A final-year Italian essay title asked me to define Italy; whether 150 years after its unification, Italy can be considered a united country or just a collection of different regions under one title is debateable. Having spent ten months living in and travelling around the country, I am confident that my answer will be the latter. Every city in every region has a particular character – its own delicious food, individual culture and unique history. Veneto, one of the most well known regions in Italy, is full of some of the country’s most famous cities; it was there that I spent my year in Padua.
Padua is a beautiful, medieval city located about 35km outside of touristy Venice. Home to Italy’s second oldest university, where Galileo once taught, the city is always crowded with students and tourists off to explore one of the city’s many attractions, especially in the summer months.
Starting at the historic centre, we find Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel. Built and decorated in 1305, it has Renaissance frescoes to rival the Sistine Chapel. If you get the chance to visit, make sure to book your student ticket in advance and arrive on time for your twenty-minute session inside.
From here, you can hop on a tram (or go by foot or bike, as many locals prefer to do) further into town to St Anthony’s Basilica, another Renaissance site not to be missed. The entrance is free and always full of pilgrims, nuns and tourists admiring the stunning art and architecture.
Prato della Valle, Europe’s biggest piazza, is located directly opposite the basilica and is worth a visit for its stunning setting and impressive statues that encircle it. Alternatively, it serves as a great place to sit in the sun and enjoy your ice cream.
If you get thirsty dodging manically-driven vespas and want a refreshment after a hard morning’s site-seeing, twenty metres down a cobbled street from the Basilica is Enoteca del Santo which, although seemingly rundown with an ancient wooden bar that seems ready to break, you can order a great selection of wines by the glass, along with a cheese or meat platter for a very good price. The Veneto region is where Italy’s prosecco is produced so be sure to try a locally produced bottle.
Not in the mood for wine? Carry on down the cobbled streets to one of Padua’s three main piazzas, which are bustling on weekday mornings with market stalls, and order a spritz, another local favourite made of Prosecco, Aperol and soda water. Just off Piazza dei Signori, you can find Café Numero 21, which has outside seating on the piazza. If you go between 6-8pm, you can enjoy a free buffet with your spritz including cheese, olives and pizza (on a good day!)
The neighbouring Piazza delle Erbe holds the city’s biggest student party every Wednesday night. From 10pm, thousands of students crowd into the piazza to drink wine from the bottle before heading to a disco at about 1am.
If a big meal sounds more appealing than an alcohol-fuelled night-out, head to Anafora in the old and stunningly beautiful ‘ghetto’ area. This restaurant changes its menu every night and offers typical regional food alongside an extensive wine list. Be sure to book early to avoid disappointment, as it gets full quickly of loud, red wine drinking Italians.
A good three or four days is enough to fully explore Padua, but if you have a few days spare, there are some beautiful cities in the surrounding area, including Bassano del Grappa, the home of Grappa, and San Martino’s ski slopes, Vincenza and Verona.
However, the fact that Padua allows to me spend long hot afternoons sat in a piazza, prosecco in hand, surrounded by such beautiful buildings, makes it very hard to leave behind.