Walking The Venetian Hills
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