Lispida: a Castle, a King and a Mermaid

Il castello di Lispida sorge sulle pendici dell’omonimo colle nel Comune di Monselici, in Veneto ed è un complesso di edifici risalenti alla fine del XVIII secolo. La proprietà è circondata da un paesaggio idilliaco che comprende una vasta tenuta costituita da boschi,  vigneti e uliveti ed un piccolo lago termale alimentato da sorgenti calde. Il luogo ha una lunga storia, che precede l’acquisto della proprietà e la costruzione della dimora voluta dai conti Corinaldi negli ultimi anni del 1700. La villa, infatti, nasce dalla trasformazione di un antico complesso monastico con chiesa annessa e fu successivamente trasformata in una importante azienda agricola, dotata di imponenti cantine destinate alla produzione di vini. Oggi, il Castello di Lispida ospita al suo interno anche alcuni appartamenti destinati alla ricettività turistica e mette a disposizione gli antichi edifici e l’ampio parco per feste ed eventi privati.

The Veneto is full of hidden gems: castles, villas, unexpected vistas, great art. It is here that yet another castle is tucked away in an idyllic setting in the Euganean Hills less than an hour from Venice (15 km south of Padova) and with a fascinating story to tell.

Lispida Castle and its vineyards date from the middle ages when it was an Augustinian monastery. In 1485, Doge Mocenigo confiscated the property from the monks “…so that the vines, the olives and the fields are not abandoned, are sown and cultivated at the right times, and the stones from the hill are sent to us regularly.” At the end of the 18th century, the Corinaldi family built a villa there and began producing wine on a grand scale. The extensive cellars are the largest in the Veneto (2000 sq. m.) and can be visited on weekends while tasting the prize-winning wine which matures in amphorae. In the heat of the summer, it’s very pleasant to sit just inside the cave-like entrance and look out across the park where there are often hoopoes with exotic plumage hopping around on their annual holiday from Africa.

The castle itself became historically important during WWI when it was used as the home of King Vittorio Emmanuel lll and, as a result, was temporarily known as the Villa Italia. It was chosen for its site, with a hill directly behind to give protection from potential enemy bombers. The present owner of the castle, Alessandro Sgaravatti, offered an interesting little fact of the King. The King was very small. Being titular head of the national army, this was an embarrassment because he didn’t meet the minimum height requirement for a soldier. They had to lower the required height from 1’54 to 1’50 and gave him the nickname Sciaboletta, a short sword.

Only one piece of furniture remains from its time as a royal residence, a chair, which is rather ordinary, according to Alessandro, and is still regularly used.

Restoration of the castle began in 1986 after several decades when the estate was only used for wine production and a golf course, which failed. In 2000, the conversion to apartments was completed and renting began, although Alessandro pointed out that he still has a plan to convert the one remaining tower. He derives great pleasure from designing and furnishing his luxury flats and this extends to other deluxe properties to rent in Venice, Arqua Petrarca and an enormous up-market camp site, Cavallino, at Lido di Jesolo.

Problems arise managing an estate of this nature. One of which is controlling the wild boar which are protected from hunting at present although their numbers are dangerously high. As it is forbidden to shoot them, gunshots scare them away at dusk. The notice to guests explains it all.

Now, surrounded by fields of asparagus and vineyards, Lispida Castle is fully restored and converted into 8 luxury apartments which seem to attract families from all over Europe judging by the car registrations in the car park. As well as woodland and cycle tracks, there is a large park, a vegetable garden where guests can help themselves, a small playground, two hot tubs, and a thermal swimming pool in the former limonaio.

The naturally hot water typical of this volcanic region can also be found in the small lake on the other side of the hill from the castle. Currently the lake isn’t used, but there are plans to develop new ways of using the mud for treatment, as well as to create an upscale camp site on the surrounding lake shore. There is a legend attached to this lake which explains the curative properties of the local hot mud.

One night, two centuries ago, Count Manfredo dei Monticelli (incidentally the name of the neighbouring village with a good trattoria!) who suffered from extremely painful limbs, went to this lake with the intention of putting an end to his suffering by drowning. He was sorrowfully gazing at the dark water when a mermaid emerged and asked him why he seemed so unhappy when he was surrounded by so much beauty. He confided in her about his unbearable pains and she slipped back under the water, only to resurface moments later with her hands full of hot black mud which she spread over his body while singing a siren song. They spent several nights together before she swam to Venice. However, the King of the Fauns had to punish the mermaid for consorting with a human, so he changed her into a woman – but she had no soul. Sadly, she wandered about trying to find one and went to the Basilica of Sant’Antonio in Padua to pray. A voice told her that her lover would share half his soul with her and they lived happily ever after.

From that time, so they say, Euganean mud has been the “Best Mud in Italy” and cures countless ailments.

I am indebted to Alessandro Sgaravatti for information about the castle, and to Patricia Guy (“The Venetian Hills”) for the story of the mermaid. My book “The Best Mud in Italy” is available on Amazon.