Venice has often been compared to the figure of a mother, welcoming and warm but sometimes oppressive. We are less than 55,000 residents and we all know each other, whenever we go out of the house we meet friends and acquaintances, therefore it becomes sometimes essential to hop on a train and cross the Liberty bridge to refresh our mind! A lovely and very well known town close to Venice is Padua and it's today's destination.
SANTA LUCIA STATION - PADUA
Take a regional train (possibly a fast one - these are the RV trains) and in about 30 minutes you will reach Padua's station. The view from the Liberty bridge is something incredible, on your right the lagoon and the mountains at near distance, on your left the harbour and Porto Marghera, the industrial centre. Once past Mestre, countryside: green and yellowish fields, crops and towns.
When you arrive in Padua, cross the road and take Corso Popolo on the right and before entering Corso Garibaldi, stop to look at the Piovego canal.
SCROVEGNI CHAPEL & CHURCH OF THE EREMITANI
On your left, a park, the Scrovegni Chapel and, a little further on, the Church of Eremitani. If you intend visiting Giotto's frescoes, I highly suggest booking in advance (be aware that you must book at least 24 hours prior to your visit and that it is not possible to book for the same day, the ticket costs 13 euros, for more info and reservations click HERE). The experience is absolutely worth it and has something magical, thus if you have the possibility...do it!
Next to the chapel, there is a one nave Augustian church dating back to the 13th century, which had been originally dedicated to the Saints Phili and James, but has become known as of the Eremitani from the annexed ex monastery, now municipal art gallery. It used to be completely covered with frescoes, of which today we only see some fragments. Simple and magical, try to find the time for a quick visit (free admission).
PIAZZA DELLE ERBE
Proceed towards the centre trying not to get too distracted by the many fancy shops that run along Viale Garibaldi. You will reach Piazza delle Erbe, which was once, together with Piazza della Frutta, the commercial centre of the city. If you go during the week you can enjoy a visit to the central market, full of fruit and veg stalls in the piazza and with beautiful butchers, grocers', bakers' and cheese shops under the porticos. It is one of the biggest markets in Italy, so don't miss the chance to see it and try as much food as possible!
There are lots of options for lunch and dinner, some of my favourites in that area are All' Anfora and La Vecchia Enoteca for traditional food and Locanda Peccatorum for budget eats. We wanted to stay on a budget so we opted for Peccatorum and enjoyed two craft beers, a dish of pasta very similar to bigoi in salsa (with an anchovy and onion sauce), a spelt salad with feta, tomatoes and olives and a side of seasonal vegetables. If you just want to snack, I recommend trying their meatballs with mustard and mint!
WANDER THROUGH PADUA'S ALLEYS
The true beauty of Padua lies in its alleys and its panoramic angles. Wandering through its streets, with beautiful porticos and cobblestone pavements, is at the same time intriguing and enthralling. I could easily imagine setting a crime story in this town (in fact one of my favourite crime story author is Massimo Carlotto, from Padua! See his books in English HERE).
Anyway, don't feel scared, the city is actually quite safe and very well kept and clean, people go around the centre mostly using their bikes and generally it's a place buzzing with life. From September to May it's crowded with university students, while in summer the city is much calmer and almost empty.
The centre -inside the walls- is not that big, so just follow your instinct and go where your senses take you! You can't miss the famous Cathedral, built following the Edict of Milan (313 AD), which is seat of the bishop of Padua and contains important relics like the bodies of Saints such as Daniele, Leonino and Gregorio Barbarigo.
If you are into music, movies, old disks and record players, a mandatory stop is VENTITRE, not even two minutes from the Cathedral, a super cool shop where you can spend hours looking through all the disks, movies and records on offer (at dirt cheap prices!).
TOWARDS THE SPECOLA ALONG THE BACCHIGLIONE RIVER
From the shop, proceed straight on until you cross the Bacchiglione River. The view is very relaxing, the old buildings that run along the river, with their pastel and slightly faded colours, the trees, the tower and other historical buildings add beauty to the whole atmosphere and this is one of my preferred walks.
After the bridge, take your left and walk under the frescoed porticos. Now only a few fragments can be admired, yet I find them beautiful...
On the right, some benches overlooking the river. My advice: bring a book and enjoy the sound of the water that flows slowly. Definitely regenerating!
From there you can proceed straight on, stop to take some nice pictures at the first bridge
and then continue until you see La Specola, seat of the ancient astronomical observatory of the University of Padua. Beautiful...
PRATO DELLA VALLE AND CHURCH OF SANT'ANTONIO
Since you are in Padua, you really must visit Prato della Valle, the largest square in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, symbol of the city, with a green island called Memmia at its centre and two orders of statues representing important Italian historical figures.
A few minutes from there, the most representative church of the city: the Church of Sant'Antonio, one of the biggest in the world, visited every year by about 6,5 millions of people, containing the body and tomb of the Saint.
I highly recommend to visit Padua and other historical towns in the mainland. Consider that in the summer months during the weekend Venice becomes overcrowded with day trippers, so it could be a good idea to explore these cities during the day -more peaceful and relaxed and rich in history and art- and return to Venice the same evening. Enjoy!
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