On Your Way to Padova
There are several expressions to refer to Padova, a city in North-East Italy, around 30 kilometres from Venice, perhaps best known abroad as Padua.
A saint that has no name
Padova is often addressed to as the city of the saint with no name, referring to the fact that the local patron, Saint Anthony, is simply called “the Saint”, with no need to mention his name.
A meadow that has no grass
Padova is called the city of the meadow with no grass. It is Prato della Valle: not a meadow or a valley, but a square, actually the largest in Italy and one of the biggest in Europe. Actually, there is some grass in it, only a limited area (the Isola Memmia), but to call it a lawn or meadow is a little excessive.
A café that has no doors
Padova is also the city of the café with no doors. The connection is to the historical Caffè Pedrocchi, right in city’s centre, that used to be open day and night (a custom that went on until the WW1).
These are local traditions belonging to the city’s history which goes really back in time, up to the 12thcentury, when Antenor, a Trojan prince, led his people from ancient Anatolia to Italy founding Patavium. His alleged stone sarcophagus can still be seen in the city.
If you are visiting Padova, you cannot miss to go and see Prato della Valle, the aforementioned square: a huge elliptical area surrounded by a water channel and over 70 statues portraying influential people related with the city’s past. Right in the centre of the square, you will find a beautiful circular fountain, in the so-called Isola Memmia.
If you can, try and go there on Saturday when the local market is held: you will experience an authentic moment of local daily life and surely you will end up buying a cute souvenir.
To tell you the truth, Prato della Valle is delightful 7 days a week both in summer, when lots of people take a stroll, do some jogging or skating and simply relax on a bench, and in winter (you should see the square wrapped in fog or covered with snow: priceless!).
An anti-conformistic pizza
Just round the corner from Prato della Valle, you will have the amazing chance to taste one of the most appreciated pizzas in town.
It is not a traditional pizza, though; it is actually much smaller than what you would probably expect (locals refer to them as pizzette, namely “little pizzas”). However, it is not, I would say, a matter of size, but rather of deliciousness, therefore absolutely to try.
It is not a proper restaurant, but a tiny take-away with only few seats: it is named Orsucci and represents one of the city’s symbols, dating back to 1922.
Tip: If you go there, just arm yourself with tons of patience as the place is always packed.
Address: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 18
A hidden gem
Let’s move on now to something much less famous than Prato della Valle, but absolutely delightful. Again, it is a square, but not as large as the previous: it is Piazzetta San Nicolò (piazzetta, just like pizzetta, means “little piazza”). You will have to look for it, as it lies almost hidden between Piazza dei Signori and Teatro Verdi. The piazzetta includes a homonymous church where wealthy local spouses celebrate their wedding.
Tip: Go there and just enjoy the peace and quiet of the place.
The Jewish ghetto
Like many other Italian cities, Padova has its own Jewish ghetto and a synagogue dating to 1584 which is still used nowadays.
Apart from the religious and social meaning, the ghetto is definitely one of the most beautiful and lively areas in Padova, an appreciated meeting place for the thousands of students attending the city’s University. Late in the afternoon, the area is packed with young people enjoying the aperitif time in the several wine bars and taverns scattered around.
Just a couple of minutes’ walk from the ghetto, Piazza delle Erbe (the one with the big fountain), Piazza della Frutta (the one with the folparo) and Piazza dei Signori (the one with the watch tower) are 3 other places where local people like to relax in the evening while enjoying a fresh aperitif or having a light snack.
One of the top restaurants in town
Within this golden triangle, you will find some of the best restaurants of Padova. I am particularly fond of a place called L’Anfora where I spent most of my youth. It is mainly an excellent restaurant where you can taste some of the most genuine recipes of the Veneto tradition. Also, it is an excellent wine bar, ideal if you like to enjoy some noble red and white wines.
A great example of street food
The so-called folparo (which I’ve mentioned above) deserves a couple of lines to fully appreciate it. It is a very good example of local food street (which is so in auge now). Basically, it is a movable kiosk that has been serving delicious boiled octopuses and other sea food for years. Since I was a kid, I remember the kiosk was there and can be rightly be considered one of the city’s symbols. Next to it, another Padova symbol: the so-called Salone, a great hall under the Palazzo della Ragione, between Piazza della Frutta and Piazza delle Erbe, a sort of indoor market for food shopping and good aperitifs.
Where to sleep
Being from Padova, I never needed a hotel, of course. Honestly, I would not be able to recommend any hotels in my own city, although I know many of them by name. I’ve recently heard positive comments on the Belludi37, a very central hotel next to the Basilica of Saint Anthony: also, prices are quite expensive, considering the location.
So, what I suggest to friends and acquaintances when they want to come and visit Padova is to search for the best deals on the internet, browsing at least 3 or 4 main booking sites such as Venere and Hotelsclick.com, both of them born in Italy, or the biggest brands like Booking and Expedia.
There is also a youth hostel, which is known to be very convenient.
How to get to Padova
Unfortunately, Padova does not have a civilian airport (actually, there is one, but it is used exclusively for commercial purposes). Venice and Treviso are the closest ones.
The city provides good connections with other regions in Italy and other countries in Europe thanks to relatively new high speed trains (which tend to be more expensive than the regional lines though). Trenitalia is the main train operator in Italy.
Ending in style
Perhaps, not even locals know that Padova has an astronomical observatory, La Specola, that remained in use up to 1930s. The tower was erected in the 9th century A.D. As a defensive building, but was later used as a prison and for torture.
The area around La Specola is indeed one of most beautiful parts of Padova resembling a little Venice with peaceful channels and astonishing old palaces overlooking them.
Tip: In Riviera Tiso 11 you will find one of top restaurants in North Italy, I am afraid one of the most expensive too: Ai Navigli.