When people talk about the Po estuary it usually conjures up images of a flat, boring landscape. Well, that couldn’t be more wrong: the Po delta has a wealth of rice fields, stunning natural landscapes and Renaissance art treasures, including several UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Trips to the Po delta start from Chioggia, a pretty little town in the Veneto region (you could make the most of this by including to Venice cruise on your itinerary). First stop: Adria, located in a natural conservation area. The town got its name because it was once the main point of access to the Adriatic. But the first really outstanding place you’ll visit is Mantua, a city close to Virgil’s birthplace. It lies in the heart of Lombardy and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2008, thanks to its stunning Renaissance architecture. From the small lake just outside the city walls you get an amazing view of the Ducal Palace, which dates from the 14th-17th centuries. You can then visit some of the enormous rooms in the palace and stand in awe in the Bridal Chamber (“Camera degli Sposi”), which is covered in trompe l’œil frescoes that give a 3-D illusion. In the city, there’s something to see on every corner: a church, basilica or palace… there’s also great ice cream here, like the gelato sold at the Gelateria Loggetta, one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Once you’ve left Mantua and passed through the little town of Castelmassa, you can stop in Ferrara, another jewel of the Renaissance, which is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the birthplace of the composer Frescobaldi. If you take a tour of the Castello d’Este, an imposing red brick castle, and then visit the magnificent San Giorgio cathedral, you’ll get a fascinating insight into the history of Italy. The Palazzo de la Ragione might remind you of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, with its impressive colonnades. Make sure you try a pasticcio, a macaroni pie with a pastry lid, which is a speciality of the Ca’d’Frara restaurant. It’s a must! Before you leave to return to the Locaboat base in Chioggia, be sure to stop off in Boccasette, in the heart of the Po Delta regional park. It sits on a lovely lagoon, facing the Adriatic.