Padua, Italy

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A few reasons why you might want to check out Padua, Italy.

Where: Padua stands along the Bacchiglione River between Verona and Venice.

Why: The setting for Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and home of the best-preserved Giotto frescoes, Padua is one of northern Italy's prettiest towns, with arcaded streets, grand piazzas, and a famous university.

Top Outing: A city-center walking tour starts at the Basilica di Sant'Antonio, a towering, Byzantine-style edifice topped with domes and cupolas. Founded in 1222, the University of Padua counts Galileo among former faculty and boasts a 16th-century botanical garden. Advance reservations allow access to the original anatomy theater and a peek at Galileo's desk. Reservations are essential for Cappella degli Scrovegni, where Giotto's 38-panel fresco chronicling the lives of Mary and Jesus covers the walls from floor to ceiling. At nightfall, cuddling lovers congregate around the elliptical-shaped Prato della Valle, one of Europe's largest public spaces. Its surrounding canal is ringed with statues of famous artists, philosophers, and politicians.

Also Worth a Look: Explore the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei's 15 villages. Well-marked hiking and biking routes lead through the area's ancient oak and chestnut forests past medieval fortresses, monasteries, vineyards, and Venetian villas. Soak in the warm waters of the Terme Euganei spa, see the medieval hamlet that inspired Petrarch's final verses, or watch the annual Palio horse race.

Where to Eat: Osteria del Capo has typical Veneto cuisine. The official address is Via degli Obizzi 2, but it's easier to find if you just go down Via dei Soncin, a narrow street directly across the piazza from the front of the Duomo. Across from the university, Caff Pedrocchi has been a meeting place for artists, students, and intellectuals since 1831.

Tasty Bite: Local specialties include gallina padovana: native chicken and risotto with erbe dei colli (wild local herbs).

Where to Stay: BB Suite nel Castello, an 11th-century castle turned bed-and-breakfast is a few miles southwest of town. In the city center, Hotel Al Fagiano has clean, air-conditioned rooms decorated with exuberant art created by the cheerful proprietress.

When to Go: Padua is least crowded and has the best weather in spring and fall.

How to Get There: Trains arrive in Padua from Venice and Florence, but most visitors get there by automobile. Exit the A4 Autostrada at Padova Est and follow signs to the old town center.

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