Walk­ing The Vene­tian Hills

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Travel -

Just a train ride from the canals of Venice, dis­cover the time­less tran­quil­lity of the Eu­ganean Hills

The words Venice and hills don’t usu­ally in­habit the same sen­tence, but for cen­turies, Vene­tian ci­ti­zens have been es­cap­ing the heat of the city among the shady Eu­ganean Hills. This cluster of 81 vol­canic peaks rises out of the plain south of Padua and Vi­cenza, an easy train ride from the his­toric city of the Do­ges.

The Ro­mans bathed in the hot ther­mal wa­ters, which start life in the Alps and emerge here charged with min­er­als. To­day, stylish Eu­ganean Spas like Abano Terme are a renowned source of health and well­be­ing. But the wooded slopes above the fash­ion­able re­sorts are an­other world, dot­ted with painted vil­las and an­cient vil­lages, olive groves and vine­yards – a glo­ri­ously un­spoilt land­scape best en­joyed on foot or by bike.

I set off to ex­plore this tran­quil Re­gional Park on an eight­night walk­ing itin­er­ary with Head­wa­ter Hol­i­days, stay­ing two nights each at four dif­fer­ent ho­tels (head­wa­ter.com). With rest days slot­ted be­tween the walks, there’s a chance to ex­plore lo­cally, visit a city, or even book a spa treat­ment.

Walks are self-guided, us­ing Head­wa­ter’s com­pre­hen­sive notes and a lo­cal map; all you need is a like-minded travel com­pan­ion and the rest is done for you. Lug­gage trans­fers and back-up are pro­vided by a knowl­edge­able lo­cal rep, who also meets walk­ers off the train from Venice or Verona.

Head­wa­ter walk­ing hol­i­days are graded from one to three boots, one be­ing the eas­i­est.

All you need is a like-minded com­pan­ion – the rest is done for you

Walk­ing the Vene­tian Hills is ranked one-plus with four walks of be­tween seven and 11.5 miles. So, ex­pect a few steep sec­tions to reach those panoramic view­points. The hol­i­days run from May through to Oc­to­ber but sum­mer can be hot here, even along for­est trails, so spring and au­tumn are likely to be more com­fort­able.

But this is a land­scape that re­wards in any sea­son. In June when I went, the cherry sea­son had just given

way to apri­cots. Pa­tios were splashed with vi­brant pink ole­an­der and scented jas­mine; cuck­oos and ci­cadas called among the trees; and tiny lizards rushed for cover at our ap­proach.

This part of the Veneto is largely un­touched by in­ter­na­tional tourism, though pop­u­lar with both road cy­clists and moun­tain bik­ers (veneto. eu). If you pre­fer two wheels to two legs, Head­wa­ter also offers cy­cling breaks around the hills.

For us, ev­ery walk brought a new dis­cov­ery. The me­dieval vil­lage of Arquà Pe­trarca, where we vis­ited the at­mo­spheric home of 14th-cen­tury poet Pe­trarch; his­toric Este, where Byron and Shel­ley stayed in a villa be­side the cas­tle walls; and the for­mal gar­dens and foun­tains of

Villa Bar­barigo at Val­sanz­ibio (val­sanz­ibio­gia­rdino.it).

Rest days can be just that, but we chose to be ac­tive. At

Este, we swapped hill trails for the canal tow­path to Mon­selice, with its an­cient cas­tle and seven lit­tle churches, re­turn­ing by bus to ex­plore Este’s spa­cious squares, shady ar­cades and cas­tle grounds. We also fell un­der the spell of Padua, ac­ces­si­ble by bus from var­i­ous points on our cir­cuit.

Book ahead on­line if you want to be sure of see­ing Giotto’s fab­u­lous fres­coes at the Cap­pella degli Scrovegni, but Padua is also packed with mag­nif­i­cent churches, tremen­dous tow­ers and price­less art­works. Don’t miss the in­tri­cately painted in­te­rior of St An­thony’s Basil­ica; take a tour of the univer­sity to Galileo’s lec­ture podium and the multi-tiered Anatom­i­cal The­atre; and re­lax in the Botan­i­cal Gar­den, the old­est univer­sity gar­den in the world, founded in 1545.

Vi­cenza, too, proved an un­ex­pected de­light, home town of 16th-cen­tury ar­chi­tect Pal­la­dio and UNESCO-listed for its wealth of Pal­la­dian build­ings. Pick up the free leaflet from the tourist of­fice to see them all. The high­light is the Teatro Olimpico, with its ex­tra­or­di­nary stage per­spec­tives down seven ra­di­at­ing ‘streets’.

We found the com­bi­na­tion of cul­ture and coun­try­side ir­re­sistible and, ev­ery night, we looked back over the day in tra­di­tional, fam­ily-run ho­tels where ser­vice with a smile re­ally mat­ters. Ev­ery owner spoke at least es­sen­tial English and we all had fun pool­ing our lan­guage skills.

The first night was spent in Il Feudo, a sim­ple but charm­ing agri­t­ur­ismo near Cortelà, where Gabriella served porcini risotto and wafer-thin cold beef ac­com­pa­nied by crisp, de­li­cious home-pro­duced white wine.

The next day we walked on to the Ho­tel Beatrice d’Este, which is lo­cated in pole po­si­tion be­side the cas­tle walls, and at Galzig­nano, we shared fam­ily pho­tos in two lan­guages with charm­ing Ce­leste and her hus­band at the Belvedere. In pretty Te­olo, we watched the sun set from our ter­race ta­ble at Villa Lus­sana over a won­der­ful fu­sion of Vene­tian and Si­cil­ian food pre­pared by its young own­ers, Alessio and Tiziana.

We fin­ished our cir­cuit back with Gabriella at Il Feudo, where our ad­ven­ture be­gan. Af­ter walk­ing 60-plus miles, we now felt fit­ter and ev­erso-slightly smug. But, more im­por­tantly, we’d dis­cov­ered an au­then­tic and lit­tle-known area of Italy, so close yet so very far re­moved from the usual tourist hotspots.

The city of Padua is

steeped in his­tory

Villa Bar­bar­gio Giotto’s won­der­ful fres­coes at the Cap­pella degli Scrovegni

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