Remember that crazy July heatwave? Matt and I escaped the UK in favour of Veneto, Italy, where the temperature was also creeping towards 40c, but they at least have AC everywhere. We spent the week in one of the best airbnbs ever, admiring the Italian countryside, enjoying aperativi and exploring local towns.
The flight out had its own problems (you can read the daily mail article about it if you’re interested lol), but once we were cruising along in our lovely air conditioned automatic rental car, we left all that nonsense behind us.
Where we stayed: Albettone
We pulled up to our airbnb on top of a hill near the tiny town of Albettone. Recently converted from an agricultural building by a young couple, it has a very industrial, functional aesthetic on the outside. It’s a concrete box. But then you open the door and walk into heaven itself.
The interior is just so beautifully decorated, with loads of space and everything pointing towards that glorious view. Even the bathroom has an enormous window so you can gaze out while you soak in the big sunken tub.
The units in the middle of the room sneakily house a mini fridge, microwave and all the crockery and kitchen utensils needed. This is because there is no indoor kitchen – the sink, hob and bbq are outside.
This incredible set up meant we rarely ate out in the evening. Instead lunch was our restaurant meal and we ate simple dinners like pesto gnocchi, takeaway pizza and platters of cheese and ham on focaccia bread, all savoured along with local red wines.
Our first day in Veneto we ventured out to explore a nearby town that had piqued our interest. Cittadella is a medieval walled city founded in the 13th century as a military outpost of Padua. Its distinguishing feature is the surrounding wall which is 4,793 ft long with a diameter of around 1,480 ft. It surrounds the old town, with four gates at the north, east, south and west points.
Handily, you can park for free at Parcheggio pubblico di Villa Rina just outside Porta Treviso, the eastern gate of the old town. Once you cross the moat and get inside you’ll be on Via Guglielmo Marconi, the main road that bisects the town. Following the road to the middle will bring you to Piazza Pierobon, the town square, where you’ll find the duomo and our recommended lunch spot.
Lunch: Bar Borsa
The day we visited Cittadella it was totally deserted. Not a tourist or local could be seen, until we arrived at Piazza Pierobon. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the cool shade in front of Bar Borsa.
The menu was in Italian so we muddled along with my GCSE level linguistics, ending up with two absolutely delicious dishes – smoked salmon and avocado toast for me and mushroom ravioli for Matt. As you can see in the photos the styling was really something else, and the whole experience was exactly what you want for your first proper meal out of a holiday.
From what I can gather, this piazza usually has markets and events filling it with activity and people – just not in the middle of the week in the summer holidays! It was so hot as we explored the town that we stuck to the shadow of the buildings, enjoying the peace and quiet.
Mura di Cittadella
The main tourist attraction of Cittadella is the town wall, which circles the centre and has lasted since the town was first established in 1220. It’s almost all intact except for a stretch destroyed in the 16th century during the Cambrai war.
These are the only Medeival city walls in Europe that you can walk around. At 15m high, they give you a spectacular view over the town and surrounding countryside. You can enter at the gate on the north side for just €5 each, and walk around the entire thing in under an hour. It took us about 50 minutes, but that was with lots of breaks due to the 33c heat and lack of shade.
That being the main physical activity of the day, we rewarded ourselves with a gelato (the first of many of the holiday) from Puro & Bio, a trendy organic gelateria on Via Guglielmo Marconi.
Aperitivo: Bar Centrale
After an afternoon relaxing in our beautiful airbnb, we headed out for an evening stroll to the nearby Albettone. This tiny Veneto village was so small that the bartender didn’t speak English, but we again managed to scrape by and enjoyed two aperol spritz, with snacks, for only €5 (Italians consider it an absolute scam that we charge £8 for them in the UK).
We took the long route back along the river, through a vineyard and behind the church, enjoying a pretty incredible sunset before dinner.
Wednesday was our day in Padua, which we had all planned out in advance. It’s a good job we were so prepared, because the Cappella degli Scrovegni has to be booked ahead of time. The chapel is environment controlled to preserve the 14th century frescos, and they only let a handful of people in for each time slot.
After our slot at the chapel we went on to a full day of exploring, with such highlights as mint coffee from Caffe Pedrocchi and a visit to the botanical gardens. You can read all about our day on my blog post about Padua.
Thursday: Arquà Petrarca
Arquà Petrarca (pronounced ar-kwa pet-raka, not arkapetrarka as we originally thought), is a tiny Veneto town home to less than 2,000 people. Before 1870 it was just called Arquà, but then it added the name of its most famous resident, the poet Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca) who lived there for the last four years of his life (1370–74).
The town really is so small, you only need a couple of hours to explore it. Set in a picturesque location in the Euganean Hills, on the slopes of Monte Ventolone and Monte Castello, it has amazing views, but it does mean a lot of steep uphill climbs, especially if you want to visit Petrarch’s house which is right at the top. There are two car parks – Borgo Basso (at the bottom of the hill) and Borgo Alto (at the top). We parked at the bottom and climbed up to Petrarch’s tomb which is outside the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta.
Francesco Petrarca was a scholar and poet, and one of the earliest humanists. He’s credited with the initiation of the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century as well as the founding of Renaissance humanism. In the 16th century, Pietro Bembo created the model for the modern Italian language based on Petrarch’s works (among other things).
Petrarch’s sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance and became a model for lyrical poetry. He is also known for being the first to develop the concept of the “Dark Ages”, which most modern scholars now find inaccurate and misleading (Matt has strong opinions about this too).
Similarly to Cittadella, Arquà Petrarca was basically dead on the day of our visit. Unfortunately we managed to time our visit for the exact two hour slot in the day when the Casa del Petrarca is closed for lunch, so we didn’t actually get to go inside.
Lunch: Ristorante Pizzeria San Marco
Luckily the day was saved by this little pizza restaurant in Piazza San Marco, down the street from Petrarch’s house. Just next to the restaurant with its green shutters there is an archway connecting it to the church next door. This shady spot seemed to be where all the people were, drinking wine and eating pasta. We were more than happy to join the party.
The restaurant had a basic formula – pick your pasta and pick your sauce. I went for cacio e pepe, a parmesan and black pepper sauce the region is famous for, and Matt went for tagliatelle with a spicy sausage similar to chorizo.
The pasta was fresh, the sauce was rich and the fizzy drinks were cold. What more could you possibly ask for? I had been truly flagging in the heat and this lunch properly picked my spirits up.
We could’ve hung around for the house to open, but our parking was about to expire and nothing was worth walking down and back up and down the hill in that heat. So on with our day we went.
Giardino Barbarigo Valsanzibio
The Villa Barbarigo is a 17th-century rural villa in the middle of 40 acres of gardens at Valsanzibio in Veneto, built by the Venetian aristocratic Barbarigo family.
The villa is private but you can buy a ticket to get into the Baroque gardens, which are complete with water works, original statues and a Boxwood labyrinth. Originally commissioned by Zuane Francesco Barbarigo in 1669, construction carried on under his son Gregorio (a Cardinal and future Saint), with designs by Luigi Bernini, brother of the famous Roman sculptor and architect. The concept was meant to illustrate the approach to the villa as an allegory of man’s progress towards his own salvation.
The Villa was originally accessible by boat from Venice, and you can still see the poles used to tie up gondolas at the elaborate entry portal, a pseudo palace facade with a statue of Diana the hunter flanked by her dogs. Paths lead from the gate through a series of fountains and garden features, including water games which have now been automated so they activate when you go by. Incredibly, some of the evergreen plants date back to the 17th-century!
Although these gardens were beautiful, and the shade from the trees made it a great activity for a hot day, I was just too hot at this point so we couldn’t really do our visit justice. It was 34 degrees and I was not a happy bunny, so after some cold cokes from the shop we made our way back to the oasis of our airbnb.
We were so sad to leave Albettone, but we had some lovely plans for our last weekend in Italy – the wedding of our friends Lewis and Laura. We weren’t meeting the other groomsmen until lunchtime so we decided to grab a coffee at Monte Berico, a vantage point overlooking Vicenza.
Coffee: Al Pellegrino, Monte Berico
Monte Berico has an interesting backstory. As legend has it, the Virgin Mary appeared on the hill twice to a peasant worker (in 1426 and 1428). There had been a terrible plague in Veneto at this time, and Mary promised that if the people of Vicenza built a church on the top of the hill she would rid them of the plague. After hearing this, the church was built in just 3 months.
The square in front of the basilica is called Piazzale della Vittoria, where you can park for free to visit the church and admire the full view of the city of Vicenza. We set up shop at a table in Al Pellegrino cafe, where we played cards, sipped cappucini and looked out towards the mountains in the distance.
Lunch: Trattoria Al Moraro
We met up with Lewis and the other groomsmen at this wonderful locals favourite. Trattoria Al Moraro is where you go if you want the most delicious experience of local traditional dishes. We followed the proper Italian way of eating with pasta for starters followed by steak Fiorentina.
As we were leaving the restaurant we got some fun news – EasyJet had decided to cancel our return flight to London. We spent the next few hours trying to book alternate flights.
Where we stayed: Agriturismo Le Vescovane
As members of the wedding party, we were lucky enough to be staying in the wedding venue itself! This beautiful Agriturismo in the hills near Vicenza is clearly very popular, as that night the car park was full of cars, and the restaurant full of happy diners.
Aperitivo: Osteria Il Grottino
That night we headed into Vicenza and spent the evening drinking Aperol Spritz and eating cicchetti at Osteria Il Grottino in Piazza Delle Erbe in the shadow of Basilica Palladiana. The piazza was packed with other wedding guests and buzzing with excited conversation about the weekend ahead. Amazingly this day was even hotter than the days leading up to it, and even at 10pm the cobble stones were still radiating heat back at us. Gelateria La Romana was there to cool us down with big scoops of gooey gelato, which we ate on our way back to Le Vescovane.
(Thanks to Richard Nias for those great pics.)
As this was a traditional Italian wedding, the festivities weren’t kicking off until 5pm on Saturday. We spent the morning relaxing by the pool (absolute luxury in the 34c sunshine) before travelling as a group to the nearby village of Lumignano di Longare. Here we had platters of flatbread pizzas from Bar Fantasj.
Lumignano might not look like much, but climbing the hillside you’ll find the Eremo di San Cassiano, a hermitage set right into the limestone rock.
My first Italian wedding was definitely one of the most fun! The ceremony took place on the lawn surrounded by the wooded hillside, with vows in both Italian and English. Of course, the food was some of the best I’ve enjoyed at a wedding. The mini caramelised onion focaccia bread was a highlight. The wedding meal included black truffle risotto and fresh tomato pasta which Matt and I couldn’t get enough of. Reader, I have thought about the wedding cake on several occasions since – a mille-feuille with crisp buttery pastery and creamy zesty lemon crème pat and flakes of dark chocolate. My only regret is that I didn’t go back for seconds.
The evening party was wild, sunsoaked and prosecco-filled as everyone was. I can tick “dancing to System Of A Down at a wedding” off my bucket list. And “see the bride’s cousin in his underwear”.
The next day, instead of making our way to the airport as originally planned, we found ourselves checking into another hotel courtesy of EasyJet. After grabbing a nice lunch at Al-DO Fogheri, we caught the Venice Water Taxi from Marco Polo airport. It had been so stressful booking alternate flights and finding a hotel at the last minute, but this surprise extra day turned out to be a blessing in disguise and we fell head over heels for Venice.
For more pics from our trip to Venice, check out this blog post.
Where we stayed: Annia Park Hotel
The hotel I mentioned ended up totally exceeding our expectations, especially when compared to airport hotels you get in the UK. If you find yourself needing a hotel only half a km away from Marco Polo airport, we definitely recommend Annia Park Hotel.
What a beautiful place! Our holiday in Veneto is one of our favourites to date. Of course Venice and Padua were beautiful and steeped in history, but I’m so glad we were also able to visit some smaller lesser known towns like Cittadella and Arquà Petrarca. And our airbnb was also up there as one of the best we’ve experienced, definitely use this as your base if you’re planning to explore this area too. If I had one suggestion it would be to time your visit for a cooler season so you have to stamina to do more. I for one would have loved to visit Verona. We’ll just have to come back!