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The "Venetian Tuscany", a little corner of paradise in the Padania Plain


'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.

Arqu 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 the piazza.

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 to restoration.

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 rag 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 of Luvigliano.

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 Bologna.

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 worth savouring.

Ros Fuller




Properties in Italy di Andrea Redivo Zaglia
Via del Santo 45
I-35123 Padova - ITALY
tel: ++39 349 4520481 
fax: ++ 39 049 655408

P.IVA (VAT. Reg.): 04106270285
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