe's fragile balance of power.
I'll let Bradshaw steer me towards Germany's music
..meinen bosen geist!
..attempt a 1913 equivalent of a Jane Fonda workout...
see model railway making on the grandest of scales
and sample Germany's favourite tipple.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Steered by his 1913 railway guide, Michael Portillo takes the train from the former political capital of Italy, Turin, to Casanova's capital of romance, Venice.
Along the way, he recreates the famous Italian Job on an historic Fiat test track and follows fashion in Milan before investigating the early 20th-century British love affair with Lake Como in a seaplane. In Verona, Michael discovers the 'House of the Capulets', bought to attract Edwardian tourists to the scene of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. He then heads over the rail bridge across the lagoon to Venice, where he finds a microcosm of pre-First World War Europe in the Venice Biennale art exhibition.