Grey afternoon skies hung low over the countryside surrounding Padua, about a 40-minute drive west of Venice. I had just driven ten kilometers southwest of town to arrive at my destination, the Abbazia Di Praglia, a Benedictine community of monks. Nestled at the feet of the Euganean hills, along an ancient road leading to the neighboring town of Este, my arrival at the Abbey appeared as if I had just stepped back in time.
Medieval architecture loomed up before me as I left the car and walked up the wide steps to the tall church doors. Founded between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, it still looked rock-solid. I stepped inside for just a few minutes to admire the ancient immensity. But I had another purpose in mind. The monks of the Abbey are very industrious and produce amazing wine, elixirs, skin care products, honey, soap, emulsions, and effusions sold in their on-site apothecary shop. Anxiously, I retraced my steps outside in search of the ancient pharmacy.
Documents found in the old abbey from nearly a thousand years ago describe the interest of the monks in vineyards and wine that survives to this day. These monks have never been secluded but from the beginning worked manual labor predominately in the fields. Today they cultivate ten hectares of vineyards, all with DOC status . The traditional Garganega, Friularo and muscat Fiordaruncio grape varietals are grown here.
The cultivation of herbs for the purpose of elixirs, infusions and skin care emollients are ingredients from ancient recipes secretly handed down from generation to generation. Some have been reworked by the monks, but the old recipes are still used. The monks are very protective of these recipes and wisely keep them secret.
Delicious red and white wine are sold along with several kinds of elixirs. A bottle of Amaro, made of bitter herbs, and Dulcor, a sweet herb elixir, came home with me. The digestive effects are wonderful if taken before or after dinner. At up to 35% alcohol, a little dab will do you! Some are even higher.
Industrious monks using ancient herbal recipes to create their products
Content to leave the secret recipes with the monks, I have a new admiration for this industrious community. They are truly guardians of the keep.