Venice and the Colli Euganei (Euganain Hills)
A wonderful walking holiday in the Colli Euganei (Euganain Hills) near Venice, superbly organised by Headwater Holidays in May 2015
First Class East Coast to Edinburgh, a peaceful enjoyable journey. Staying with our son yet again, so we went ‘shopping’ and had a nice family meal whilst we made our preparations for Italy.
A brutal start rising at 3.30am, why we agreed to such an early departure is beyond me, it won’t happen again. We discovered the night bus passes the door of our sons flat to we caught the 04.06 which got us to Edinburgh Airport before five in good time to go through the unpleasant process of catching a plane. The night bus is very inexpensive compared with a taxi. The flight went smoothly; we slept a fair bit so it was over quickly. From Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, we took the local bus to Venice and found our hotel the Locanda di Orsaria. It is a lovely small hotel decorated in a very ornate Venetian/Italian style, with amazing Murano glass lampshades, fabric covered walls, fancy curtains. The staff were lovely, Sabrina and Ilaria being especially helpful.
Time to join the thousands of people walking about Venice: we saw canals, boats, gondoliers, river buses, old buildings, narrow Streets, many cake shops, mask shops, & cafes. We were amazed to see just how many cake/pastry shops the city can support. The arrival at St Mark’s Square is spectacular; it’s such a big open space after the confined narrow streets. The campanile is particularly impressive and all made more so by very heavy rain, thunder & lightening. The ornate churches, statues and other buildings are almost too much to take in in one go, as are the prices for a cappuccino, we spotted a couple of cafes charging 8 euros. Fortunately, we had made our stop away from the square and so paid considerably less. Having had enough of buildings, people, and rain, we caught the water bus back to the start. My vision of cruising quietly along the Grand Canal admiring the old buildings was destroyed by the crowded nature of the bus; we endured 16 stops of being crammed up against other tourists unable to see very much. Every time we thought the bus was full, more people embarked controlled by ‘Miss Whiplash’ the very stern female attendant who opened and shut the ‘gate’ at each waterbus stop and controlled the customers. I have had more fun on the central line in London at rush hour. Relieved to get off we freshened up at the hotel and ventured out for a meal. Everything was much more pleasant and we had a nice walk finding a lovely waterside restaurant serving excellent food with friendly, cheery staff. We even saw the sun setting across the water against a backdrop of tall thunderclouds. We were in bed early that night and slept well, still feeling the effect of our 3.30am start. So I have seen Venice for a few hours and I am glad, it’s an amazing place and a must see. Would I ever go back? Probably not, too many tourists and too high prices and far too noisy for my personal taste, I’m sure there are some amazing places to visit there but my heart lies in quiet outdoor places in the mountains and by the river and sea, not in overcrowded, expensive touristic hotspots. Still it was well worth one look in a lifetime.
We slept well and after a very pleasant if somewhat rushed breakfast we said a farewell to the lovely staff of the Hotel Locanda di Orsaria. We both got the double ‘cheek brush’ from Sabrina that, as an inhibited Brit, took me by surprise. The hotel was only five mins walk from Santa Lucia Station, we were on the 08.12 train to Vicenza, very smooth, and fast, we were impressed. Getting there so early was not in the original plan but the Giro d’Italia was coming to town and all the roads were closing for the cycle race. Therefore, we were to be picked up early and even so our Headwater rep Sarah was delayed but in the end, it all worked more or less to plan and we were on our way clutching a bottle of cooled water Sarah had thoughtfully brought with her (nice touch). As a keen cyclist, I had been following the Giro at home on Eurosport and I thought it ironic that now I was in Italy I couldn’t stop and see the race. Then Sarah came up with a plan, our accommodation was in a rural location with not a lot going on so she would take us to the next village called Teolo where we could watch the race pass through. We were delighted, so we were dropped off in the village where we spent the day watching the protracted build-up to the race. These firstly involved three hundred cyclists all dressed in identical blue kit leave early to ride the last 50 km’s of the route (a sponsorship deal by one of the big banks). Then the police arrive and hundreds of spectators, many of them cyclists. Banners and barriers were erected, the police importantly directed traffic, much food, and drink consumed and the carnival atmosphere was building all the time. Entertainment included a guy on a penny-farthing, and a few in retro cycling gear and numerous publicity vans selling, as far as I could tell, tatty Giro souvenirs. I enjoyed watching more and more cyclists arriving, many with very cool, expensive bikes and stylish Italian clothing (some even carrying umbrellas), their white kit just wouldn’t cut it in Scotland! The day was further enlivened by a big thunderstorm with hail and heavy rain and we all started to shiver. Gradually race vehicles passed through with various stickers on the front of their vehicles: foto, medico, hospitality, organisation, and polize. Eventually, the sound of the helicopters heralded the arrival of the race unleashing a maelstrom of what seemed like hundreds of vehicles in front and behind the riders. The team cars decked out in their colourful livery and draped in what seemed like dozens of bikes. The Giro riders passed in a flash, very fast and looking focused, wet, tired, and dirty. There was one on his own followed by several groups. All the fans got really excited with several even waving flags at the riders; I have never understood why they do this. Suddenly it was all over and very quickly everyone disappeared leaving only the hard working guys to take all the banners and barriers away. We had got quite cold waiting for the race to pass in the rain so we dived into the local café for a delicious hot chocolate. Then be bought our bus tickets from the Tabac and waited, the bus was late, delayed by the Giro, but when it did arrive it was lovely and warm and took us to Vo where it terminated. We still had two miles to get to our ‘digs’ and it was a mostly pleasant walk and we stepped out to keep warm. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by then. We settled in and had a nice meal before turning in our quiet, very rural accommodation.
Cortela to Este
It was dry & cloudy when we woke but by the time we were ready to leave a light rain was falling. Fortunately, it wasn’t cold, there was no wind, and this was to be our weather for the day. It was good conditions for a long walk but a wee burst of the sun would have been pleasant. The start from Il Fuedo at Cortela is almost brutal, straight up a very steep road and despite the low attitude of these hills the ups and downs went on all day, in the end, we did 750m of ascent and walked 19kms. Our impressions of this area are of strangely shaped hills, very conical, that seem to spring out of the very flat surrounding plain. The lower slopes beautifully groomed mainly vines, some olive groves but also cherries and vegetable gardens. The countryside looks immaculate, as did the small villages we passed through. Upper slopes were heavily wooded and although these trees hid some views, they sheltered us from the rain. This area has few tourists and is very quiet, to the point where I was wondering where all the people were, we passed through places with almost no signs of life and saw no bar or restaurant open all day where we could get refreshment. We concluded that many folks would stay at home on a rainy day, there are no tourists and many of the houses were summerhouses and although immaculate were shuttered looked unoccupied. There was very little traffic on the well-surfaced roads; it would be a good place for some road cycling. We were glad we had brought a picnic with us from El Fuedo. We passed through Valnagaredo, Villa Beatrice, and Vall S Gorgio before arriving at Este. We were impressed by the campanili in the villages and wondered why these bell towers are built separately from the church. The Villa Beatrice would be a good spot to picnic on a nice day as it was we sat on a bench under a tree sheltering from the rain, ate some food, admired the view, and pressed on. We had been warned to watch out for wild boar and although we didn’t see any we heard one grunting in the forest, presumably it saw us first and ran away. The old cobbled road into Este is a lovely way to approach the town and tired and a little footsore we easily found our hotel and got sorted out. It was a long walk for us involving a little too much road walking on what was a wet, interesting and café free day away from the usual tourist hot spots. It’s a day that will be remembered for the smells of the plants and flowers; jasmine, roses, honeysuckle, rosemary, privet and wild garlic some growing wild and giving out powerful scents.
The day divided itself into three clear sections and until late afternoon, it rained almost continuously. The rain wasn’t cold or heavy and it wasn’t windy so we were definitely in Italy and not Scotland. After breakfast, we borrowed a big umbrella from the hotel (the one we carry with us is pathetically small and people laughed at it) and ventured into town on market day. Wondering around the market added lots of interest and colour to the morning. There were naturally several umbrella stalls, many clothing outlets and wonderful food and vegetable stalls. We wished we were self-catering so we could buy some of their lovely vegs but we settled for a bag of tasty cherries. Naturally, coffee followed and we found an excellent modern café called S38 and watched the world go by. The entertainment was a wedding with many people decked out in their finest clothing, photo’s being taken, and balloons released. The coffee was so good so we had two.
Then it was back to the hotel to freshen up and watch the Giro d’Italia on the big downstairs TV. Signora Hotel gave up watching an Italian soap for us, now that’s customer service. This passed an enjoyable afternoon and, however wet we were it was even wetter further north as Contador retook the overall lead.
Fortunately, the rain had ceased by late afternoon so we set off to explore the grounds of the town’s ruined castle. This was a massive structure which at one time included the town walls and been made into a large area of gardens and walkways. It was a pleasant walk all the time with the backdrop of the ramparts and turrets of the Castello ruins. The town also had a canal which we explored a little and although there was evidence boats had been used on it but we didn’t see any signs of them being used now. The ice cream from the gelateria opposite the castle gates was superb and naturally, we visited this morning’s favourite café. We liked Este, with its Piazza Maggiore, old buildings, arched stone walkways. There is a lot of history there and it was a great place to spend a ‘rest’ day. We walked five miles altogether and returned to our hotel ready for dinner and sleep
Arqua Petrarca to Galzignano Termine
At last, the sun came out and it was to be a lovely, warm day. Our rep Sarah collected us and took us at Arqua Petrarca then she drove on taking our cases to our hotel at Galzignano Terme. Arqua Petrarca is a lovely village and has two squares each with a church, vertically separated by about 50 metres and joined by steep cobbled streets. The buildings are beautifully cared for and the place buzzed with cyclists (on & off road) and walkers. To my great joy, there was a café for morning coffee, which was a great way to start a long walk. One Italian habit I don’t get is drinking a rapid espresso. Cyclists screech to a halt, very carefully lean their bikes against a wall, up to the bar, quick espresso and on your way again all within five minutes. I suppose it’s all to do with caffeine intake and nothing to do with re-hydration or relaxing and taking your time. We found our route without much difficulty and the mornings walk took us to Valsanzibio via wooded hills with occasional superb views across the hills to the plains below. It all looked fabulous in the morning sunshine. Valsanzibio is just a small place but it has the Villa Barbarigo and its gardens. We were unsure if the 17-euro entry fee was worth it but it was good value. The gardens were amazing, all covered shady walkways, statues and fountains set in the context of the villa and its surround hills. We found a lovely seat next to a cool fountain for lunch and enjoyed the tranquil reflective atmosphere of the gardens. The afternoon walking was of a similar nature to the morning, wooded paths giving good shade from the ‘heat’. It wasn’t hot but coming from Scotland we, felt hot and we were very glad of the shade. After lunch we left the gardens and set off for the final section of our walk. Some of the paths have been used a lot by mountain bikers and have become much degraded, no path maintenance gangs hereabouts. Near Galzignano Terme, we came to the clearing in which the huge cross that looks over the town had been erected in 1996. Clearly, this had been intended to be a picnic area as it had several picnic tables and a litter bin. It is a sad, dilapidate place with one new table and old broken tables waiting to be removed, overflowing bin and no view of the town as the trees had grown since 1996. If the plan was to encourage tourism then here they have lost the plot, facilities need to be maintained after they are established, it’s a problem we also have in Scotland. We descended out of the woods into Galzignano Terme and feeling very thirsty stopped at the first bar we saw and had an ice cool beer. Sitting on the shady terrace sipping the lovely beer after such a superb walk it was, for me, another of those “died and gone to heaven” moments. However, realising we were still alive and in dire need of a shower and a clean-up followed by some food we pressed on to our hotel; this one was the Belvedere run by mother & son Cilest and Luis. On the way were distracted by ceremonies remembering the 100th anniversary in connection with the First World War that involved a band, speeches, and poppies. In a way, we only think about our own countries involvement in war, forgetting many others were involved and badly effected as well. I remembered earlier in the day, passing a war memorial to the dead of both world wars whilst walking through a small village. It’s sad to think of so many young people having their lives cut short from any country. We arrived to a warm welcome at our hotel; our cases already in our room, we cleaned up, had some nice food in the fancy restaurant, and turned in for an early night. We definitely felt in better shape than after the long walk two days ago, maybe walking fitness is developing.
Another beautiful warm day, by the afternoon temperatures, were up to 25c. We had a nice relaxed start and wondered into the town. To be honest, there wasn’t much to explore, it’s an attractive modern town with all the necessary facilities, big enough to get what you need but not too big. We found a pleasant café and had a lengthy beer before returned to our hotel for a sleep. The day was turning into a proper rest day. Suitably refreshed we ventured our again following the route of a signposted tourist walk to a small viewpoint. This was well worth the effort, the view across the valley was superb, and we continue to be impressed by the beauty of the valleys and the hills. Then it was into town again to purchase supplies for tomorrow’s walk before relaxing on the terrace with a coffee before dinner. The dining room at the Hotel Belvedere is a work of art, beautifully set out and immaculate but we are struggling a bit with the lack of salads and fresh vegetables so we bypassed the starter menu (we don’t need more pasta) and I had a mixed salad, which was much better. We’re also buying extra fruit to keep our intake up to our normal levels. Why in a country that grows the most wonderful salads they don’t offered it as standard on the menu I don’t understand. After a pleasant meal, (their homemade chocolate ice cream was superb) we had a good night’s sleep interrupted by a huge thunderstorm. Was this the next day’s rain arriving early? We shall find out shortly.
Galzignano Termine to Teolo
Thinking we might have a long day ahead, we were down to breakfast promptly at 08.00 and away just after 09.00. The first part of the walk was mostly uphill along minor roads and after about an hour’s walking, we came across the Ristorante Refugio Monte Rua and asked about coffee. Good decision, what a beautiful place it was, immaculately looked after with a ‘terrace’ overlooking the valley. We had a lovely coffee and a ‘tapas’ of cake. Suitably refreshed we pressed on, mostly on high-level footpaths through thick woodland. Although of views were more restricted we were glad of the shade as the sun came out. After another 45 mins, we came across the Al Roccola Trattoria Bar and we thought why not, we’re on holiday so in we went for more cake and coffee (we had to pay for the cake this time). Strangely, not feeling like lunch, we walked on to Castelnuovo and with a few spots of rain and thunder rumbling down in the Venetian plain and eventually,we had some lunch sheltered under an outdoor performance stage next to the church. The rain came to nothing and the walk continued with a mixture of paths, roads, and white tracks. The views were excellent and in total, during the day, we were over 300m for about five miles. The cliffs of Mt Pendice are impressive and our route traversed round the foot of them. We had made a good time so we treated ourselves to a beer at the bar in Teolo before checking into our lovely hotel the Villa Lussana. Greeted by our friendly hosts, and less than friendly dog, we checked in and our room is excellent and has great views across the hills towards Mt Pendice. Just after we had arrived and checked in so did the day’s thunderstorm which we watched with great glee from the comfort of our room having stayed dry all day. We finished with an excellent meal and we were in bed soon after 10.00.
The Villa Lussana is a beautiful building overlooking the village crossroads with its drinking fountain much used by passing cyclists to fill their water bottles and two bars both of which serve good coffee. The view from our bedroom window is stunning looking out towards the hills and particularly Mt (Rocca) Pendice. This was supposed to be a rest day but as we were in better shape than the start of the week, so we decided to climb it. We had had rain overnight but this cleared to give a lovely warm sunny day. A relaxed start after a pleasant breakfast, we were the only people staying as the new owners had only been in possession of the building for 10 days. A little road walking and then we picked up the path for what we thought was the summit of Mt Pendice but somewhere we made a small navigation error and took a path that traversed round the foot of the substantial cliffs. No worries, we had GPS so we knew exactly where we were, all we needed to do was look at it a bit more carefully. Plan B was implemented and we traversed a small path around the foot of the cliffs to pick up an alternative route to the top. This turned out to be a delightfully shady ridge walk culmination in some fine views at point 305m and from the top at 320 m. Equally impressive were the substantial ruins of a castle, what an incredible place to put a building with such huge drops all round. It must have been easily defended. The path down was easily found and very muddy after overnight rain, our past experience on ski and snow slopes proved invaluable. I found myself side-slipping at one point and hanging on to pathside trees was also a good way of preventing an undignified slide down the muddy slope. Then it was along the attractive road to Teolo with stops to admire the view and clean the glutinous mud off our boots. A late-morning coffee at Bar Centrale and a picnic on the Villa Lussana terrace saw us heading for afternoon siesta. We had a relaxed afternoon getting sorted for another good walk tomorrow and then watch the Giro d’Italia in the big TV feeling well rested and ready for whatever tomorrow brings. The food at Villa Lussana is superb.
Teolo to IL Fuedo, Cortela
After our last night at the beautiful Villa Lussana, we woke up to a lovely day with no rain or thunderstorms forecast. After a pleasant breakfast and some discussion about a recipe involving nuts and honey, we left just after 09.00. The first part of the walk involved quiet paved roads, farm tracks, and paths and it was scenic and very quiet. Just at the right time, the Trattoria Al Sasso appeared for morning coffee. Then it was into the woods as we climbed towards Mt Venda, 601m, which is the highest point in the Colli Euganei. We had hoped to get to the top but on reading our notes it turns out this is a military zone and ascent to the summit is not allowed. So we settled for our high path that took us to 572m with wonderful views to the lower hills and Venetian Plain beyond. A steep descent followed as we skirted round Mt Vendevola. We found a lovely spot for lunch in a picnic area, shaded and peaceful. It was getting hot by then but the route to our accommodation was interesting involving, as at the start of the day, a mixture of surfaced road, gravel roads, and forest paths, mostly well shaded. Tiring in the heat our destination came in sight as we descended the steep hill that we had climbed at the start of our holiday what felt like ages but was only seven days. It was a lovely feeling completing the full circuit of the Colli Euganei (ignoring the short lift we had from Este to avoid some tedious road walking) and we walked through the gate of Il Fuedo, Cortela, arm in arm with a great feeling of achievement (or maybe we were just holding each other up!). We were greeted by the hard working Gabriella who soon had us sat down in the shade with a cool beer in hand. We were in the same room as last week, an excellent meal and as always early to bed but with a very different prospect for tomorrow.
We were picked up in the morning by our Headwater rep Sarah on another warm sunny day. She dropped us off in Vicenza. We found our hotel, left our luggage and set off to explore the town. It didn’t disappoint, it’s a lovely town. Loads of quiet pedestrian areas, big squares, covered walkways and of course, bags of history going back to Roman times. The covered walkways would be a good idea in Scotland to keep bad weather at bay and occasionally even sunshine but I suppose they are called shopping centres These Italian walkways are hundreds of years old. We explored a bit, checked out our route to the station for tomorrow morning, and then found an interesting café for lunch at the self-service Restaurant Righetti in the Piazza Duomo. Nice salads and good value for the two of us at 14 euros. We visited an art exhibition at the Basilica Palladiana (Tutankhamon, Caravaggio & Van Gogh) called, ‘La Sera e I Notturni Dagli Egizi al Novecento’. Loads of paintings, some of which I liked and some were horrible and I could have done better myself. The building alone was worth a visit with a high-level terrace giving great views across the Vicenza rooftops. All this ‘art stuff’ is just not for me. After that mini-dose of culture, we checked into our lovely hotel in the centre of town and watched the Giro on TV (much better). We’re having a meal out tonight its home tomorrow.
Travelling to Edinburgh
The best b’fast of the entire holiday @ Relais Santa Corona and farewell
We were in bed early so getting up at 6 am was no problem as we had had 8 hours’ sleep. The breakfast was lovely; the best of the holiday but there was no time to linger as we had a train, bus, and plane to catch. Getting to Vicenza Station involved a pleasant walk of about a mile in the cool of the morning, along the Corsa Andrea Palladio enjoying the morning sunlight on the old buildings and many people cycling to work or university in a traffic free environment. Headwater had left us a tight schedule which caused some anxiety but we made it Ok helped by the plane being delayed by over an hour. This was fortunate because Marco Polo Airport, Venice was HORRIBLY busy. Without doubt is was the worst and most unpleasant journey through an airport we have ever undertaken. It was so crowded that it almost ground to a halt. The queues were horrendous and it took us 90 mins to get from arrival to getting through check-in, security & passport control. Then there was the queue at the gate and to get on the plane. Without the delay (Jet 2 never gave us a reason) things would have been very tight. We speculated on reasons for the crowds and we thought it was a combination of Saturday travel combined with huge numbers of people arriving and leaving the cruise ships that come to Venice. I don’t think there was a single person (staff or passengers) that was having an enjoyable or restful time, it was all pure overload. Next time we’ll arrange our own transport avoiding weekend travel. After all that, flight passed quickly and wasn’t unpleasant before we knew it we were in our son’s flat in Leith Walk Edinburgh. Fortunately, it was a warm day in Scotland so the cooler temperatures were not too much of a shock. After staying in Edinburgh overnight and family visits our journey finished in the usual way on the East Coast First Class Train home.
Locanda di Orsario, Calle Priuli dei Calvaletti, Cannaregio, 103-30121, Venezia-Sabria & Ilia
Elegant, very welcoming, excellent English at desk, good breakfast, good position nr stn, glass fittings Murano glass, fabric lined walls, decadent, fridge v useful, no lift. B&B
Agriturismo Il Feudo, Via Monte Versa, 1008, 35030, Cortela de Vo-Gabriella
Comfortable, friendly but & limited English shy, quiet. Food Ok, some delicious. Breakfast could do with some fruit.
Hotel Beatrice d’Este, Viale Rimambranze, 1 Este-Maurizio
More of a hotelly hotel, well run, less of a family feel. D room staff good English helpful with menu. Build nearly 20 years ago and starting to show its age. Helpfully loaned umbrella on a rainy day.
Belvedere Resort ai Colli, Via Siesa 5, Galzignano Terme 35030 (PD)-Cileste &Luis
Pretentious, food did not live up to décor or aspirations. Breakfast wasn’t laid out on time. Guest ignored while management dealt with staff.
Villa Lussana, Via Chiesa 1, 35037 Teolo-Tizania & Alesio
Fantastic, wonderful food, beautiful building, lovely family. Only just taken over, working hard to improve. Building full of light with fabulous views towards Rocca Pendice.
Relais Santa Corona, Contra Santa Corona, 19 36100, Vicenza Vi
Lovely rooftop room very clean, modern, and quiet. A lovely small hotel. Our room was surprisingly spacious even had a small kitchen and lots of storage so you could easily stay a few days. No views as the room is in the roof and only has skylights. You can, however, lie in bed and see the stars! Staff friendly and helpful but, unfortunately, the Wi-Fi was very intermittent and eventually stopped working completely. Probably a temporary problem. Lovely breakfast and good coffee, the best b’fast of the entire holiday
© Peter Main – February 2016
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