The meal was indescribably delicious, the service was impeccable, the wines were sublimely matched. The soft elegant setting adorned with fresh flowers and classical music was one where we could have stayed forever. Stefania, the attractive and attentive owner of Ristorante Belle Parti was floored when I told her how we found her. “Do you know who the woman with the basset hounds is?” “Not a clue” I replied. “Rabarama is Italy’s most famous living artist. Her sculptures and paintings sell for as much as $400,000. It was she who sent you here”. I promised Stefania that I would tell all our friends and readers how I came to experience some of the best Italian food ever in one of my favorite cities to boot.
Later that evening when we joined the rest of our gang, I shared the day’s events with my friend Stephanie Oswald, CNN Travel reporter and the editor of Travel Girl Magazine. The next day Steph led her own small group to Saint Anthony’s and for lunch at Belle Parti. It turned out to be the highlight of everyone's Italy trip. It would be wonderfully self serving if I could tell you that Parker Villas has villas and apartments in Padova. Not yet. You will have to get there without my direct intercession for now. However, if you stop by Saint Anthony’s, something wonderful may happen to you as well.
Every time I set foot in Padova - Padua in English - something truly wonderful happens, and it always begins with a visit to Saint Anthony's Basilica. St. Anthony is a miracle maker and champion of lost causes. I can attest to the former and often think I’m the latter. Throughout the years I've visited the basilica with family, devout Jews, protestants, agnostics and the occasional atheist. The result is always the same. Everyone is somehow transformed. There is a palpable force there that transcends religion and touches everyone.
After guiding my companions through the rite of touching Anthony’s “warm” marble tomb, obtaining a blessing from a friar in a tiny alcove halfway up the right hand side (a friar is always there) and depositing a petitioner’s candle in the altar bin for use during services, we stepped out into the pleasant November sun and strolled a few blocks into the pedestrian heart of this ancient university town. Shops, cafes, artisan studios, lots of Italians and countless students populate narrow lanes that open into gorgeous piazzas. By 1 pm, we were famished and craving a special kind of lunch, one where service, food and ambiance ruled, and then it happened...
The day before, I had spotted two stout basset hounds while sipping thick, creamy delicious hot chocolate at Caffe Pedrocchi and now, they were shuffling by once again. I beckoned my companions to wait and ran after these somewhat obvious denizens of Padova and their master. My question was simple: “Hello. I’m sorry to disturb you. I’m an American here with friends. I noticed your hounds yesterday and figured you might be a local. I was hoping you could suggest a restaurant filled with wonderful food and ambiance?” At the other end of the leash, beneath a wide brimmed hat stood a classic Italian beauty draped in a plaid mantle and partially hidden behind sunglasses larger than espresso saucers. She regarded me for a second and in a soft, velvet tone asked: “Do you really seek excellent food and a perfect atmosphere?” “Yes” I pleaded. She gave me explicit instructions on fulfilling our quest. Her final words were: “You will know you are there by the young blond woman that greets you, I’m sure it will be to your liking.”