'Benessere'. Even if your command of the Italian language is limited
to 'spaghetti' and 'cappuccino', this is a word that will soon become
familiar should you choose to visit the Colli Euganei (Euganean
Hills), a stones throw from Venice but no where near as famous or
discovered as its world famous neighbour.
Benessere, 'to be well' or 'well being', is exactly what this
Northern Italian area engenders in its visitors. It feels as though
its whole raison d'etre is to ensure you feel relaxed and rested.
This word appears everywhere; on street hoardings, passing vans
and on hotel signs, nowhere more so than in the main town of Abano
Terme, situated between Venice and the beautiful medieval city of
Padua. One of the main Spa towns in Italy, Abano Terme, famous since
Roman times for its fango (mud) applications, thalasso therapy and
a whole range of other complementary treatments, has it all, stunning
surrounding countryside, luxury hotels offering every treatment
and pampering known to human kind and a richness of art and culture
that can only be Italy.
The Euganean Hills, volcanic in origin (don't worry, long since
extinct!) and formed about 35 million years ago, are now a regional
park, with picturesque hill towns, fabulous Venetian villas, and
so many wonderful restaurants, you regret only having one stomach!
Amongst the hills that make up the Colli Euganei, sit numerous vineyards,
producing soft mellow reds and crispy whites, often with a touch
of fizz. Fizz is an important consideration in this area because
it is where you will find Prosecco in abundance. Often called the
Italian equivalent of Champagne, this dry sparkling wine, produced
a little further to the north around Valdobbiadene, is the perfect
aperitivo and for my money, vineyards ahead of champagne, for a
fraction of the price.
In the little hill town of Torreglia, visit La Madonnina, one of
the many independent vineyards, where the wonderful English - speaking
Antonio will give you tasters of his honey coloured Tito Livio and
the fruity red Refosco. Here, the views are as heady as the wine
and the hospitality as warm and embracing as the hot velvety nights
that follow the warm sunny days.
Once you've chosen the wine, proceed to Luxardo, (also in Torreglia)
producers of some of Italy's finest liqueurs. Here Raffaella, the
queen of the factory shop, will aid your digestion (so be sure to
visit after lunch!) with generous shots of warming sticky, black
sambuca, citrussy limoncello or the cherry brandy-like, sangue morlacco.
For walkers and nature lovers, this area is a joy. There are a
number of itineraries, some gentle, others a little more strenuous,
which take you along the delightful hill paths where every corner
turned has a little surprise. A folly here, a clump of butterfly
- encrusted wild flowers there and always the overwhelming sense
of tranquillity that is truly 'benessere'. For those who want to
see 'a good walk ruined' there are several championship golf courses
in the area, usually combined with fitness and beauty centres for
the less actively inclined.
History seeps out every crack and crevice in the Colli Euganei.
Arquà Petrarca, where the poet Petrarch spent the last years of
his life, nestles in stunning countryside, so unspoiled you can
imagine the views being little different from his last glimpses
of them in 1374. Visit his house (said to be unchanged to this day)
and then wander through the winding back streets, finishing in the
main square, overseen by Petrarch's red marble tomb perched above
Nearby in Battaglia Terme is the beautiful Castello Del Catajo,
part castle, part palace, which was built between 1570 and 1573.
Although in private hands, it is open to the public and houses some
of the best preserved frescoes in Italy that have not been subject
Plan your holiday in August or early September and enjoy an evening
of opera at the open air amphitheatre in Verona. Alternatively,
tap into the local culture and visit one of the many sagre (traditional
festivals and fairs) that take place in almost every hill town during
the summer months. My favourite is the festival of Saint Bartolomeo,
held in Monte Rosso in August. Here, the local pasta called bigoli
is handmade in vast quantities in massive tented constructions in
the village square and served with ragù sauce, freshly barbecued
meats (you can see the barbecue smoke for miles) and the tasty soft
local salami called soppressa. Only in Italy can a tiny local village
cater for hundreds of people at a time and computerise their orders
for maximum speed and efficiency. Italians do not like to be kept
waiting for their food.
Take a trip along the Brenta Canal and visit the numerous Palladian
Villas dotted along its banks, stopping for a leisurely lunch in
one of the many restaurants along the route. Such trips often culminate
at the Grand Canal in Venice in the early evening, with your boat
threading its way between the many gondolas and other craft that
inhabit this magical stretch of water.
There are also numerous other villas worth a visit in the Veneto.
The beautiful Villa dei Vescovi, with its magnificent loggia, is
also situated within the regional park, in the picturesque village
This part of Italy has everything to offer. Venice, Verona, Vicenza,
Padua (where Galileo taught at the University) and Bologna are all
within an hour's travelling distance of Abano Terme and all well
served by public transport. The area also has numerous airports
with regular flights from the UK into Venice, Treviso, Verona and
So, what does this area not have? Well, it does not have millions
of tourists. Yes, there are some, mostly Germans and French there
to avail themselves of the mud treatments but this is not Tuscany,
nor for that matter, Umbria. This is inland Veneto. Quintessentially
Italian, full of warm hearted Italians living the Italian way, there
has been no British takeover bid, as yet. However, it's only a matter
of time. Around here is everything we Brits love; fabulous food,
stunning countryside and art and culture that feeds your very soul.
Property is still reasonably priced, ranging from rustic to ultra
modern, if you're looking for longer than a two week stay. The traditional
houses of the Colli Euganei were originally built by farmers as
country houses, with typical facades of exposed stone (trachite
euganea). Now, they have become desirable bolt holes for those seeking
peace and tranquillity away from the stress of urban life. Sitting
under a pergola heavy with grapes, drinking in not only the production
of the fruit from the previous year, but also the silence of the
hills, creates lasting memories. However, above all, for me, there
are the people of the Veneto. Warm, welcoming and justly proud of
their stunning heritage, their knowledge of the area is more often
than not, encyclopaedic, almost rendering guide books redundant.
However, be warned. The Veneto is addictive. Once you have had
your first taste you will have difficulty kicking the habit but
don't let it worry you, there are worse addictions. However, don't
tell everyone. As I said, this is not Chiantishire and it's a secret