Italy has a seemingly endless supply of world-famous landmarks, from the canals of Venice to the leaning tower of Pisa, from the Roman Forum to the Ponte Vecchio of Florence. But in addition to these internationally-recognised attractions, Italy is brimming with hidden gems – secret gardens, quiet lagoons, and stunning, classic villas. |
One of the best ways to discover Italy’s lesser-known wonders is by taking a barge holiday down one of Italy’s many scenic waterways. The country’s longest river, the Po, is an excellent place to start.
The River Po
The majestic River Po sweeps across northern Italy, flowing through such important cities as Turin, Ferrara, and Milan. On its eastern end, the river branches into a wide delta before emptying into the Adriatic Sea. The Po delta comprises a wide swath of wetlands, forests, and dunes, and abounds with an impressive range of flora and fauna. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the Po River Delta is a popular place for horseback riding and bird watching.
On a barge holiday along the River Po one might get a chance to see some of the old and stately villas that sprinkle the countryside along the Po’s banks. One such villa is Ca’Zen, a salmon-pink edifice nestled in 300 acres of lush fields and forests. Built by a wealthy Venetian Patrician family in the 18th century, Ca’Zen has been beautifully restored and is now open to guests and events such as concerts and weddings. Travellers on a barge holiday also have the option to stop at the villa for a meal before continuing down the river.
Ca’Zen’s colourful history only adds to its appeal. In the early 1800s, the villa was owned the aristocratic Guicciolis from Ravenna. Count Alessandro Guiccioli married his third wife, Countess Teresa Guiccioli, when he was 67 and she only 19. Three days after the wedding, the young countess made the acquaintance of the English poet Lord Byron. It was the beginning of a love affair that was to last several years.
When the Count discovered the affair, he banished his wife to Ca’Zen, which was in those days in a state of considerable disrepair. The Count ordered Teresa, while at Ca’Zen, to “rise early, spend little time on your appearance, go nowhere and see no one”. Teresa replied that she would “Rise when I wish, dress as I want, and visit and see wherever I choose.”
Teresa was true to her word. Isolated in the Italian countryside, Ca’Zen became the secret love nest of the Countess and Lord Byron between 1818 and 1820. From Ca’Zen, Byron completed his famous Don Juan and Stanzas on the Po. Without Ca’Zen, literature may have been robbed of some of Byron’s most beautiful lines.
A barge holiday is the perfect opportunity to discover some of Italy’s riverside gems. As you cruise through the Italian countryside with comfortable on-board accommodation and a knowledgeable guide, prepare to experience the romantic backdrop of one of history’s most famous love stories.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holiday experiences in Italy, France, and other great destinations in Europe. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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