Winerist was recently invited to explore the Euganean Hills and the many activities there are to do there, wine tasting being a very important one of them! Spending 3 wonderful days in this region of Veneto, Italy, convinced us it is a fantastic destination for those travelling to Venice, Verona, Padua or Lake Garda and wishing to add a different, and lesser known experience of Italy on to their trip!
The Euganean Hills
The Euganean Hills, or Colli Euganei, is a picturesque volcanic hill range located in the Veneto region of northern Italy. These verdant hills are a natural oasis of beauty and tranquility. Rich in history and culture, the area is dotted with charming medieval towns, such as Arquà Petrarca and Monselice, known for their well-preserved architecture and delightful atmosphere. The hills are also home to numerous vineyards and olive groves, producing excellent wines and olive oil. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, cycling, and horseback riding amidst the lush landscapes and ancient ruins. The Euganean Hills offer a perfect blend of nature, history, and gastronomy.
The wines of the Euganean Hills are a hidden gem for wine enthusiasts. This unique wine region produces a variety of exceptional wines with distinct characteristics which vary from North to South and East to West. The area has more than 100 hills, all volcanic, and the soil differs greatly depending on its relative location to the hills. For example, we learned that there are great red wines in the South where it’s warmer; and in the North great white wines due to the differences in temperature between day and night. They call it a wine continent because of the significance differences from one area to the next!
The region is known for its cultivation of indigenous grape varieties such as Garganega, Moscato Giallo, and Serprino. White wines, including the renowned Fior d’Arancio, display vibrant fruit flavours and floral aromas. Red wines like the Cabernet Franc and Merlot showcase depth, structure, and elegance.
Most wineries in the Euganean Hills are very small with artisan style farming the norm. There are 46,000 small wineries in the whole of Italy now and here there are 100, across 2,700 hectares of vines.
Whilst the wineries are small, they are not without critical acclaim. 2 wineries here, out of a total of 9 across the whole country, have been awarded with the prestigious Casa Clima award for the highest levels of sustainability and practices of well-being among winery workers. D’argento is one of these 2, and we were lucky enough to taste some of their fantastic reds and sparkling wines.
We had the pleasure of visiting the Azienda vinicola Cà Lustra Zanovello – Cinto Euganeo. And were welcomed by none other than a family member for a guided tour, lunch and a tasting of their wonderful wines.
Ca ‘Lustra is very much a family story. Created by Franco’ to fulfil his dream of creating an established business in the world of wine, he worked according to the traditional principles of sustainability and love of the land. The company, fully certified organic since 2012, is now run by his children Marco and Linda together with a team of motivated and passionate collaborators. They produce red, white, rosé and sparkling wines. Our favourite was the Olivetani which is a luscious white blend of Sauvignon and Moscato, Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco, Tai Bianco and Garganega.
The history and architectural beauty
Villa Selvatico, Battaglia Terme
Villa Selvatico was built at the behest of Marquis Bartolomeo Selvatico in 1593. The seventeenth-century Villa is located on the top of the Colle di Sant’Elena and is reflected in the pools of sulphurous thermal water, kept in the spa garden designed by the landscape architect Giuseppe Jappelli. The grand rooms of the villa have several cycles of frescoes featuring the history of Padua and moments from Greek mythology.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the villa is the staircase of 144 steps which leads from the beautiful statue-filled garden to the villa terrace overlooking the surrounding vineyards. Set amongst a a park of eleven hectares, with centuries-old trees and five thermal lakes, Villa Selvatico is a perfect balance between nature and art and is a wonderful destination to visit in the Euganean Hills. The villa also makes its own wines including a delicious sparkling wine that we were introduced to by one of the family owners.
Villa dei Vescovi
Standing out on a knoll of the Euganean Hills, encircled by the lush, untainted greenery of the Veneto countryside, the Villa dei Vescovi is a stunning villa that can be visited and admired, or even stayed at.
The concept for the Villa dei Vescovi (“Bishops’ Villa”) originated in the early 16th century by nobleman Alvise Cornaro at the behest of the Bishop of Padua, who wanted a venue for his intellectual circle that would tap the potential of the countryside as a catalyst for elevated thoughts and reflections. Designed in compliance with these ideals by the Veronese architect Giovanni Maria Falconetto to a rigidly geometric plan, the villa then benefitted from the input of Giulio Romano. As you approach the villa, a series of vineyards give way to the verdant geometries of the walled garden.
Walking through the beautiful rooms of the villa, each of which retains incredible views of the surrounding countryside, it’s hard to imagine that this was once someone’s home! Filled with frescoes and most of its original features it is a truly beautiful place. The terraces with grand arches along the length of them make for a wonderful, relaxing place to admire the views and we were delighted to hear that visitors are even encouraged to come for the day, hang out on the terraces and even work from there! And for those lucky enough to stay in the 4 bedroom apartments on the top floor, they will have these terraces all to themselves when the doors close to the public each day.
The thermal spas
The Euganean Hills are renowned for their captivating thermal waters. Nestled amidst lush landscapes, these natural springs offer a soothing retreat for visitors seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. Rich in minerals and renowned for their therapeutic properties, the thermal waters of the Euganean Hills provide a blissful experience for body and mind, as I was lucky enough to find out!
The Grand Hotel Trieste & Victoria
Checking in at the Grand Hotel Trieste & Victoria felt like walking back in time to the early 19th century when travel was full of glamour and luxury. The entrance is adorned with marble and pillars and surrounded by luscious trees, and the interior with chandeliers, grand furniture and old-school glamour. The hotel has 232 rooms, all of which are very large with views over the grounds.
With no less than 5 thermal spa pools and a doctors appointment set for the morning to assess the exact mud treatment that is right for us, we instantly felt like this was somewhere we were going to be looked after.
We were able to swim in the main thermal pool, and for anyone who hates that first dip into a regular (cold) pool, this was amazing! Like stepping into a bath. The large indoor pool adjoins an outdoor thermal pool that you can swim in and out of. It also has various water massages available alongside the edges of the outdoor pool.
The next morning it was time for a personally prescribed ‘Detox Thermal Mud’ treatment!
The mud used in the hotel’s spa is imbued with the ancient history of the surrounding Euganean Hills whose clay, taken from the seabed of the centuries-old lakes of Arquà and Lispida, is transported to their Spa and put in contact with the thermal water. It is considered unique thanks to the long route it travels to reach the Euganean Hills; this journey of about 25 to 30 years over limestone rock, at depths exceeding 2000 meters underground, allows the water to get enriched with heat and precious mineral salts. Clay and thermal water are then mixed in their maturation pools for a period of at least two months and so the transformation of clay into mature mud takes place. The algae produced within the mud contains a large quantity of substances with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action that are absorbed by the body during the treatment and improve mobility, reduce pain, and enhance overall well-being.
The treatment took place in a private spa room with a bed on which you are wrapped in the mud, a shower area for removing the mud and a spa bath for soaking in the thermal waters afterwards. First was an application of mud on the joints as per the medical prescription. The second was a special clay compress enriched with bioactive artichoke extracts placed over the liver area. And the third was a body wrap with seven different sheets imbued with a mix of liquid mud and enriched natural artichoke extracts. Afterwards, the treatment continued by a 10 minute relaxation in micro-dynamized hyperthermal spring water enriched with focus algae extract! It was incredibly relaxing and was followed by a genuine sense of well-being!
On our first evening, we were invited for a fine-dining experience at Ristorante Incàlmo where we were treated to a 6-course tasting menu paired with a selection of wines from local producers.
Opened in October 2021 the restaurant is located inside the historic Hotel Beatrice next to the city walls of Este. It is run by a team of talented and clearly very passionate people. Each course was a surprise and a delight to both the eyes and the palate! Very cleverly crafted compositions of local and international ingredients were brought together with an artistic flair.
Antica Trattoria Ballotta, Torreglia
Founded in 1605 the restaurant has been known as one of the most important trattorias in the Euganean Hills since this time. Visiting this historic restaurant we learned that “Ballotta” was the nickname of one of the owners: Toni Carta. Now the family Legnaro welcomes tourists and food lovers and proudly serves typical dishes with Euganean produce, served with Euganean wines.
Famous local producers
Whilst many may not be familiar with the Euganean Hills, many if not all, will have heard of two of their most famous local producers:
Established in 1821 by Girolamo Luxardo and still entirely controlled by the same Founding Family. Luxardo is one of the oldest European firms producing liqueurs and spirits. Transferred from Zara to Torreglia (Padova) in 1947 due to the consequences of the Second World War, Luxardo is a place where centuries old traditions meet cutting edge production methods. Traditional copper pot stills, ageing vats, marasca cherry orchards, warehouses and brand new bottling lines are all pillars that distinguish the Luxardo Distillery still today, as it was in the past.
We were lucky enough to meet the current managing member of the Luxardo family and enjoy a personal tour from him. We learned about the very moving story of the family as a result of WWII and their recovery from then on, and it is hard not to evolve an affinity for the brand before even trying their spirits. At the end of our tour we visited the tasting room where we tasted a broad selection including the Maraschino Originale, the Espresso liqueur and the Amaretto (which was our favourite).
The Luxardo museum is really a work of art and we would highly recommend a visit.
Este Ceramiche Porcellane
From liqueurs, we moved on to ceramics. Este Ceramiche Porcellane, established in the 18th century is one of the oldest manufacturers of ceramics in Europe. They create tableware which is all handmade and painted by hand. Their works are highly sought after, with the US being the biggest buyer. The atmosphere and location of the factory are enchanting. It is located along the city walls of Este, and faces the canal that once carried their products to Venice. You could say that clay enters their doors as raw material, and leaves as valuable works of art.
How to get there
The Euganean Hills whilst well worth a trip in its own right, is also a perfect add-on to a stay in Venice, Verona or Padua, all of which it is close to.