David Powell spent a week on the luxury barge La Bella Vita cruising the Italian Renaissance from Venice to Mantua in considerable style!
Wednesday, we’ve been on La Bella Vita for 3 days and definitely no mid-week blues for me. It’s a beautiful sunny morning and I’m on the top deck early today. I pop into the wheelhouse and after a quick chat with Captain Roger I take in the breathtaking views as we make our way along Italy’s River Po. Cruising on a luxury barge is totally relaxing and with so much to see and do it’s the perfect way to spend a week making friends and creating wonderful memories. But let’s start at the beginning of this European Waterways cruise from Venice via the Venetian Lagoon, Chioggia, the Po Valley, Bianco Canal, Ferrara to Mantua … a truly magical Italian experience.
After an early morning flight from London to Marco Polo airport in Venice we make our way to the Hotel Laguna Palace just a short taxi ride. From here we are picked up at 2.30pm for our transfer to the barge by private chauffeured mini bus. Cruise Director Giulia, our guide for the week and deckhand Dario introduce themselves and Dario loads our luggage into the mini bus, from now on it’s luxury all the way! My wife and I introduce ourselves to friendly fellow guests and then after a short journey we spot La Bella Vita for the first time moored just outside the city of Venice. As our luggage is safely placed in our stateroom we enjoy a lovely prosecco welcome and meet the crew of 8: Captain Roger, 2nd Captain Andrea, deckhand Dario, the two onboard chefs Andrea and Leonardo, Maître Francesca, Hostess Leonyja and Cruise Director Giulia. We are getting on well with our fellow guests, we’re a small group from the U.K., America and Australia, all looking forward to a week’s cruising, exploring and enjoying the all inclusive fine food and wines!
La Bella Vita is a stylish 20-passenger vessel with a typically modern Italian interior offering a high standard of comfortable, fully air-conditioned accommodation. There are 2 upper deck suites and 8 lower deck staterooms. All cabins are en-suite and have a closet with drawer, storage space under the bed, reading lights, a mirror and safe. The 8 staterooms have large picture windows whilst the 2 suites have a Juliet balcony. There’s a bright and very spacious dining room and a lovely lounge/bar area with books, games and a piano. Outside on top is a huge sundeck with sun canopies and comfortable sun loungers to view the wonderful scenery. There’s also a spa pool to enjoy and 10 bicycles which can be used on certain days depending on La Bella Vita’s location.
Another prosecco or two and we set sail along the Giudecca Canal for the short cruise into the heart of Venice. What a start … imagine seeing the most famous Venetian monuments from the river and then mooring near the Naval Museum alongside private luxurious yachts. From here it’s just a short walk to St Marks Square, past the Gondolas, the white limestone Bridge of Sighs to the fabulous Doge’s Palace where a private guided tour has been arranged by Giulia. Our group also take in the sights of St Marks Square some of us enjoying an ice-cream and then it’s a stroll back to La Bella Vita for the first of our wonderful dinners freshly prepared onboard with regional specialties, red and white wines, dessert and cheeseboard. Drinks included in the cruise are non-alcoholic beverages, tea and coffee, whilst the well stocked bar is open 24 hours which includes wines, spirits, beers and soft drinks. There’s the opportunity to stroll into Venice again after dinner although after a nightcap we all decide to retire to our staterooms to be ready for the following days activities, which have been outlined by Giulia.
As Giulia said, no day is the same on this cruise itinerary and whilst a walking tour of Venice was planned, she realised that the majority of guests had been in Venice for at least a couple of days already so she asked if we would prefer to visit the Murano glass factory. A resounding yes and soon we are being whisked by a lovely teak finished private taxi boat to the nearby island of Murano. Here we enjoy a private tour seeing how Murano glass is produced first hand. Six showrooms are packed with hundreds of pieces of superb outstanding Murano glass items ranging in price from 10 euros to thousands. As my wife said, mind your backpack!
Returning to La Bella Vita and following lunch onboard, we say goodbye to Venice and set off along the Venice lagoon to the pretty town of Pellestrina our mooring for the night. Before dinner we work off a few calories with a bike ride along the footpath near the sea wall, there’s very little traffic to worry about. Next up its pre-dinner drinks at a local restaurant and bar. Dinner that night was another masterpiece by Andrea, asparagus carbonara, braised quail with sultana spinach, an Italian cheese and a selection of white and red wines.
This cruise is already full of amazing experiences and Tuesday is no exception as we sail into Chiogga, transfer to a small traditional boat for a tour of Chioggia’s pretty canals. We catch up with Andrea at the colourful fish market and our group happily helps him choose fresh fish and seafood. On our return to La Bella Vita we start cruising along the River Po.
If I asked where would you find a flock of pink flamingo’s I doubt if Italy would feature very highly in the answers, but pink flamingo’s we certainly found as we cruised near a nature reserve. Captain Roger stopped for us to take photos as we head up river to Taglio di Po enjoying sensational views on the way. Here we stop for the night and a special dinner has been arranged ashore at the beautiful 17th Century Villa Ca’Zen, a huge private stately home close to the river where Lord Byron courted the Countess Giuccioli and wrote some of his best poetry. We were hosted by the owners of this magnificent building welcomed with prosecco and canapés, a tour of the gardens and chapel followed by a wonderful dinner.
Now it’s Wednesday, back where I started, cruising the River Po and it’s truly spectacular. Later that morning we leave the Po and enter the Bianco canal via a lock where a friendly herd of goats come running to greet us! After a fabulous morning of cruising and lunch featuring the fish we chose at the market, we head off to the 17th Century Bagnoli estate where a private tour of the Renaissance gardens and wine cellars has been arranged. Wine tasting of the renowned estate-grown vintages goes down well. Following dinner that night there’s a lively and very funny surprise show laid on and a delightful night is enjoyed by all.
There’s a saying, when you are enjoying life time races by and this was certainly the case on La Bella Vita. Already it’s Thursday and we visit the Renaissance city of Ferrara where a guided tour has been arranged including a view of the 14th Century Estense Castle with its moat, marble balconies and the fabulous 15th Century frescoes at Schifanoia Palace. After lunch onboard we cruise again past lovely villages and farmsteads arriving at Governolo for the night. The dinner menu is Lasagne alla Bolognese, grilled beef, oregano potato puree, buttered baby carrots followed by Goloxessi cookies and a superb selection of wines … Andrea has again excelled himself.
The weather has been wonderful all week and Friday is the same, a beautiful day for our final cruise. There are several low bridges on our route and the crew has to dismantle the sun deck canopy. Andrea the 2nd captain makes sure we all keep our heads down and then we arrive at the captivating lakeside setting of Mantua. We have free time and a guided tour of the 14th Century Ducal Palace. Tonight it’s the Captain’s farewell party where the crew joins us for a fabulous night; we all agree what a super cruise this has been.
This was truly a unique and fabulous experience cruising the Italian Renaissance from Venice through the waterways to the lakes surrounding Mantua. Highlights include the breathtaking landscapes, experiencing the history and local culture, outstanding food and wine and exceptional friendly service from all of the wonderful crew from start to finish. My wife and I loved every minute and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend La Bella Vita … this is luxury cruising at its best!
European Waterways offer luxury hotel barging along the canals and waterways of Europe.
Prices for a 6-night cruise aboard the 20-passenger La Bella Vita start at £2,890 per person and include all gourmet meals, fine wines, an open bar for the duration of the cruise, daily escorted excursions, admissions, and private transfers at either end of the cruise. Full barge charters are also available for families and groups.
For more details call Europen Waterways on 01753 598555 or visit europeanwaterways.com.