On your first trip to Italy you no doubt made stops in Rome, Florence and Venice with possible side trips that included Siena, San Gimignano, Verona and Padua. The second time through you likely found time for any combination of Sicily, Puglia, Amalfi Coast, Naples, Cinque Terre, Milan, Lake Como, Turin and Genoa. The third trip you did what you missed on the second.
Ah, but what to do on that fourth trip? Do you go back to Venice because, well, it’s Venice? Do you return to Milan because you didn’t reserve the last time around to see Leonardo’s Last Supper? Do you go to Turin and Genoa, two gems in Italy’s northwest, because they didn’t quite squeeze into your second or third trips?
Here’s a suggestion – the Po river delta just south of Venice.
The Po, Italy’s longest river, is altogether unspectacular when compared with its peers. It’s only the 15th longest river in Europe and doesn’t even crack the top 200 in the world. At 650 kilometers it’s only a sixth as long as the Volga, Europe’s longest river, and yet the Po has a certain dignity as it flows southeast from its source on the slopes of Monviso in Piedmont near the French border. It cuts through Turin, the once-industrial and now reborn pseudo-French city, then forms the border between several regions as it works its way down to Veneto before dumping out into the Adriatic Sea south of Venice.
There where the river hits the sea creating a massive five-pronged delta is not the most stunning of places, especially when you consider all the natural and man-made beauties Italy has to offer, but it’s picturesque, relaxing and conducive to that sort of inner contemplation one so rarely has the time to indulge in. After the contemplation there are nice biking and walking opportunities.
On a recent weekend trip to Porto Tolle on the Veneto side of the delta, which also occupies part of Emilia-Romagna to the south, I found time for a boat trip along two arms of the Po, a visit to a museum exalting the work through the centuries that has kept parts of the delta dry and livable, and the aforementioned biking.
While at the delta I stayed at La Presa, a terrific agriturismo where I’ll certainly be returning. That’s saying a lot because Italy is filled with many nice agriturismi (I’ve been to dozens) that are okay for a weekend, but are not places you’re really dying to return to. La Presa is worth the return. The food is terrific, the place is bucolic on the banks of the Po and the owner is actually nice and smiley, a rarity for the majority of Italian small business owners who missed the bulletin informing them the only chance they have of beating the big chains is by offering friendly, personalized service.
With the Po delta so close to Venice, one could combine the two as part of that return trip to the Serenissima. Between the delta and Venice is Chioggia, a small town at the southern edge of the Venetian lagoon that makes for a perfect spot to have lunch and a walk while working your way through the area on your fourth trip to Italy.