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A Guide to Padova (and the Colli Euganei), Veneto’s Other Gem

“Spritz was cheaper than water and I made sure to sample every single bar in town for research purposes.”

Only a 30-minute train ride from Venice, Padova is a stunning city that remains largely untouched by mass tourism, but whose history, architecture and lifestyle make it a coveted place to live and visit.

Now a UNESCO heritage site for its unmatched, perfectly-preserved series of pre-Renaissance frescoes–including works by Giotto di Bondone and Giusto de Menabuoi–Padova’s city centre is dominated by the presence of the prominent University of Padua–whose foundation in 1222 as a school of law makes it the fifth oldest university in the world–and thus by the buzzing scene that comes with it. Strolling through the city centre, one can still admire the remnants of the university’s glorious, ancient past–in the courtyard and frescoed vaults of the Palazzo del Bo, headquarters of the Law faculty, and in the lush Botanical Gardens, built in the 16th century and still a destination for many botanists–while enjoying the the coming and going of young people on bikes, rushing to class, chatting at the bar, sharing a post-exam celebratory spritz. Tens of thousands of students choose to attend the many faculties available here.

An ex-student of languages myself, I spent my formative years living in the very heart of the city, in a beautiful first-floor apartment hidden away between the four central piazze–delle Erbe, della Frutta, dei Signori and Piazza del Duomo–sharing life with three flatmates, biking to this or that class with my light blue Graziella, shopping at the daily fruit and vegetable market just down the street, and generally having the time of my life while also cultivating, though penniless, a newly-born interest in food, cooking and eating out. I made a lot of lentils and got an ad honorem in sandwich studies. Spritz was cheaper than water and I made sure to sample every single bar in town for research purposes.

That said, Padova is not just for students. In fact, it’s a wealthy city that thrives on a well-developed manufacturing and trading industry. Local residents enjoy a high standard of living, reflecting their buying power on the economic fabric of the city–from clothes (padovani don’t joke when it comes to dressing up) to real estate to food. Following an ethos that takes heritage at heart, many still run their errands at the independent botteghe and market stalls tucked underneath and around the edges of the imposing Palazzo della Ragione, receiving culinary tips from the stall owners on how to improve their recipes and impress their families.

The joint presence of lively students and active residents has kept Padova far more up to speed with modern trends compared to other cities its size, creating a scene where fashionable, Milan-style eating and drinking options cohabit with thrifty university bars, and where old-school enoteche rub elbows with contemporary wine bars. 

I have visited Padova quite frequently through the years, knowing it will forever hold a special place in my heart and taste memory. And though much has changed since I left at the end of college, it’s reassuring to see that some things actually never do. So here is a little compendium of old and new favourite eateries and bars to try while in town, plus some beautiful monuments and museums to feed the eyes as you move from one place to the next.

Finally, for a change of scenery from city to country, don’t miss the scenic Colli Euganei. Located just 20 minutes from the centre of Padova, the hills have not just stunning views but also castles, abbeys, villas, vineyards and thermal baths to make the trip very worth your while.

WHERE TO EAT

For a Quick Bite:

La Folperia

Piazza Della Frutta (food truck, late afternoon only)

This is the place (maybe the only place?) for seafood in town. Order the boiled folpetti (baby octopus) with parsley sauce, grab a table at the nearby Bar dei Osei (there’s an unwritten agreement between the two institutions), order a white wine and savour the moment as this is perhaps one of the most quintessentially Padovan experiences out there.

Dalla Zita

Via Gorizia 12

There’s no way around it: if you want a sandwich, come to la Zita. It’s a hole in the wall, truly, and that very wall is wallpapered from floor to ceiling with colourful cards listing their countless panini offerings. They are all good and tempting, and a regular size will leave enough space for a second round–though you can also opt for the maxi. A personal favourite is the Scozzese–with gorgonzola, mascarpone, walnuts and fresh salad leaves–but their porchetta and sopressa are also delicious.

For a Meal:

Da Nane della Giulia

Via Santa Sofia 1

My absolute favourite in town, and a popular one amongst locals, so make sure you book ahead. An old-school trattoria serving traditional dishes in a warm, no-frills environment, with a stark, sometimes short, definitely spartan service. The menu changes based on the seasons, but will always include a range of traditional, meat-heavy dishes (though they sometimes have herring too). If you’re into trying truly heritage recipes, go for guinea fowl or donkey or liver. The homemade fresh pasta dishes, like the pasta e fagioli with maltagliati or the bigoli with chicken ragù, are pretty special too. Go hungry.

Uva

Piazza dei Signori

A stylish space serving great artisan wines paired with some excellent, contemporary plates. The menu is extensive, varies at lunch and dinner, and ranges from share plates, unique appetisers (like the beef tongue mini-burger with salsa verde and girolles), pasta and rice dishes (a favourite being their take on the classic risotto with chicken livers), and creative mains with meat, fish and vegetarian options. They make good cocktails too in case you feel spritz-ed out. Their outdoor seating area, in full view of the astronomical clock of Piazza dei Signori, is truly outstanding.

For Sweets:

Pasticceria Biasetto

Via Jacopo Facciolati 12

A short 15-minute walk from the heart of town to Ponte Corvo will lead you to this pastry institution and to the best sweets in Padova. Here, amongst many delights, you’ll find pastry chef Luigi Biasetto’s signature cake: the Sette Veli (seven layers), a chocolatey, mousse-rich, hazelnut- and almond-scented, spongy, creamy, crunchy affair that won him gold at the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie world championship. You can have a whole cake to go or sample a portion-sized version on the spot. 

Pasticceria Breda

Via Umberto I 26

Good coffee, hot chocolates and pastries. Try their speciality, the pazientina–a cake made of chocolate, almond shortcrust, polenta shortcrust and a filling of zabaione custard–as it’s a rare and fantastic find.

WHERE TO DRINK

Vini da Severino

Via del Santo 44

Once a destination for vini sfusi (unbottled wine), Severino has for decades been a favourite drinking and socialising hangout for residents and students alike (it’s only a few steps away from some major faculty hubs). Spartan and somewhat crowded (though that’s its charm), it has no seats, only a counter and a chalkboard with wines by the glass–the selection is good and spans from low-intervention, artisan producers to bigger names. Have a drink here or take a bottle away–the friendly staff will help you navigate the selection on the shelf. It closes early, so go for aperitivo.

All’Ombra della Piazza

Via Pietro d’Abano 16

A central destination for wine worshippers. Comfortably tucked away on a pedestrian side artery of Piazza della Frutta, this well-conceived wine bar has good snacks, an extensive list and about 20 wines by the glass, all intelligently chosen. Busy and bustling at aperitivo time, it’s secluded enough from the rowdy crowds of Piazza dei Signori so you can sip your glass in peace.

Bar dei Osei

Piazza Dei Frutti 1

Don’t miss their spritz misto with a mix of Aperol, Campari and Cynar. Use it to wash down a rustic paninetto with porchetta or one of their infamous tramezzini. Popular on weekends. 

Enoteca Il Tira Bouchon

Sotto il Salone 23/24

No matter if you’re here for a round of ombre (goblets of house wine) or a bottle of French bubbles, this rustic enoteca will have you covered–also physically under the stunning vaults of Palazzo della Ragione in case of bad weather. Convivial, unpretentious, perfect for a glass or two or a frugal, standing lunch of bread and salumi.

WHAT TO SEE

Palazzo della Ragione – A mediaeval town hall, market hall and justice palace, this imposing vaulted building separates Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta. The ground floor still hosts a historical food market, while the first floor–also known as Salone–has a magnificent cycle of 14th century frescoes which has been a UNESCO heritage site since 2021.

Palazzo del Bo – The headquarters of Padova University, this Renaissance building is home to the Rectorate and the School of Law, as well as of the oldest Anatomical Theatre in the world. The inner courtyard also acts as a beautiful showcase of historic crests, once belonging to the most powerful families in town. 

Orto Botanico – Founded in 1545 by the Venetian republic, who dominated the city at the time, the Orto Botanico is the world’s oldest academic botanical garden still at its original location. Stroll through the flowerbeds and explore the newly-built greenhouses with the tropical species, and don’t miss Goethe’s palm–the oldest plant in the whole garden.

Cappella degli Scrovegni – Possibly one of the most stunning and well-preserved cycles of pre-Renaissance frescoes (a masterpiece by Giotto di Bondone), this small but impressive chapel is an absolute must-see. The precious lapis lazuli ceiling portraying a starry blue sky is one of a kind, as is the perfectly restored Universal Judgement that covers the inside of the facade. Book ahead as visits are strictly regulated to avoid any damage to the art.

Basilica di Sant’Antonio – Also known as “Il Santo”, this imposing church dates back to the 1200s and has long been a popular destination for pilgrims and catholic worshippers. Stunning inside and out, the church features a series of funerary monuments as well as a reliquary boasting a sequence of statuesque, bejewelled pieces, the most precious of which is believed to contain the tongue of St. Anthony.

Prato della Valle – Measuring more than 90,000 square metres, this elliptical piazza happens to be the largest in Italy. It’s also very beautiful, with its central island, canal system and perfect symmetry. It’s the perfect place for a passeggiata or to check out the weekly markets and monthly antique fairs.

WHERE TO SHOP

The Piazze, the Ghetto, Via del Santo and Via San Francesco are the most beautiful areas in town for artisan products and antiques. From craft leather goods (like the fine, made-to-measure belts produced by Lion on Via Manin) to old books (Libreria ai Due Santi is a standout), you’ll find a host of tiny shops, ateliers and boutiques to explore and dig into for some treasures to take home. 

Lazzari – The best boutique for clothes. Tucked away on a side street of the fashionable Via San Fermo, this beautifully conceived shop features a seasonal collection of curated, unique pieces with a romantic, playful touch. 

Pasticceria Giotto – If there’s one food to take home, it’s the Noce or Giglio del Santo from Pasticceria Giotto, the official retail space of all the sweets produced in the lab set inside Padova’s prison. Aside from the abovementioned classics, here you’ll also find all sorts of buttery biscuits as well as feathery focacce veneziane.

WHERE TO STAY

Castello del Catajo – A stone’s throw from the centre of Padova, conveniently located between the city and the hills, Dimora Arco di Mezzo is a B&B boasting modern-decorated rooms and a convenient kitchenette in case you feel like whipping up a frugal meal after some market hopping. Free bikes means the chance to ride along the canal and take a peek at Castello del Catajo–a patrician palace from 1573–another highlight in the area.

OUT OF TOWN – The Colli Euganei

The drive (or bike ride, if you feel so inclined) from Padova to the Colli Euganei is, in itself, quite the diversion. Steep climbs and descents, verdant slopes combed by rows of vineyards of Glera and Merlot, jujube shrubs, pomegranate and persimmon trees, pointy bell towers and cypresses breaking through the haze: it’s a beautiful change of scenery and a destination that offers many points of interest. And the food is fantastic. Historical institutions feeding the padovani on their Sunday gita fuori porta are still going strong, dishing out a simple, straightforward seasonal cuisine made mostly of game, fresh pasta and seasonal vegetables. 

For lunch, a bowl of bigoli con l’anatra (a long pasta with duck ragout) at La Tavolozza in Torreglia will make for a pretty outstanding meal. Further up, Al Sasso has a slightly more formal atmosphere and a sophisticated menu, in which the true protagonist is, weirdly, their signature fried chicken. Other local highlights also include Da Giona al Pirio (the view here is pretty amazing) and Alla Chiesa, just past Teolo, with its cosy atmosphere and its solid selection of regional classics, from bigoli, to roast rabbit, and from roast fowl to wild mushrooms with polenta. 

If sightseeing is in the plan, the quaint village of Arqua Petrarca is not to be missed, as well as the spectacular Venetian Villa Barbarigo in Valsanzibio, and the imposing Abbazia di Praglia, which is also known for its shop selling delicious preserves, herbal teas and wines. 

Speaking of wine. Moscato Giallo is the golden standard here. An aromatic grape variety that thrives in the volcanic soil of these gentle peaks, it’s commonly vinified as a sweet wine but can also be found in its dry (sparkling or still) version. On the red front, Bordeaux blends dominate the area just like most of the region, producing unique results in this particularly fertile terroir. Of the many producers dotting the gentle peaks of the Euganei, I recommend paying a visit to Monteforche, Farnea, or Maeli, each of which practices a unique, low-intervention approach to winemaking. 

La Folperia

Dalla Zita

Da Nane della Giulia

Uva

Pasticceria Biasetto

Pasticceria Breda

Vini da Severino

All’Ombra della Piazza

Bar dei Osei

Enoteca Il Tira Bouchon

Palazzo della Ragione

Palazzo del Bo

Orto Botanico

Cappella degli Scrovegni

Basilica di Sant’Antonio

Prato della Valle

Libreria ai Due Santi

Lazzari

Pasticceria Giotto

Castello del Catajo

Castello del Catajo

La Tavolozza

Al Sasso

Da Giona al Pirio

Arqua Petrarca

Villa Barbarigo

Abbazia di Praglia