Italy ~ Explore New Discoveries Down a Country Road

Veneto Countryside
Veneto Countryside

Discover the secrets of the Italian countryside on bicycle, foot or horseback. Get close up and personal on ancient lands dotted with walled medieval villages, wineries, and thermal spas.  Fertile plains of orchards and vineyards blend smoothly among the rolling hills of the Padova countryside, providing a wealth of paths that intermingle throughout the Regional park of the Euganean Hills. The series of 81 extinct volcanoes clustered together have created a paradise of thermal waters and mild weather that have attracted populations here since ancient times. Located just south of Padova, the abundant natural beauty plays a major theme.

Cycling the Euganean Hills, photo courtesy of

Pass through walled cities that date back to the 1100’s. Among them are the villages of Este, where the great dynasty of the Estense family ruled and built a wealth of historical villas, and Montagnana, encircled by a 6,500 ft. wall built during the middle ages, with 24 exquisite towers that rise as high as 62 ft. tall. Stroll through mystic castle gardens with climbing roses and fabled statues entwined in greenery. Take a bench seat and imagine the troubadours of the Renaissance saunter through the gardens as they compose their melodies.

Castle Garden
Castle Gardens

The famed poet Francesco Petrarch lived an inspired life on his winery in Arqua Petrarca, a village named after him, during the 1300’s. He often sailed the waterways on his boat to Padova, writing his poems as he experienced the countryside. “A pleasant place in the Euganean Hills, in a delightful and healthy position,” he wrote. His house, now a museum, sits just above the village. Inside, the medieval interior is decorated with scenes of Petrarch’s work. In a corner is his study, where he died in front of an open manuscript at age 70. His embellished tomb can be seen in front of the church in the main square of town.

As you familiarize yourself with Arqua, notice the wild pomegranate and jujube trees. The olive-like jujube’s, called giuggioli, taste much like un-ripe granny smiths. The fruit is made into a tasty liquor in the Enotecca II Giuggiolo (mostly in Italian, but nice photos).

Benedictine Abbey of Praglia
Benedictine Abbey of Praglia

Nestled in the nearby town of Teolo is the charming old Benedictine Abbey of Praglia. These impressive monks cultivate a vineyard and honeybees as well as vegetables and herb gardens. Inside the monastery shop are rows of delicious wines made from the harvested grapes. The herbs are used as ingredients for secret recipes handed down among the monks since the medieval ages to create medicinal elixirs that effectively cure indigestion. I found this to be true after indulging in too much rich Italian antipasti one evening.

Villa winery in the Euganean Hills
Villa winery in the Euganean Hills

Local wineries are numerous and produce thirteen varieties of wine granted the D.O.C. entitlement. Among them are the bold red wines Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, the white Chardonnay, and the sparkling wines Serprino and Moscato Fior d’Arancio.

Meadow near Arqua Petrarca
Meadow near Arqua Petrarca

Take a look at this website, Walking and Cycling the Wine Roads of the Euganean Hills. The presence of hot springs in the Euganean Hills have produce famous spas throughout the area that offer aesthetic and therapeutic treatments. The Regional Park of the Euganean Hills has much to offer and a wealth of history, wineries, and many natural country paths to walk.

*Hiking routes through the Euganean hills

*Euganean Hills Bike Path Padova Province

Italy’s Historical Cafe Pedrocchi

The cafe from the street
The Cafe Pedrocchi from the street and the bustling piazza 

Appearing more like a palace than a coffeehouse, the historical Cafe Pedrocchi of Padua has entertained famous literary and political figures since its founding in 1831. Because it was also the largest cafe in Europe, Cafe Pedrocchi became a quick sensation.

Coffee consumption by the bourgeoisie of Europe grew very popular during the 18th century. As a result, in 1772 Francesco Pedrocchi of Bergamo began the original and very successful coffee shop here near the University of Padua, the town hall, and the markets. It became the central hub, the social heartbeat of the city.

Over the marble threshold and into the illustrious cafe. Even the tables are lined up to near perfection!

In 1831, Francesco’s son Antonio expanded the coffee house to cover an entire block by hiring Venetian architect Giuseppe Jappelli to redesign the premise. He integrated different buildings and facades into a single unit, creating an eclectic extension. The interior is neoclassical in style, with marble floors and pillars while adorned with graceful ornamentation.

There are three rooms on the main floor. The Red, White and Green rooms which are the colors of the Italian flag. Upstairs are nine rooms and a museum featuring 19th century Paduan history. Famous artists such as Stendhal, Lord Byron, Dario Fo and several others have spent much time here.

The cafe was heavily damaged in WWII and completely rebuilt in its original neoclassical 19th century splendor. During the war, Italian revolutionaries met here to plan an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow their Austrian occupiers. The walls of Cafe Pedrocchi are imbued with many a conversation.

Baby Grand....nice ambience!
Baby Grand and a swanky bar

Inside the cafe, the ambience is one of class and elegance. Cafe Pedrocchi is the name of their signature drink, made of piping hot espresso topped with a cold mint creme topping. Luscious!

Delectible morsels brought to the tabel accompanied my coffee drink
Delectable morsels brought to the table, accompanied my coffee drink

Finger sandwiches, olives and chips accompanied our drinks and were the perfect addition.

Menu d’Elegance
Many feet have padded over this door mat
Many feet have padded over this door mat
Gracious Elegance, the Cafe Pedrocchi
Gracious Elegance, the Cafe Pedrocchi

Tall Greek columns and stately lions gave the cafe a very unusual feel. Exotic, stately, classic, the building graced the streets of Padova with a lot of charm. University professors and students, intellectuals, and artists have all spent much time consorting with each other inside the cafe, solving the problems of the world.

It is called a ‘doorless cafe’ because originally it was open 24 hours a day. During the warm weather the doors are thrown wide open and the waiters breeze in and out while attending to every need of those sitting on the veranda and out onto the pedestrian piazza.

It truly is a remarkable landmark in Padua, one that has earned the right to be listed highly in the city’s “hall of fame.”

Castles of the Italian Countryside

During my stay in Padova, a college town known for Giotto’s frescoed chapel and the majestic St. Anthony’s Basilica, I took a day and drove out through the surrounding countryside to the south. I explored several small communities, most of them with a castle at the center of town. I had so much fun snapping shots of a few of them. Their astounding size and impenetrable walls are so impressive. The few I saw were built in the 1300 – 1500’s.

These castles are in very good shape. Bricks were mortared together to create huge walls and arches. Some large blocks were used as well in the building. Many small narrow windows are spaced around the upper structure that were used by archers to shoot arrows. Moats that once encircled the castle with water are now green with lush grass.

Wandering through them brought visions of another time when life was so different from today, and every town needed the protection of a castle to survive.

I hope you enjoy the following photos taken just a few days ago of the castle fortresses of the Padova countryside.