Stanzas To The Po
“River! that floweth by the antient walls where dwells the lady of my love!”
The young seducer, Lord Byron, had to escape from London because of his salacious lifestyle. Only in Venice could he had found a refuge; in the centre well-known for its lewd parties and ambiguous sense of morals.
Countess Teresa Gamba was only 18 years old when she married sixty-year-old Casaliccia. The ambassador owned a “half” of the lagoon and when he heard what his frivolous wife was doing behind his back with Byron, he had no choice but to send her to Tenuta Ca Zen. The villa was in the middle of the swamp at the mouth of the Po River, infested by malaria mosquitos, which was then rather far away from Venice. That presented no obstacle for the bold Byron who moved in with his Teresa. Subsequently, in that villa he wrote one of his poems – “Stanzas to the Po”.
This small detail from the literary history books best describes the experience of the Renaissance and history in conjunction with the ultimate gastronomy. A cruise trip on rivers and canals on the vessel Mary. The cruise through canals and time has a memorable name – La Bella Vita (Eng. “Beautiful Life”). The name which truthfully describes such an experience. A beautiful, pleasant and hedonistic life that lasted for, unfortunately, only seven days realistically depicts lifestyle in Renaissance towns along the banks of the river Po.
Many people know Italy well. They have visited Venice, Rome and Florence; however, this trip is completely different from all others. There are no crowds, hustles and bustles, cars, blocked roads or parking quests. Cruises are for those who know what they want and are able to pay for it.
Our cruise started in Venice. No matter how many times I have been to Venice – La Serenissima has always been pleasant to the eye. The first night the vessel was anchored just across the Danieli hotel. After the “day” tourists leave the city sometime after 16 o’clock, Venice becomes cosy, so the first dinner overlooking the canals and high towers became a unique experience.
Special attention was placed on food and wine. Lunches and dinners were created by Chef Andrea Chin, who is especially dedicated to appreciating selected types of wine from the region.
It would be an understatement to say that each of us drank only one bottle of wine per day, given that we had tastings of several types of wine with each food serving. The food was extremely well balanced, so there was no feeling of being overstuffed.
Although we ate three times a day, we did not gain weight. Numerous excursions were also organized. In addition to the vessel, two vans were at our disposal for excursions to some of the most beautiful Renaissance cities – Ferrara and Mantua.
After Venice, the vessel sailed between the islands in the Venice Lagoon. We docked on a very exotic island of Pellestrina, which is 13 kilometres long and only 200 meters wide. The middle of the island is crossed by a road and a high wall. The island has a sandy beach directed towards the open sea and there are four beautiful fishing spots towards the lagoon. The island is connected by a ferry boat with Venice. Tourism is not a priority there, which has helped it to keep its old charm. Being on the island we, of course, grabbed an Aperol at the local inn.
Exiting the lagoon, we stopped by Chioggia, a small town 500 years older than Venice and the centre of its fishing industry. The town has one of the richest fish markets I have ever seen.
That day ended with a spectacular dinner at the Villa Tenuta Ca Zen – the one I mentioned at the beginning of this story. The Villa’s today’s landlord is one Irishwoman who has inherited the estate from her late husband. The Villa functions through agritourism and there exists the possibility of renting out its rooms. It seems like a museum. In the surrounding gardens of the Villa you find a private chapel and a large swimming pool for guests.
It was very interesting to visit the archaeological museum in the town of Adria, after which Adriatic sea was named. The history of the town Adria begins before the arrival of the Greeks in the 8th century BC. The whole town seems like a museum that teaches us about the Illyrians and later conquests on this side of the Adriatic. We also visited the 17th century winery in Villa Widmann – Boletti.
During the last two days of our cruise, we visited the beautiful Renaissance cities of Ferrara and Mantua. It is hard to say which one is more beautiful. At the peaks of their greatest glory and fortune, they were competitors, both in art investments and in luxurious lifestyles embroidered by intrigues and struggles for power.
The Gonzaga family from Mantua was particularly successful in that. Their successful manoeuvring lasted for more than 500 years until they were finally forced to sell all the artwork and treasures that today make permanent exhibition items in many of the world museums.
In Mantua, we came across the Oldtimers car rally – the Gran Prix Nuvolari. The collections of the precious cars were presented as if portrait paintings in the museum. They paraded as witnesses of past times across the main square and through the narrow streets and the banks of the lake. It was all in keeping with the status of the grand palace of the Gonzaga family, which long ago lost its valuable art collections.
The Mary vessel is 140 feet long and has three decks. Eight cabins and rooms for the crew members are located on the lower deck. The middle deck contains two suite cabins, a restaurant, a bar and the vessel’s command room. The tables are placed on the roof alongside sunbeds, lounge and a dozen bicycles.
All indoor areas are air-conditioned. Wi-Fi is available. The price includes all meals, excursions, tickets and there are no extra charges. A recommended tip is 5% of the amount spent per traveller. Cruises are scheduled every week from Venice or Mantua. River Cruise in Italy is a great experience.
Luxury Hotel Barge Cruises – European Waterways
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