Chess, cherries draw visitors to Marostica

The city center of Marostica, Italy is inlaid with a giant chessboard where a living chess event is played every other year. The city also hosts an annual spring cherry festival. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey/Released)

The city center of Marostica, Italy is inlaid with a giant chessboard where a living chess event is played every other year. The city also hosts an annual spring cherry festival. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey/Released)

The city of Marostica, Italy, as seen from Castello Superiore, on Nov. 1, 2016. Marostica is a one-and-a-half hour drive from the Aviano area. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey/Released)

The city of Marostica, Italy, as seen from Castello Superiore, on Nov. 1, 2016. Marostica is a one-and-a-half hour drive from the Aviano area. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey/Released)

People shop at an open air market in Marostica, Italy on Nov. 1, 2016. The city is well known for hosting a living chest event every other September. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey/Released)

People shop at an open air market in Marostica, Italy on Nov. 1, 2016. The city is well known for hosting a living chest event every other September. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey/Released)

Children play with chess pieces on a chessboard near the city center in Marostica, Italy on Nov. 1, 2016. Marostica is known for its bi-annual, fall, living chess games and annual, spring, cherry festival. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey/Released)

Children play with chess pieces on a chessboard near the city center in Marostica, Italy on Nov. 1, 2016. Marostica is known for its bi-annual, fall, living chess games and annual, spring, cherry festival. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey/Released)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --

Nestled in the foothills of the Asiago Mountain Group, just an hour-and-a-half drive from Aviano Air Base lies Marostica, Italy. This easily overlooked travel destination hosts a bi-annual living chess event, but that’s not all you should expect to find there.

 

In the absence of the chess event, the checkerboard square in Piazza del Castello was not without life during my day trip. Just inside the castle walls the streets bustled with locals and visitors for the weekly market. Vendors sold various types of foods and goods and children played tag across the giant chessboard, while the occasional tourist, myself included, took photos.

 

The custom of the chess game, dates back to the fifteenth century. The true origins of the game are unknown, but local legend tells that the game is in remembrance of a maiden and her two suitors. When the two suitors challenged each other to a duel for the maiden’s hand, her father instead decreed that they would play a game of chess. This would not be an ordinary game of chess as checkered squares were laid in the square in front of the castle and humans and horses took the place of the chess pieces. The winner won the right to marry the maiden. Now, every other September, visitors can enjoy a medieval-themed festival and re-enactment of the living chess match.

 

Come spring time, a cherry festival is held in Marostica. The cherries grown in this area are so tasty they’ve been awarded the prestigious recognition of European Protected Geographical Indication. The cherries grown in Marostica are the only ones in Italy to have received this indication.

 

One of my favorite places to taste some of the local, cherry infused cuisine is in the restaurant in Castello Superiore which overlooks the city. This is also an excellent spot for sightseeing as you can also climb up onto one portion of the castle parapet that extends down the hill and encircles the city center.

 

To reach the upper castle, you can either walk along a footpath the winds back and forth up the hill or drive about fifteen minutes from the city center.

 

If stunning views, cherries and living chess matches don’t strike your interest, Marostica is also home to two museums. One in the lower castle is dedicated to the living chess events. The second overlooks the city and hosts one of the largest collections of European birds.

 

Overall, a visit to Marostica is well worth the drive.