The Colli Euganei are a group of hills of volcanic origin that rise, almost like an archipelago, from the surrounding Venetian plains. The Colli Euganei also constitute the first Regional Park to have been instituted in the Veneto (in 1989).
The area has often been chosen by the Venetian and Paduan nobility to set up their estates, and there are still some outstanding villas like Villa Luvigliano in Torreglia, Villa Duodo in Monselice or Villa Barbarigo in Valsanzibio – the latter home also to a magnificent historic garden (which can be visited).
The toponym "Colli Euganei" has been coined in relatively recent times (between 1200 and 1500), taking inspiration from the Latin adjective Euganeus which, if in origin made a reference to the 'Euganei' (an ancient population that used to be settled in the area before the arrival of the Veneti), was subsequently used as a scholarly term, with the meaning of "padovano" (as in "from Padua").
The Colli Euganei are of volcanic origin, and were created following a series of submarine eruptions, with basaltic lava effusions, during the Eocene, to which followed – during the Oligocene – an activity characterized by viscous magma, which led to the formation of trachyte deposits. These phenomena took place around 30 million years ago.
The flora of the Colli Euganei is characterized by a surprising number of species. The diverse origin and composition of the soil; the rugged, uneven and peculilar morphology of the relief (responsible, amongst other things, of contrasting micro-climates); the relative isolation from other mountain groups, and the alternate climatic vicissitudes – linked to the glacial cycles and the post-glacial period – make the Colli Euganei a complex naturalistic island, where co-exist, in close proximity, both plants typical of hot and arid environments (termophile species), and others with a montane or sub-montane distribution (microterme species). Therefore – on the basis of their nature and soil composition, as well as in consequence of the climatic differencies – one can distinguish the following typologies of vegetal associations:
– Mediterranean Scrub: it is constituted by a thick vegetation, typically with low plants and shrubs, and the dominance of evergreen species, such as Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Rockrose (Cistus sp.), Terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) and Prickly Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). To this type of vegetation is also ascribable Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa), originally from the uplands of Central America, found in areas which are particularly sunny – such as Monte Ceva di Battaglia, the Rocca di Monselice and Monte della Madonna near Teolo.
– Fields and Meadows: these are quite widespread in the southern section of the Colli Euganei, on the calcareous cliffs situated between Valle San Giorgio, Baone and Arquà. The latter locality was renamed Arquà Petrarca in honour of the illustrious 14th century Italian poet and writer Francesco Petrarca, who sojourned here in the last few years of his life. These fields are very arid and almost completely devoid of the humus layer, and derive from the abandonment of pastures and unproductive grounds; these habitats are locally known as "vegri" (described in more detail in the dedicated page on the flora of the Colli Euganei).
In the areas of more recent abandonment, herbaceous species predominate; these are typical of dry climates, such as the plants belonging to the Graminaceae family, while in the areas that have been abandoned for a longer time are recognizable shrubs such as Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Sloe (or Blackthorn; Prunus spinosa), Dogrose (Rosa canina), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana), Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) and Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum), then replaced by Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens), Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) and Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus). In these environments also lives the only species that takes its name from the city of Padova (Padua), Haplophyllum patavinum (or Paduan Rue) – an endemic plant discovered in Arquà Petrarca in 1722, and that finds in the Colli Euganei its westernmost point of growth: this is the only area where it grows in the whole of Italy.
– Chestnut Woodland: it develops on volcanic slopes facing north, on siliceous and deep terrain. The undergrowth is constituted by numerous herbaceous plants, with early blossomings, such as Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), Hellebore (Helleborus sp.), Daffodil (Narcissus sp.) and the rare Martagon- (Lilium martagon) and St. John’s Lily (Lilium bulbiferum) – species typical of more humid climates.
– Termophile Oak Woodland: this formation covers part of the slopes which are exposed to the south, on dry and not very deep soil, with a predominantly calcareous composition. The oak woodland is, by contrast to other plant associations, open and luminous, and it presents itself like a mixed scrub, where Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) is accompanied by Judas’ tree (Cercis siliquastrum), Mediterranean Hackberry (Celtis australis), Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis) and Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria), while the soft undergrowth is rich in humus, and it includes Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Juniper (Juniperus communis) and Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare).
– Locust Thickets: this formation represents a vegetal association which is led by a species that was introduced by man at the beginning of the 1600s. Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), originally used as an ornamental species, comes from the shores of North America and it has, over time, substituted the autochtonous chestnut and oak woodland. Locust thickets include very few other tree and shrub species, such as Elder (Sambucus nigra) and Blackberry (Rubus sp.) – as does the undergrowth, which is empoverished by the intense exploitation of such areas.
The great animals had already disappeared during the antiquity; the fauna of the Colli Euganei is nowadays mostly constituted by small mammals, reptiles, anphibians and birds. Among the carnivorous species are Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Beech Marten (Martes foina), Badger (Meles meles) and Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis); herbivores include European Hare (Lepus europaeus).
Amongst the birds are present Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix), Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). Amongst the reptiles one can observe common species such as Green Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus var. carbonarius), Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and European Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis). Recent is the illegal introduction – on the part of hunters and for hunting purposes – of Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), which are now proliferating and damaging the cultivations, currently the object of a strict plan of control by the Parco Regionale dei Colli Euganei (Colli Euganei Regional Park). Worth noticing, also, is the rare tortoise of the Colli Euganei – an adaptation to this environment of European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis).
The most elevated – and well-known – summit of the Colli Euganei is Monte Venda (601 m), easily identifiable today as it is unfortunately covered in telephone and television masts. Its characteristic conical shape is recognizable from many miles afar, and it is an unmistakable landmark not only from within the district, but also from the surrounding plains of Padua and Vicenza.
The hilly formation of the Colli Euganei is almost entirely comprised within a Parco Regionale (the Colli Euganei Regional Park), which belongs to the Province of Padova – the only exception being the Monte Santo di Lovertino, the Colle di Albettone and the Colle di Lovolo, which represent the westernmost extremity of this group of hills, befalling into the Province of Vicenza.
The Regional Park of the Colli Euganei
Instituted in 1989, the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei (‘Parco Regionale dei Colli Euganei’) extends over 18,694 hectares, thus identifying a vast area of great naturalistic, geologic and historic interest, constituted by a set of hills of volcanic origin formed around 35 million years ago, of which Monte Venda (with its 601 m above sea level) is the highest peak. The morphology is constituted by veritable ‘cones’ with steep slopes (volcanic formations), by elevations with a softer outline (elongated sedimentary formations) and by the alluvial plains that surround the compound.
The geological history of this territory, the peculiar morphology of the relief and the climate favour the presence of a surprising number of vegetal and animal species, and make the Colli Euganei a complex ‘naturalistic island’ where thrive, in close proximity, a vegetation typical of hot and arid climates and habitats characteristic of mountain environments, from Mediterranean scrub to chestnut woodlands; from oak woodland to Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) thickets and meadowlands. Worth mentioning is a precious endemic species, Paduan Rue (Haplophyllum patavinum) – the most important rarity to be found amongst the floral richness of the Colli Euganei.
Each different habitat hosts also a peculiar fauna, amongst which is Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Badger (Meles meles), Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), and the rare Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata).
The varied and articulated landscape and the river courses of the surrounding plains have played an essential role also in regards to the human settlements: the presence of walled towns and ancient monasteries, and the frequency of mansion houses and grand villas all testify to the fact that, since time immemorial, man has inhabited the territory of the Colli Euganei and modified its natural environment.
Inhabited since the Paleolithic, the territory of the Park contains interesting archaeological sites, areas of outstanding naturalistic value and ethnographic museums; inside it, the territory of 15 municipalities unite environmental interest with the suggestions coming from ancient hamlets built in stone, several castles, ‘pievi’ (old churches in Roman style, often exercising some degree of jurisdiction in Medieval times) and literary trails.
Another aspect that characterizes the protected area is the presence of thermal waters (=spas), known and utilized since the 7th century BC. The frequency of spring waters and the uniqueness of the landscape make the four spa towns of the Park (Abano Terme, Montegrotto Terme, Battaglia Terme and Galzignano Terme) among the most important at European level. The territory of the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei can be considered a permanent laboratory in the field of environmental protection and a representative of the “Euganean culture”.
The Regional Park of the Colli Euganei ('Parco Regionale dei Colli Euganei') can also be considered a living entity – not least as 50,000 people live within its perimeter, and as many more within its buffer zone. Among the tasks of this institution, the main one is the protection of the naturalistic, historic and environmental characters of this territory, together with the promotion of the traditional activities and products – whenever these are compatible with the need to protect the natural environment and the historic heritage. Being the Park located in such an anthropic (inhabited) setting, different degrees of protection are being enforced, reflecting a very complex history in which the activities of man have always coexisted within a fragile landscape that has a unique history. Only a selected handful of areas is left to natural development (‘integral reserves’); in the rest of the Park, however, urbanization is strictly controlled.
The Origins of the Park’s Landscape
The Colli Euganei (‘Euganean Hills’) are a group formed by about a hundred hills and hillocks, all of them with a very diverse outlook as for their shapes and height; some are very small, some are actually quite prominent. All in all, they occupy a surface of about 18,695 hectares, with a perimeter which can be brought back to an elliptic shape of around 65 km. Monte Venda (601 m) lies right at the centre of the district, and is the highest elevation in this range of curiously shaped hills, isolated like stranded, upturned ships in the middle of the Venetian plains, only a short distance away from Padua – Veneto’s second largest city.
The geologic history of these hills is as unique and puzzling as their position, and is the result of a complex series of volcanic manifestations dating to the Tertiary period. The first eruptions date back to the Superior Eocene, around 43 million years ago (it is hard to imagine an eruption here today!); volcanism here was of a subterranean type, and the lava – fluid and rich in gases and vapors – expanded rapidly on the sea bed, forming extensive but shallow lava fields. Water and the elevated pressure of the magmatic gases triggered intense explosive phases, during which huge quantities of ash, lapilli, and lava fragments of various size were spewed out; these, once deposited, formed thick layers of tufa rock. After a relatively quiet period of about 10 million years, at the beginning of the Oligocene (around 35 million years ago), there was a decisive reprise in the magmatic phenomena, which for the quantity of material that was expulsed from the earth’s crust represent in fact the moment when the Colli Euganei were born.
The hydrostatic push of the magma – strongly viscous – caused these tufa layers to rise, and fractured in the most diverse ways the ancient sea beds: powerful lava flows were again activated; they then crossed and covered, in part, the ancient volcanic sediments and the basaltic vulcanite, thus producing a series of apparatuses that confer a unique and evocative aspect to the morphology of the Colli Euganei.
These steep hills, resembling cones – similar in all respects to inactive volcanoes – were all born during the course of a single volcanic event, with the accumulation of lava flow on top and in the vicinity of the fracture from which the lava originally came out. Each cone is different from the neighbouring ones, and keeps in its profile and in the ridges and cracks its original outlook – a strong and absolute character, only slightly modified by erosion over the course of millions of years.
A good deal of magma – because of the high viscosity and the relatively low temperatures – did not manage to cross the sea bottom but stopped at a low depth, thus expanding inside the stratification layers of the calcareous rocks that were slowly lifted and raised in dome-shaped structures. In this way, rounded hills were formed, with profiles that link up smoothly with the level of the plains. By the end of this cycle, the more elevated hills had emerged, and formed an archipelago of steep islands in the ancient sea that occupied the area of the current Po plains.
Besides the family of volcanic rocks, the area of the Colli Euganei boasts a deep layer of sedimentary rocks – like the Rosso Ammonitico, which contains various types of ammonite fossils. The ‘Biancone’ and Red Scale (‘Scaglia Rossa’) are also present; the latter is rich in various types of sea urchins and sharks’ tooth. The marl of the Colli Euganei – whose extraction served in the past for the production of cement – and Black Argillite, which comes to light at Cinto Euganeo (and in which a rich pelagic fauna was found), contain one of the most relevant paleonthological finds of their kind in Italy (the uncovered material – together with a rich documentation on the geology of the Colli Euganei – was then taken to the Cava Bomba Museum, where it is displayed in the atmospheric setting of an ancient lime kiln). After emerging from the sea, processes of selective erosion on these hills – that lasted millions of years – have produced a varied and tormented landscape, through the disaggregation and removal of parts of the softer sedimentary layer, thus uncovering the underlying body of original, hard volcanic rocks, in conical – but slender and elegant – shapes.
Climate, Vegetation and Fauna
The main characteristics of the climate of the Colli Euganei are not very different from those of the surrounding plains: modest rainfall and an annual average temperature of 13° C. In general, the climate here is mild; this is demonstrated by the thermal regime of the Colli Euganei, with minor yearly temperature excursions between the hills and the surrounding plains. Minimum (night) temperatures tend to be slightly higher, and if one adds to this the intensity of the solar radiation, this contributes to explain why here one can find Olive trees (Olea europaea), Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Laurel (Laurus nobilis), Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) and other species typical of the Mediterranean maquis – quite an unusual fact at such a northern latitude.
During the winter, especially, one can enjoy splendid, clear days with temperatures a few degrees higher than in the surrounding plains, which are often shrouded in mists; this triggers a phenomenon known as ‘thermal inversion’ that further facilitates the life of a warmth-loving vegetation. On the contrary, during the summer the climate on the hills is fresher and slightly less humid than in the surrounding areas – and this contributes to make the climatic situation of the Colli Euganei particularly pleasant.
These climatic variations are determined by the morphology of the relief, the aspect and the inclination of the slopes; the higher warming is registered on the slopes with a southerly aspect, displaying a degree of steepness of more than 45°. The opposite is true for the slopes exposed to the north or inside particularly narrow valleys, where the quantity of solar radiation is more than a quarter lower in respect to the slopes exposed to the south. Therefore, on the opposite sides of the same hill, very different conditions can be encountered, with diverse micro-climatic environmental conditions: more Mediterranean on the southern slopes, while a montane or sub-montane influence dominates on the slopes exposed to the north (and to the ‘tramontana’ – the cold northerly winds).
The flora of the Colli Euganei – as it is represented schematically in the museum on Monte Gemola – is characterized by the astonishing number of species present. The diverse origin and chemical composition of the soil; the rugged and singular morphology of the relief – responsible for the contrasting micro-climates and biotopes –; the isolation from other mountain groups and the varying circumstances of the events linked with the glacial cycles and the inter-glacial phases – all this contributes to such floral exuberance.
Given the different nature of the soils and the local micro-climatic variations, one can encounter here very diverse plant associations, which can be broadly attributed to five categories (these were already described in more detail above): Mediterranean maquis, where are the very few stations of the endemic Paduan Rue, Haplophyllum patavinum – the most important species in the local floral heritage – plus about 20 species of orchids with the most curious shapes (some bizarre, with splendid colours and shaped like butterflies, bees, wasps, monkeys, small hands); prairies; chestnut woodland; woodland dominated by warmth-loving oaks, and finally locust thickets (these latter tend to take over in the most degraded areas).
While the flora is relatively well preserved, the same cannot be said for the fauna, which was subject – over time – to a substantial impoverishment. Despite this fact, the Colli Euganei still constitute a very diverse environment for their fauna. Among the small insectivore mammals are Common Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), European Mole (Talpa europaea) and Shrew; among the rodents, Fat Dormouse (Glis glis) and Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius); Fox(Vulpes vulpes) and Badger (Meles meles) are also present.
The reptiles count several Saurs; some species of Lizard (Common- and Green-, Lacerta viridis) can be found in the sunnier and drier spots, while Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) prefers fresher and damper locations. Among the snakes, Green Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) is present with the black variety; less common is Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus). Quite frequent are also Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata; Viper (Vipera berus) is regularly reported in the more elevated and tranquil locations.
In terms of amphibians, the wetlands host several small frogs, Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and the rarer Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata), as well as European Green Toad (Bufo viridis). In some biotopes of stagnating water live Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris) and Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris); Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) is also present – especially in the undergrowth, in the vicinity of springs and in the smaller water courses.
During the winter months, the woodland hosts several bird species, such as Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos), Redwing (Turdus iliacus) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris), while among the low-growing vegetation can be observed Wren (Troglodytes sp.), European Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) and several species of Tit. In spring other species arrive; amongst them are Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus), Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) and Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus); some species of Finch – such as European Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis –, Eurasian Siskin (Spinus spinus) and the majestic Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) are present all year round. In the fields it is relatively easy to spot the Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) and European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus): the latter is a crepuscular bird that nests on the ground, which – when in flight – resembles a small falcon.
The day-time birds of prey are well represented by Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo); Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) is also present, as well as Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) – and sometimes even Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo). More recently, the nesting presence of Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) has confirmed the naturalistic potentiality of the Colli Euganei for their fauna. Among the night-time birds of prey, it is possible to spot Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo), Barn Owl (Tyto alba) and Tawny Owl (Strix aluco).
Among the numerous invertebrates – some of which are endemic – it is worth remembering the one with the biggest dimensions, River Shrimp (Macrobrachium sp.): a large crustacean about 20 cm in length, once actively sought after by the locals as a culinary delicacy, and for that reason now localized only in selected sections of the least accessible and cleanest water courses – most notably in the central belt of the Colli Euganei.
Since a few years, Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) has also made its comeback in great numbers in the Colli Euganei, where it is causing much damage – but it is worth remembering that this large animal was reintroduced by man for hunting purposes.
The spa waters of the Colli Euganei were already known in Roman times. The chemical analysis have established that these waters are of meteoric origin in nature, and reach the soil in an area situated at an average height of 1,500 metres, in a montane belt individuated within the territory of the Piccole Dolomiti (the ‘Small Dolomites’ – i.e. the area of Recoaro, Valdagno and Monte Pasubio in the province of Vicenza). Here the waters begin their descent inside a system of faults (cracks) within the sedimentary rocks, and given the normal inner heat of the earth they constantly rise in temperature and radioactivity as they go along. They are then charged with various salts that dissolve the more soluble minerals present in the rock layers that are being met and crossed along the way.
The presence of thermo-mineral water in the Euganean hills can be attributed to the obstacle that is created in the depths by the lava masses and to a series of fractures that favour the quick rise of water, pushed up by hydraulic pressure inside the entire subterranean basin. In the hottest springs and wells – which can reach 87° C – the diluted mineral substances are in the order of 56 g/l. The more common chemical elements are sodium, potassium, chlorine, magnesium, sulphur, bromine, iodine and silica. This spa water is fundamental for the preparation, in dedicated pools, of mineral mud – the most characteristic element of this thermal area, obtained from the spontaneous mineralization of particular microscopic algae.
The waters of the Colli Euganei – and the unique landscape of these hills – make the four spa towns of Abano, Montegrotto, Galzignano and Battaglia Terme among the most important in all of Europe.
The Products of the Park
The most ancient cultivations in the territory of the Colli Euganei Regional Park are mainly vineyard and olive (grown for the oil); to them can be associated woodland products such as chestnut, wild strawberry and spontaneous herbs. The typical produce of this area possess – besides the characteristics of origin and the geographical location (as well as an 'evocative' value which owes them their commercial success, now even more so than in the past) – the certifications of quality given to local productions country-wide (IGP, DOC).
The wines of the Colli Euganei present a vast range that can be successfully combined with many dishes. Famous are also the local cheeses – some of which are aromatized with herbs. As for the other traditional produce, the choice falls easily on honey – from de-toxing Acacia to rich Chestnut; from energizing ‘Millefiori’ (‘thousand flowers’) to the tonic and balsamic ‘melata ’(‘apple-like honey’).
Cherries are present with numerous varieties – at least six –, amongst which are the ‘marasche’ (sour cherries), which are also used as the basic ingredient for a renowned local liqueur (‘Maraschino’). Among other notable local products are to be mentioned peas, especially the type grown in Arquà Petrarca (a town famous also for its medlar production) – particularly sweet and characterized by small, pale pods, which also ripen early.
Olive – cultivated in several, but very localized, districts of the Veneto – is unique in the Colli Euganei for its peculiar association with Almond (Prunus dulcis), Fig (Ficus carica), ‘Jujube’ berries (Ziziphus jujuba) and Pomegranate (Punica granatum). The extra-virgin olive oil which is obtained here is a high quality production that only comes in small batches, and it has a very distinctive, sweet flavor resembling fruits and herbs in the palate, recalling also autumn scents and allowing clever combinations with other local products and dishes. Perpetuating an ancient tradition, this small but sophisticated olive oil production is awaiting recognition as an IGP ('Protected Geographic Indication').
Environmental Education and Guided Tours
Since its institution, the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei is actively involved in the promotion of cultural and didactic activities, and in the production of free-time services. The Environmental Education Office offers a rich and diversified range of activities and events for getting to know and live this territory in a conscious way, by deepening the knowledge of its traditions and history.
‘Casa Marina’ (described below), at the foothills of Monte Venda, is a structure belonging to the Park equipped as a Visitor Centre and Environmental Education facility, where didactic laboratories take place, as well as residential courses for schools and groups interested in experiencing Nature. In its surroundings there is also a small botanic garden, displaying some of the most representative species for the local flora (also described in a dedicated page; see link).
The House of the Park ‘Casa Marina’ and Monte Venda
The village of Galzignano Terme is situated in the middle of a wide valley, at the base of the south-eastern slopes of Monte Rua (416 m), at the border between the Val Cingolina and the ‘calto’ Pavajon. It is one of the four spa centres of the Colli Euganei. Worth mentioning, in the territory of Galzignano Terme, is the Historic Garden of Villa Barbarigo, at the bottom of a small valley in Valsanzibio – a successful example of ‘Italian Garden’ with wonderful ancient trees, delightful paths filled with allegorical statues, water games (‘jeux d’eau’) and a renowned maze. The nearby lovely wetland reserve of Cà Demia is a very interesting site of ornithological interest.
‘Casa Marina’ is situated in a strategic position in the middle of the Euganean Hills, at the foot of Monte Venda (601 m), in one of the park’s most stunning areas, and right below the old ruins of the Olivetani Monastery. The building of ‘Casa Marina’, which is managed by the Park Authority, is a traditional farmhouse converted into the Nature Education Centre of the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei – a place where you can come to know more about the surrounding environment, the local flora and fauna, the history and the human activities, and is also the starting point of various paths in this area of the Colli Euganei. ‘Casa Marina’ is a hostel, Visitor Centre, educational Library and the Park’s Documentation centre; it also hosts a laboratory of Natural History and an observatory, and it is well equipped to welcome schools, groups and disabled. The grounds can also be used as campsite on request.
Monte Venda Trail. This path starts from ‘Casa Marina’; along the route, you will be able to enjoy beautiful views, cross old chestnut woodlands with some ancient, majestic specimens of ‘maronari’ (fruiting chestnuts), pass a small pond which forms after heavy rain, with Poplar (Populus sp.), European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and the remains of an old charcoal-burning site. Distance: 5 km – Difference in altitude: 50 m – Mean walking time: 3 hours – Degree of difficulty: none; suitable also for the disabled – Best season: spring, autumn.
“G. Lorenzoni Trail” on Monte Venda. The starting point for this panoramic path is also ‘Casa Marina’; along the northern flank of the mountain a short, steep climb leads to a fork: there, you can choose between a short alternative route which will take you to the ruins of the Olivetani Monastery – originally a hermitage, then converted into a Benedictine Monastery in 1229 – or continue on the naturalistic path. Distance: 6 km – Difference in altitude: 250 m – Mean walking time: 4 hours (5 hours including the detour to the ruins of the Olivetani Monastery) – Degree of difficulty: some stretches are difficult and require attention; this path is suitable for people with at least some walking experience – Best season: spring, winter.
Monte Venda Trail
The name of this small mountain derives from a Celtic-Gaelic root vindos-, meaning ‘white’, ‘beautiful’.
The first part of the trail on Monte Venda (601 m) crosses a section where one can notice a characteristic outcrop of Euganean marl – the most recent sedimentary rock among those present in the Colli Euganei (about 40-45 million years ago), of a strong clayey nature. Interspersed with this, are large veins of volcanic rock (trachyte) that cross the mountain from the north to the south-east, while the rest of the trail is mostly on volcanic soil, where rhyolite prevails. Worth mentioning, also – on the southern slope of Monte Venda – is an enormous landslide of natural origin.
The Monte Venda Trail crosses environments with distinct micro-climatic conditions. The south-facing side is characterized by termophile formations that can be attributed to Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) scrub, with Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) and Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), as well as Sub-Mediterranean maquis with the presence of Sage-leaved Rockrose (Cistus salviifolius), Prickly Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) and Clustered Broom (Cytisus hirsutus).
Over the ridge that separates Monte Venda from Monte Vendevolo, Chestnut (Castanea sativa) takes over and strongly conditions the woodland, which can thus be defined as “chestnut woodland on magmatic soils”. Worth noticing, also – in the area of the so-called ‘Castagneti di Baderla’ (Baderla chestnut groves) – is a depression in the terrain where, during the rainy season, an ephemeral small lake forms that conditions the vegetation composition, with Poplar (Populus sp.), European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and, in the area of the ex-rhyolite quarry, the presence of a rarity for this area – namely Whitebeam (Sorbus aria).
Worth mentioning is Boletus aereus, also known under the name of ‘Black Bolete’ – an edible mushroom of a brownish-black colour, with a pleasant smell and sweet taste. It prefers sparse, mixed woodland composed of oak and chestnut. Interesting, also, is Lepista inversa – a toadstool with variable yellow-orange-brownish colour, widespread in humid and shady woodland under broadleaved tree species.
Monte Venda, thanks to the presence of different habitats, hosts numerous animal species. In particular, along the trail, it will be relatively easy to spot birds – such as European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) – rather than bumping into animals that tend to come out only in the evening or at night, like Beech Marten (Martes foina), Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) and Fat Dormouse (Glis glis). In the fresher locations, it is also possible to spot Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and other small amphibians. The ground level is dominated by many invertebrates such as Common Snail (Helix pomatia) and reptiles like European Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis), Green Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus var. carbonarius), Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and the rarer, more elusive Viper (Vipera aspis).
History and Art
The ancient inhabitants of Monte Venda and of the surrounding territory have left numerous traces on the land; some of them – like the ruins of the Olivetani Monastery – are immediately visible; some others have to be discovered amongst the folds of the rocks, the shapes of the land and place names. A boundary marker stone dating to the Roman age – over which is carved a Latin inscription – sets forth the ancient subdivision of the Colli Euganei district between ‘Agro patavino’ (the area under the jurisdiction of Padua) and ‘Agro estense’ (jurisdiction of Este), and is currently being conserved in the “Museo Nazionale Atestino” (National Archaeological Museum) in Este. Another evident trace of the unity between man and its environment is constituted by the remnants of charcoal kilns, set up for the producton of sweet charcoal and identifiable in the numerous clearings where the earth still conserves a blackish colour.
The Landscape and the Views
From the Chiesetta degli Alpini (the small chapel of the Alpini) towards Rifugio Re del Venda, it is possible to admire the nearby summit of Eremo di Monte Rua (416 m), and – along the trail – one can also see the peaks of the main ‘mountains’ of the Colli Euganei, amongst which are Monte Fasolo (301 m), Monte Cecilia (199 m), Monte Cero (409 m) and Castello di Calaone (316 m).
From the car park next to the Eremo di Monte Rua (Monte Rua Hermitage) one can walk along the walls of the ancient religious building, and thus enjoy a 360° panorama around the region. The area of Monte Rua is described in more detail below.
It is possible, too, to climb to Monte Rua from the village of Baone, from where several other trails start, which also offer wide views – while the roundtrip of Monte Cecilia allows the visit of the ruins of the castle located on its summit. Monte Cecilia, despite its modest height, represents a magnificent terrace opened on the Venetian plains and the surrounding hills of the Colli Euganei, such as Monte Ricco (330 m), Monte Castello di Calaone (316 m), Monte Venda (601 m), Monte Lozzo (324 m), Monte Cero (409 m), the towns of Este and Monselice, the village of Calaone and several others.
The Area of Monte Rua
The ridge of Monte Rua (416 m) forms a natural divide for the vegetation, which consequently features completely different characteristics on the two sides. The sunnier southern slopes of this hill allow typical Mediterranean flora to grow, displaying an abundant presence of Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) and Sage-leaved Rockrose (Cistus salviifolius), while in the undergrowth we find different plants belonging to the Caryophyllaceae (Pink) family, with scented flowers – such as Carthusian Pink (Dianthus carthusianorum), Fringed Pink (Dianthus monspessulanus) and Rock Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides).
The cooler northern side displays an almost exclusive presence of Chestnut tree populations (Castanea sativa), together with Elder (Sambucus nigra), Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Hazel (Corylus avellana). We find a particularly important presence of several glacial relics, with valuable species that include Silver Birch (Betula pendula), the small Alpine Barrenwort (Epimedium alpinum) and Beech (Fagus sylvatica). In particular, the latter manages to reach the upper limits of the slope on this side of the hill, where it mixes in an extraordinary way with the higher line reached by the Mediterranean flora present on the other side (exposed to the south), thus forming a unique cohabitation of its kind, with a mixture of vegetation typical of marine coastlines and species found in the Alps and Alpine foothills.
In the cool undergrowth of chestnut trees, where several sites experience continuous percolation of moisture, we find one of the most precious species present in the territory of the Euganean hills: Belgian Gagea (Gagea spathacea). Traces of this plant were only re-discovered a few years ago: it had disappeared in 1895 – the same year when it was recorded for the first time by Adriano Fiori, a botanist from Modena (read the page on the flora of the Colli Euganei). Its importance is emphasized by its inclusion in the Red List, which contains all the species that are at risk of extinction in Italy.
From the summer season until the following winter, many trees and shrubs in the different habitats of the Colli Euganei show themselves full of berries and fruits – all very different in terms of colours and shapes. Some of these – such as Chestnut and wild Blackberry (Rubus sp.) – are known to man for their use as food, but many others represent a fundamental source of nourishment for animals, which – by feeding on them – contribute to the dispersal of the seeds that are contained within the fruits.
In the undergrowth of chestnut woodlands, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) produces red fruits which are very appreciated by birds – in particular Thrush (Turdus sp.) – and by some rodents such as Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), Fat Dormouse (Glis glis) and European Mole (Talpa europaea). Also quite sought after are the fruits of Medlar (Mespilus germanica) and the drupes of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), while carefully avoided are the acidic berries of Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and the poisonous berries of European Spindle (Euonymus europaeus), as well as the elliptic drupes of Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus).
Inside the woodland formations dominated by Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens), one can notice – inside the thickets of Dogrose (Rosa canina) – the red fruits, technically called cinorrhods and commonly known as rosehip, which are sought after by rodents and birds after the sweetening of their pulp, prompted by frost; equally appreciated are the pear-shaped fruits of Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis), Sloe (or Blackthorn; Prunus spinosa) and Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana), as well the dark berries of Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), which – however – are toxic to humans.
Where the south-facing woodlands slope down into the Mediterranean scrub, Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) dominates: this is an evergreen shrub or small tree, whose edible fruits – of a bright orange-red colour – stand out among the green foliage in winter, appearing at the same time as the white blossoms. The red, poisonous berries of Black Bryony (Dioscorea communis) – a climbing herb – can also be seen trailing down trees at the end of the vegetative season, still firmly attached to the branches.
At the margins of the Mediterranean scrub and in the grass clearings appears – often forming impenetrable thickets – wild Blackberry (Rubus sp.), which gives out sweet purple fruits ideal to make jams and in fruit salads. More defiled, one can also find Juniper (Juniperus communis), a shrubby conifer whose aromatic minute cones – also of a deep violet colour – appear on the branches of female plants. In the field hedges, and at the margin of cultivations, grows spontaneously Chinese Lantern (or Bladder Cherry; Physalis alkekengi) – with bright orange edible berries contained inside a papery husk of the same colour, and with a very characteristic, unmistakable shape. Near it, one can find an ‘invasive’ species which has long made itself at home in the Colli Euganei, American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), whose dark purple berries are not edible to humans, but are very much appreciated by Blackbird and Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Equally sought after by birds – but not edible to humans – are the dark, blackish berries of Common Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), which grows in coppice woods and at the woodlands’ margins. In the fresher locations, the sweet, juicy fruits of Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) sometimes make their appearance too.