Grey afternoon skies hung low over the countryside surrounding Padua, about a 40-minute drive west of Venice. I had just driven ten kilometers southwest of town to arrive at my destination, the Abbazia Di Praglia, a Benedictine community of monks. Nestled at the feet of the Euganean hills, along an ancient road leading to the neighboring town of Este, my arrival at the Abbey appeared as if I had just stepped back in time. Read more
Discover the secrets of the Italian countryside on bicycle, foot or horseback. Get close up and personal on ancient lands dotted with walled medieval villages, wineries, and thermal spas. Fertile plains of orchards and vineyards blend smoothly among the rolling hills of the Padova countryside, providing a wealth of paths that intermingle throughout the Regional park of the Euganean Hills. The series of 81 extinct volcanoes clustered together have created a paradise of thermal waters and mild weather that have attracted populations here since ancient times. Located just south of Padova, the abundant natural beauty plays a major theme.
Pass through walled cities that date back to the 1100’s. Among them are the villages of Este, where the great dynasty of the Estense family ruled and built a wealth of historical villas, and Montagnana, encircled by a 6,500 ft. wall built during the middle ages, with 24 exquisite towers that rise as high as 62 ft. tall. Stroll through mystic castle gardens with climbing roses and fabled statues entwined in greenery. Take a bench seat and imagine the troubadours of the Renaissance saunter through the gardens as they compose their melodies.
The famed poet Francesco Petrarch lived an inspired life on his winery in Arqua Petrarca, a village named after him, during the 1300’s. He often sailed the waterways on his boat to Padova, writing his poems as he experienced the countryside. “A pleasant place in the Euganean Hills, in a delightful and healthy position,” he wrote. His house, now a museum, sits just above the village. Inside, the medieval interior is decorated with scenes of Petrarch’s work. In a corner is his study, where he died in front of an open manuscript at age 70. His embellished tomb can be seen in front of the church in the main square of town.
As you familiarize yourself with Arqua, notice the wild pomegranate and jujube trees. The olive-like jujube’s, called giuggioli, taste much like un-ripe granny smiths. The fruit is made into a tasty liquor in the Enotecca II Giuggiolo (mostly in Italian, but nice photos).
Nestled in the nearby town of Teolo is the charming old Benedictine Abbey of Praglia. These impressive monks cultivate a vineyard and honeybees as well as vegetables and herb gardens. Inside the monastery shop are rows of delicious wines made from the harvested grapes. The herbs are used as ingredients for secret recipes handed down among the monks since the medieval ages to create medicinal elixirs that effectively cure indigestion. I found this to be true after indulging in too much rich Italian antipasti one evening.
Local wineries are numerous and produce thirteen varieties of wine granted the D.O.C. entitlement. Among them are the bold red wines Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, the white Chardonnay, and the sparkling wines Serprino and Moscato Fior d’Arancio.
Take a look at this website, Walking and Cycling the Wine Roads of the Euganean Hills. The presence of hot springs in the Euganean Hills have produce famous spas throughout the area that offer aesthetic and therapeutic treatments. The Regional Park of the Euganean Hills has much to offer and a wealth of history, wineries, and many natural country paths to walk.
Step into the magical medieval world of Carrera Castle in the village of Este. Born at the height of invading war lords and princes during the 13th century, its tall crenelated fortress walls stand stalwart even to this day. Once the “capital” of ancient Venetians, it is now an elegant garden of tranquil beauty.
Situated just south of Padua in the Veneto region, nestled against the feet of the Euganean hills, the castle’s imposing remains are the towns main attraction. Este was a Roman colony since the 2nd century BC. The Estense family erected a castle and fortified the town in the early medieval era. Later, in 1340, the Venetians, along with the Da Carrera family rebuilt some of the castle and enlarged the circle of walls.
Several mythical statues appear among the greenery, old and mysterious, like figures out of a Greek play.
During the Renaissance years, troubadours gathered on the castle grounds from near and far to write and sing their poems of chivalry and courtly love. Art began to flourish, and the senses were reawakened. It was the dawning of a new age, a time for romantic interludes, a rebirth of thoughts and ideas.
Greenery against ancient stone seemed to transport me back to an earlier time. Wandering the grounds brought images of lords and ladies strolling side by side in their own gardens of delight. Troubadours wrote their poetry and sang at the castle banquets by firelight.
English poets Lord Byron and Shelley walked the streets of Este more than a century ago, no doubt mentally composing their compelling verses of poetry while strolling through the castle gardens. Could it be they conversed with the old troubadours of the past, who whispered their inspiration to them among the little groves of blushing pink roses?
“I have built me a house, small, but pleasant and decent, in the midst of slopes clothed with vines and olives,” Petrarch
A volcanic range that dips and swells, spotted with medieval castles and sprawling vineyards, olive groves and ancient abbey’s among the towns of the Veneto plain are known as the Euganean Hills. Named after the ancient peoples that inhabited the area before the colonization of Rome, these hills have been celebrated for their picturesque beauty and nourishing hot springs for centuries. Just this last September I spent a few days in Padua, exploring the countryside and discovering several little towns nestled quietly among the hills.
The poet Petrarch lived his last four years in the small village of Arqua from 1370-1374. In 1870 the name Petrarch was added, making the new name of the town Arqua Petrarca. The house where he lived is now a museum.
Just south of Padua and running westward, the Euganean Hills contain many natural, historical and artistic treasures. A regional park offers over 200 walking and cycling paths and is the oldest and largest thermal basin in Europe. Fifteen towns and eighty-one hills are a part of the park. Numerous spas can be found throughout, providing cures and treatments. (Spas and hiking trails).
The Euganean Hills Wine Road extends through the natural area of the park with the idea of linking wineries, bed and breakfasts, farms and taverns together for easy touring options.
The Abbey of Puglia, an 11th century community of 32 Benedictine monks, sprawls out surrounded by vineyards on an old country road just south of Padua on the way to Este. They are a most industrious group of men, farming and cultivating wine and elixirs, beehives and honey products, skin care, herbal teas and medicinal potions in their on-site pharmacy. A tidy shop in the abbey displays many of their products for sale.
Several of the towns dotting the Euganean Hills have medieval walls still encircling them. Este and Montagnana have prime examples of well-kept ramparts that rise as majestically as they did centuries ago (see my post, Castles of the Italian Countryside).
The romantic poets, Shelley and Byron, lived in Este from 1817-1818. Like many others, they were drawn to the Euganean Hills by a sort of inspiration and peace.
So, take up a walking stick and explore one of the most picturesque and path-friendly regions of Italy. Pathways are abundant and wind from town to town and throughout the hilly countryside, offering gorgeous vistas and natural surroundings far surpassing expectations.