The Euganean Hills, about which Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote so beautifully:
Beneath is spread like a green sea
The waveless plain of Lombardy,
Bounded by the vaporous air,
Islanded by cities fair;
Underneath Day’s azure eyes
Ocean’s nursling, Venice lies
Living in the Veneto area of Italy among the Euganean Hills, or Colli Euganei as they are known in Italian, is incredibly tranquil. During the week it is so quiet you could hear a pin drop. All is silent except for the birds tweeting love songs to one another from the treetops.
Weekends are quite another matter, however, as hundreds of Italian cyclists – of both the pedal and motor variety – and car enthusiasts take to the Hills in their droves. It’s not unusual to see a group of twenty or more Harley-Davidson riders cruise majestically past my front gate, resplendent in black leather.
Vintage car rally drivers – last week it was tiny Fiats – also love to take their colourful vehicles around the high, winding roads.
The cyclists are truly a sight to behold. Clad in colourful head-to-toe Lycra and safety-helmets, with oiled, baby-smooth legs and arms, they cruise by crying “Buongiorno!” in unison. I am regularly overcome by the cloud of cologne and testosterone that is left hanging in the air as they pedal effortlessly past.
Four seasons have passed quickly and it is now more than a year since I arrived to take up residence in Italy. The leaves have returned to the vines, the cherry blossoms are falling like confetti, the sun is shining warmly and I can hear the tolling bells from the little church in Faedo as I write.
Looking back over the past year, I realise that the wonderful fruits that grow here in Colli Euganei are given celebrity status. April saw the picking of wild asparagus. May saw the cherries being picked, while in June we gorged on delicious purple figs.
September rolled around with the grape harvest, which was the best of fun. The little road that runs past my house was a hive of activity with tractors pulling trailers piled high with grapes on their way to the cantina in the nearby town of Vo to begin the magical process of converting them to wine.
November dawned cool and clear with the olive harvest and I was able to sample – straight from a giant tap – the thickest, greenest and tastiest freshly pressed olive oil imaginable.
Winter saw no snow, but quite a bit of rain over the first couple of months of 2014. And, of course, the ubiquitous fog spent many days lying over my house like a thick blanket.
Now it is spring again in Colli Euganei. On these sunny mornings, I walk steeply uphill on a narrow track past the little wire-haired Dachshund who can bark, wag his tail, lick my hand and wriggle on his back all at the same time. A multi-tasking doggie for sure! I then head through the vineyards and olive groves with my dad’s old riding crop at the ready to protect myself from any wild hogs that might take exception to my presence. Ca Lustra, the biggest local winery, is at the top of the rise surrounded by many rolling hectares of grape vines, all showing off their brand new leaves to a backdrop of rolling hills. The ditches are wonderfully colourful; full of buttercups, poppies, marigolds and more.
My own garden is taking shape too. A year is a short time in terms of my new jasmine hedging and the baby wisteria that are now looking quite at home on top of my pergola and gate posts; but my climbing roses are beginning to make their presence felt and it will not be too long before my glamorous neighbour will be able to sunbathe in privacy at the weekends once more!
Colli Euganei has the beautiful cities of Venice, Padova, Vicenza, Verona, Bologna and Ferrara within easy reach. The medieval town of Este, with its bustling Saturday market and huge piazza, is right there on my doorstep and I can be parked under the walls of its eponymous castle within ten minutes of leaving home.
Yet these mellow, green hills retain a quiet presence as they stand guard over the Venetian plains.