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 springsfor 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 pathsand 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 Montagnanahave 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, Shelleyand 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.
“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Galileo Galilei
Evening sunlight plays delicately among the luscious grape clusters, casting shadows across the nurturing volcanic soil that feeds the vine. The sun’s vitamin-enriching warmth had done its job. Cool evening breezes softly lend rest for the night.
Italy today is a wine-lovers paradise. It’s not just the variety of grapes and tastes, but the wine embraces the ancient tradition of viticulture introduced by the Greeks thousands of years ago. The Romans, eager to adopt their methods, continued to develop vine-growing into a wine that became worldrenown.
Classico- wine that is grown in the original heart of the zone.
Let me introduce you to the main wines that have stood the test of a very, very long time in the Roman Empire.
Falernian, wine of the gods.
“It is the only wine that takes flight when a flame is applied to it.” Pliny, Roman historian
Falernian, the greatest wine of all times favored by the emperors and popes… Known to mature with age and increase in value, it was grown just north of Naples near the ocean in the region of Campania. After the fall of the Roman empire in the 4th century, Falernian fell out of favor. Now known as Falerno, it experienced a revival 50 years ago in which the grapes that were used by the Romans were re-discovered through long research. The red, they found, is the Aglianico vine, and the white is believed to be Greco di Tufo.
Greco di Tufo, historically a sweet wine, is the oldest white grape variety in Campania. Grown on volcanic soil, it is a clean refreshing wine that needs to be consumed young. Today it is vinified completely dry and paired with sea foods and salads.
Soave is a dry white wine with a light gold color. Grown around Verona in the Veneto region, it is crisp and clean, with an alcohol content of 12%
Valpolicella –Bright red and refined, with smooth fruity notes, this wine is grown in the Veneto, near Verona. Established in the 5th century BC. , it remains a light fragrant table wine.
Orviettois grown in the vineyards around the ancient hilltop town of Orvietto, in the Umbrian region. This wine is a straw-yellow color and delicately flavored. Established by the Etruscans in the 5th century BC, it was the favored wine of the papacy in medieval times!
Ahhhh, Chianti! I love Chianti. Originating with the Etruscans, it is grown in Tuscany between Florence and Siena. It is a glorious red wine with floral notes. The rooster seal on every bottle of Chianti Classico means that the company is a member of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico.This enables them to protect, oversee and maintain the prices of the Chianti Classico.
Verdiccio dei Castelli di Jesi is a medium bodied dry white wine. Because the grapes are green, the wine is straw-colored with green shades. It is flowery and harmonic. Verdiccio dei Castelli di Jesi is grown in the Marche region of central Italy by the Adriatic coastline.
The best wines in antiquity were kept in amphorae or glass bottles. They were corked, but lead was used as an extra sealant. Clay, metal or glass cups were used to drink the wine. The Romans kept certain of their finest wines for a very long time. Horace wrote of drinking a vintage that was twice his age. However, most wines were drunk young.
Today, each time I enjoy a glass of wine, whether I am in Italy or home, I can’t help but think of the Greeks and Romans. And so I toast to them for giving us one of their many gifts, the gift of wine!