La Bella Vita
Charlotte Pearson embarks on a river cruise and finds the sweet life in Italy.
If ever a boat was aptly named it would be La Bella Vita.
After experiencing all it has to offer you are given a taste of Italy’s beautiful life, making it more difficult to return to normality afterwards.
The 140-foot barge is luxurious with its boat deck, sitting area and dining room, while the rooms provide a place to rest.
Our cruise started in Mantua where on the Sunday we were greeted with a Prosecco welcome and a range of delightful treats.
From the start my friend Gemma and I knew this was not a holiday for anyone watching their waistline.
Each day we were greeted with a spread for breakfast which included pancakes, fruit and cereals.
At lunch, two days we had a buffet of local delicacies or three fantastic courses prepared by chef Andrea, and each dinner consisted of four courses – including primi, pasta, secondi (usually a meat or fish dish) and then dolci.
Each serving reawakened the senses with a range of taste sensations.
One day it was a fantastic asparagus soup with poached quail egg and Parma ham twist, another day it was lasagna which made me think again about anything from the supermarket freezer aisle, while later that week it was gnocchi so light it melted in the mouth.
It got to the point that all the guests would excitedly chat, guessing what delights could be on the menu.
We waited with baited breath each day as Andrea explained what he had prepared for us.
Each course was also matched with an accompanying wine.
But there is so much more to this Italian classic cruise than just the food as it takes you to places you probably would never discover on your own.
Our first full day was spent in Mantua, once home to the poet Virgil and artists Mantegna and Donatello.
As we walked with our guide we found out all about the powerful Gonzaga family who used to rule it and got to admire the neo-classical and baroque architecture.
Mantua is referenced in Dante’s Divine Comedy and so is Governolo, where we moored one night. A place that you probably wouldn’t think to stop at unless you wanted to explore its disused lock.
Each day we cruised down the River Po enjoying the sights around us.
For anyone concerned with the motion of the boat it was something that during the trip I personally did not notice.
The only time we felt the boat rock was when docked in Venice as in the lagoon the huge cruise ships are tugged through creating mild waves, but otherwise it was a peaceful, relaxing trip.
There is so much to see and do but you don’t have to worry about a thing. At each place a tour guide is there ready to take you around revealing the hidden secrets and stories.
And not having to worry applies to being on the barge where the crew will take care of your every want and need, providing a drink before you even realise you are thirsty or placing a plate of biscuits in front of you as you pour your first cup of tea.
On day three we went on a guided tour of the Renaissance city of Ferrara with its spectacular cathedral dedicated to Saint George.
Italy is the perfect place to explore and see the fantastic architecture and artwork that graces the walls and ceilings of churches and cathedrals and the one in Ferrara was another perfect example.
Midweek we were able to enjoy a double treat.
In the morning we sampled the liquid gold of wine and sparkling wine produced on the Dominio di Bagnoli estate.
This was followed in the evening with dinner ashore at the stunning 17th century Villa Ca’Zen.
A private family owned stately home where it is reported Lord Byron courted the Countess Guccioli and wrote Stanzas to the Po about her.
On the Thursday we visited Chioggia and explored the market, including the vibrant fish stalls which have everything from eels to prawns and everything in between.
And before we knew it, it was our last day and we were cruising into the captivating city of Venice.
Gemma and I had never been before and we couldn’t contain our excitement.
Embarking on to shore we were given a guided tour of The Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace, where we discovered how the famous Bridge of Sighs got its name.
When criminals were sentenced at the palace they were guided to the cells over the bridge and were given their final look of their beloved city usually sighing in the process.
Crossing it myself I could see why, having spent just a day exploring we were both truly under the city’s spell.
After the tour we were given free time in which we treated ourselves to a gondola ride as well as visiting numerous mask shops to find the best ones to take home.
On the final night all the guests joined together to share our stories of the day and enjoy our last meal with the captain Rudy.
The crew and staff, from tour leader Isabella to deck hand Mattia, dining steward Aurelio and hostess Ivana, all made it an unforgettable trip and made you feel at home the moment you stepped on board.
The whole voyage was truly magical and showed me a side of Italy that I hope to one day explore again.
We flew from London Gatwick to Venice and were collected from the designated pick up point of NH Laguna Palace Hotel Venice which you can reach from Marco Polo airport via water taxi or taxi.
Cruises either start in Mantua and end in Venice or vice versa.
Prices for a six night cruise aboard ‘La Bella Vita’ are from £2,290pp in a twin/double en-suite cabin, including all meals, wines, an open bar, excursions and local transfers.
We stayed in the Boldini twin room.
Charters are also available.
European Waterways: Tel: 01753 598555 Website: www.gobarging.com
Video provided by European Waterways
Pictures by Charlotte Pearson
July 23, 2014 Travel and Lifestyle