Walking in the Venetian Hills with Headwater Holidays
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It’s always hard to turn your back on
Venice, but when the alternative is a holiday in the tranquil Venetian hills,
it’s not such a great sacrifice. This
cluster of 81 volcanic peaks – the Euganean Hills to give them their proper
name - lies inland from the lagoon to the south of Padua and neighbouring
Vicenza, their conical outlines visible from afar across the flat plain.
To the east of the hills, fashionable spa
resorts use thermal spring water for both medical and wellbeing
treatments. A chain of vineyards around
the lower slopes combine to form the Euganean wine route, home to a wide
variety of varieties including prosecco.
The Euganean Hills have long been a retreat
for wealthy Venetians in the hot summer months. Today they are quietly prosperous, dotted
with small towns rich in historic buildings but housing everyday working
folk. This is authentic Italy, untouched
by mass international tourism, and visited mostly by locals.
Popular with Italian walkers and cyclists, it is also features on the programme of active self-guided holidays from Headwater. I’ve always found Headwater to be good on avoiding tourist hotspots in favour of hidden gems where holidaymakers can explore at leisure without the crowds. And for me, this trip ticked all the boxes..
Their comprehensive website gives full
details of the 8-night itinerary and four hotels, but having walked the trails
in June 2017, I’m sharing my tips for how to make the most of this delightful
My friend and I flew to Venice Marco Polo -
Verona is another possibility - and caught the train to Mestre for the
half-hour high-speed journey to Vicenza. There’s a regular bus service from the airport to Mestre, but our bags
were delayed coming off the plane for half an hour, so we splashed out on a
taxi instead – strongly advised if there are any delays. In Vicenza we were met by the Headwater rep,
Sara, for the car transfer to our first night's lodging.
Flights are available from various regional
airports and we flew from London-Luton early afternoon, but I'd recommend
trying to catch a flight that gets you to your accommodation by late afternoon,
simply so that Sara can brief you about the week ahead before dinner. Arriving
around 8pm in time for dinner, we were briefed next morning, which inevitably
means a later start on the trail.
Headwater grade their walks from 1 Boot to
3 Boots, 1 being the easiest. This
itinerary is Graded 1+ boots but as a veteran of many Headwater trips ranked 1
or 2 Boots, I’d say this was nearer 2. You
get what it says on the tin – hills – and some of the climbs have some long
But inevitably, going up is followed by
coming down, and we were treated to some lovely views as we completed a circuit
of the hills over the week. The routes
are a mix of shady woodland trails and quiet roads with minimal traffic. We
met no other walkers despite seeing leaflets of walks in every hotel. The hill roads are popular with Italian road
cyclists and you may also meet mountain bikers, especially at weekends. Our four walks ranged from 7 to 11.5 miles
and although two offered longer alternatives, in the June unexpected heatwave,
we stuck with the shorter options.
Padua is accessible by public transport on
various rest days around the circuit, but we chose to go from Galzignano on a
Sunday. Buses take about 40 minutes but
unfortunately they don’t run on Sunday so we splashed out on a taxi at 20€ per
person each way. But it took just 25,
minutes, dropping us at 9.30 and picking us up at 5, and Padua was blissfully
quiet on a Sunday which enabled us to tick off virtually everything on our list
apart from the University tour which is
also closed on Sundays (Galileo taught here!). We even managed to secure timed tickets for the Giotto frescoes of the
Cappella degli Scrovegni, but you’re best to book ahead online to avoid
disappointment. The red Citysightseeing
bus is a great way to get your bearings and some historical background.
As we expected, we adored Padua but the big
surprise was Vicenza, visited on our rest day at Teolo. Take a taxi to a
nearby village to pick up the bus service - details from the hotel owners. Home
town to 16th century architect Andrea Palladio, it is listed by UNESCO for its
Palladian heritage. Easily walkable in a
day, it’s a stunner.
All the hotels are family run, traditional in style, and largely visited by Italians. All of the owners spoke at least basic English and the welcome was warm in each one.
Three were air-conditioned whilst the
agriturismo rural hotel provided us with an efficient fan. Don’t expect fancy toiletries or trimmings -
the Italian way seems to be shampoo sachets and basic hairdryers – but we were
comfortable everywhere and really felt part of the local scene.
My travelling companion is coeliac and
always takes her own bag of breakfast cereal. But gluten-free meals proved no
problem, if flagged up in advance. She was offered gluten-free bread,
biscuits and pasta. We even found a limited range for picnics in local
supermarkets including cereal bars and beer!
Walking in the Venetian Hills departs every
two days from May to mid-October. June
was delightful – though unseasonably hot during our week, even back in the UK –
with cuckoos and cicadas calling in the woodland. September and October might be more
comfortable with the added advantage of changing colours in the woods and
vineyards on later departures. City
breaks can be tacked on in Venice or Verona when booking.
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