‘Uno dei piu bei borghi d’italia’ is a promising sign that heralds many of Italy’s most beautiful towns. Near us at Bagni di Lucca, for example, we have places like Barga and Coreglia Antelminelli on the list.
Some days ago a RAI television programme called ‘i borghi dei borghi’ i.e. ‘the pick of the best towns’ started a count-down keeping us all in suspense as one fabulous location succeeded another for top accolade. Astonishing hilltop villages in Calabria, extraordinary seaside locations in Campania were all featured but first prize went to a borgo in Friuli.
As it happened we found ourselves near the second prize winner, Arqua Petrarca, which is a little to the south of Padua. Nestled in the lovely Euganean hills, a range of extinct volcanoes which are the subject of one of Shelley’s most memorable poems, we fully concurred in the charms of this ‘second prize’ borgo.
Divided into upper and lower town the town’s major claim to fame is that one of Italy’s trio of greatest writers, Petrarch (the other two are Dante and Boccaccio, if you weren’t sure), found his dream house, happy retirement and final resting place here.
Petrarch, who has equal fame as one of the renaissance’s greatest classical scholars, poured out his love for his ideal woman, Laura, in sonnets which remain unequalled and were probably known by Shakespeare himself. It was a magically moving moment when I saw the the tomb of the author of ‘il canzoniere’ in front of the town’s parish church. Inside the building the local priest was leading the recital of the rosary to a handful of devotees in perfect peace.
This peacefulness accompanied us as we walked from the lower to the upper part of the borgo admiring ever more breath-taking views of the countryside.
At the top of the town was a little square surrounded by gothic buildings and the town hall. We followed the signs indicating Petrarch’s house and were soon walking in a sweet garden surrounding the villa the poet had specially adapted. The first floor rooms were decorated with quaint antique frescoes depicting scenes and metaphors from the poems including one where Francesco finds himself changed into a swan. These were all well explained by display boards. There was even the poet’s chair. I wonder what happened to his desk?
On the ground floor a film gave us an insight into Petrarch’s professional life and peregrinations. He was truly an international figure in those times.
Returning to the car-park at the foot of the town’s hill location we passed a few shops and bars on the way selling the characteristic local liqueur made out of giuggoli, a local fruit looking a bit like a cross between a cherry and a large raisin and one of the most enticing ‘digestivi’ we have ever tasted.
Arqua Petrarca was a welcome stop on our own Italian peregrinations. It was great to have the place practically to ourselves and enjoy the quietness and peace which was so attractive to Petrarch.
In less than a week we’d paid homage to the resting places of two great Italian poets (the previous week we were with Dante in Ravenna) and Boccaccio’s town, Certaldo, we’d explored on a previous visit. Truly an inspirational hat-trick!