Itinerary

Italy: Bike and Barge

From Venice to Mantua / From Mantua to Venice

8 days / 7 nights | Ships Ave Maria, Vita Pugna |  Guided/self-guided bike tours

Blending nature, culture and fine cuisine, this leisurely bike and barge tour along the waterways of the River Po offers more than just a taster of Northern Italy. It explores celebrated cities of art, one of Europe's prime Nature Reserves and a wealth of tucked-away rural hamlets along the route, rewarding our daily rides with authentic regional dishes back on board. From the glory of Venice, the lagoon leads us to colourful Chioggia. Next up, the natural wonders of the Po Delta, famed for its birdlife. Then Adria, once a key Roman port, and onwards to Ferrara and Mantua – once major city states crowned by the Italian Renaissance.

Route profile: Easy
Total length: 190/205 km
Total vertical up: 20 m
Terrain: 95% tarmac, 5% unpaved

Summary: this cycling tour is largely along the flats of the Po plains, and the daily stages vary from 25 to 55 km – mostly on tarmac cycle paths along rivers and canals, or quiet country roads. The barge is moored at night and typically sets sail after breakfast, meeting up with the bikes in the afternoon. Some parts of the itinerary are undertaken by barge, to allow easier access onto cycling paths or simply to enjoy the cruise.
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Itinerary from Venice to Mantua

Day 1: Venice

We welcome you aboard your new home-from-home from 4.30 p.m. onwards, and then regroup for the introductory briefing – at 6.30 – with your tour leader, skipper and crew, along with a first refreshing aperitivo. After dinner we can savour Venice at night, now free of the crowds and at her most romantic: Benvenuti a Venezia

Day 2: Venice 

After breakfast – and perhaps following a wander off the beaten track with your tour leader – we all meet up with our Venetian guide for a tour through the historic centre. Christened La Serenissima ("The Most Serene"), the Venetian Republic held sway over much of the Mediterranean (and beyond) for centuries – both as a military power and a beacon of culture. The guided tour will start from Piazza San Marco with a brief description of the monuments around it; then the walk
continues towards the biggest “sestiere” of the city, Castello, up to Campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo with its imposing gothic church and the Scuola Grande di San Marco (today city hospital). The guided tour ends at the Rialto Bridge; you have the afternoon free to enjoy the city at your own pace. (The programme may be subject to changes).

Day 3: Venice – Pellestrina island (Cycling 30 km / 18 miles)

Leaving Venice behind after a gentle cruise in front of St Mark’s square, our first stop will be on Murano island, where we will visit a historic glass factory, with a glassblowing demonstration by a master artisan. Then our cycling adventure starts on the Lido, the first of two islands we traverse today. Fashionable in high society ever since the Belle Époque, the Lido di Venezia is now home to the International Venice Film Festival and its galaxy of stars. A short island-hop by ferry takes us into another world: Pellestrina, where we ride past the picturesque cottages and boats of this humble fishing backwater. We rejoin our barge just in front of Chioggia – a bustling and colourful fishing hub known as “Little Venice”.

Day 4: Pellestrina island – Po Delta Nature Reserve – Adria (Cycling 40 km /  25 miles)

FWe open the day with a stroll through Chioggia, followed perhaps by a visit up the millennial clock tower – the oldest in the world – for some breathtaking views. Weather permitting, we can also bask in the sun at a fine-sand beach nearby: a dip in the Adriatic, a hot savoury piadina – and you are well and truly local! Then onwards into the delta of the life-giving Po. This unique wetland is the prime reserve in Europe for herons and home to a colony of flamingos. We moor for the
night in Adria, a key Roman port, once washed by the waters of the sea which bears its name. Adria is also renowned for its Etruscan and Greek heritage. An after-dinner passeggiata into town for a well-earned grappa or gelato is in order.

Day 5: Adria – Ferrara – Zelo (35 km /22 miles by bike + 35 km/22 miles by bus)

After a short cruise we saddle our bikes and, following the Po through farmland and hamlets, we reach Ferrara. Under its ruling family, the Este, this city state attracted architects, artists and scholars for centuries, pioneering town planning
principles that have been emulated worldwide ever since. To this day, Ferrara University ranks among the best, and the town is dubbed the ''Cycling Capital of Italy". A private bus and trailer take us back to our floating hotel in Zelo, a sleepy village on the Canal Bianco, the waterway which runs parallel to the Po.

Day 6: Zelo – Mantua (Cycling 50 km / 31 miles)

This morning we head for the village of Bergantino, home of the distinctive Museum of Fairground Rides and its collection of street organs, all expertly restored (and thunderous!). But first things first: we are in the heartland of Grana Padano – the arch-rival of Parmesan – and after visiting the local cheese factory, we enjoy a degustazione of sharp and seasoned Grana, washed down with a glass of Valpolicella. After our customary picnic lunch, we leave Bergantino and follow the river to
Ostiglia, famed for its medieval fortress and the fierce fighting that took place here in 1945, as the Allies and partisans drove Hitler's forces back. We ride on and rejoin our barge at Governolo Lock, where Mantua's River Mincio flows into the Po. Veering north, we cruise through the lush wetlands that finally emerge into the glorious "lakes" of Mantua.

Day 7: Mantua round tour (Cycling 35 km / 22 miles)

A day dedicated to the discovery of this cultural gem, its three picturesque “lakes” formed by the river Mincio and the surrounding countryside. This afternoon we meet our Mantuan guide for a walking tour across the historic centre: starting from Piazza Sordello with its magnificent cathedral and Palazzo Ducale, we will walk through the city centre up to Piazza delle Erbe. Here we will admire the Clock Tower, the Rotonda di S. Lorenzo (the oldest church in town) and the Cathedral of St. Andrew, a jewel of Renaissance art and architecture. We will learn why Mantua, once a City State ruled by the Gonzaga family, is now considered by many as Italy’s “Sleeping Beauty”. (The programme may be subject to changes).

Day 8: Mantua

Departure after breakfast.


Itinerary from Mantua to Venice

Day 1: Mantua

We welcome you aboard your new home-from-home from 4.30 p.m. onwards,
and then regroup for the introductory briefing – at 6.30 – with your tour leader,
skipper and crew, along with a first refreshing aperitivo. After dinner we can stroll
into town and savour the historic centre at its most evocative: Benvenuti a
Mantova!

Day 2:  Mantua round tour (Cycling 35 km / 22 miles)

A day dedicated to the discovery of this cultural gem, its three picturesque “lakes”
formed by the river Mincio and the surrounding countryside. This afternoon we meet our Mantuan guide for a walking tour across the historic centre: starting from Piazza Sordello with its magnificent cathedral and Palazzo Ducale, we will walk through the city centre up to Piazza delle Erbe. Here we will admire the Clock Tower, the Rotonda di S. Lorenzo (the oldest church in town) and the Cathedral of St. Andrew, a jewel of Renaissance art and architecture. We will learn why Mantua, once a City State ruled by the Gonzaga family, is now considered by many as Italy’s “Sleeping Beauty”. (The programme may be subject to changes).

Day 3: Mantua – Zelo (Cycling 50 km / 31 miles)

After breakfast, we set sail from the "lakes" of Mantua and cruise through the lush wetlands that lead to Governolo Lock, where Mantua's River Mincio flows into the Po. Here, we saddle up and follow the broad sweeps of the levee towards
Ostiglia, renowned for its medieval fortress and fierce fighting in 1945, as the Allies drove Hitler's forces back.
Next: Bergantino, home of the distinctive Museum of Fairground Rides and its collection of street organs, all expertly restored (and thunderous!). This village is also in the heartland of Grana Padano – the arch-rival of Parmesan – and a visit to the local cheese factory, sampling some well seasoned Grana, is de rigueur. We catch up with our barge in Zelo, a sleepy village on the Canal Bianco, the waterway which runs parallel to the Po.

Day 4: Zelo – Ferrara – Adria (50 km /31 miles by bike + 60 km / 37 miles by bus)

This morning we cross the Po and ride southwards through a patchwork of farmland, orchards and hamlets, as far as Ferrara. Under its ruling family, the Este, this city state attracted architects, artists and scholars for centuries, pioneering town planning principles that have been emulated worldwide ever since. To this day, Ferrara University ranks among the best, and the town is dubbed the ''Cycling Capital of Italy". A private bus and trailer then take us back to our floating hotel in Adria, an ancient Roman port once washed by the sea which bears its name. Adria is also renowned for its Etruscan and Greek heritage. An after-dinner passeggiata into town for a well-earned grappa or gelato is in order.

Day 5: Adria – Po Delta Nature Reserve – Pellestrina island (Cycling 40 km / 25 miles )

After a short cruise, we cycle into the delta of the life-giving Po. This unique wetland is the prime reserve in Europe for herons and home to a sizeable colony of flamingos. Weather permitting, as we continue towards Chioggia, we can also enjoy a break at a fine-sand beach nearby for a dip in the Adriatic – not forgetting a hot savoury piadina! Chioggia is also known as “Little Venice”, a colourful fishing hub. The overnight takes palce on the Island Pellestrina, just in front of Chioggia.


Day 6: Pellestrina island – Venice (Cycling 30 km / 19 miles )

Venice beckons, but first another world altogether: Pellestrina, the first of two islands we traverse today – a humble and tranquil fishing backwater, picturesque as ever with its cottages, boats and nets. A short island-hop by ferry lands us on the Lido. Fashionable in high society ever since the Belle Époque, the Lido di Venezia is now home to the International Venice Film Festival and its galaxy of stars. We will also visit a historic glass factory on Murano island, with a glassblowing demonstration by a master artisan. After rejoining our barge, an unrushed cruise in front of St Mark’s square takes us to our final destination. After dinner we can savour Venice at night, now free of the crowds and at her most romantic: Benvenuti a Venezia!

Day 7: Venice

After breakfast – and perhaps following a wander off the beaten track with your tour leader – we all meet up with our Venetian guide for a tour through the historic centre. Christened La Serenissima ("The Most Serene"), the Venetian Republic
held sway over much of the Mediterranean (and beyond) for centuries – both as a military power and a beacon of culture. The guided tour will start from Piazza San Marco with a brief description of the monuments around it; then the walk continues towards the biggest “sestiere” of the city, Castello, up to Campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo with its imposing gothic church and the Scuola Grande di San Marco (today city hospital). The guided tour ends at the Rialto Bridge; you have the afternoon free to enjoy the city at your own pace. (The programme may be subject to changes).

Day 8: Venice

Departure after breakfast.


Tour programme variations
The programme has been planned to feature navigation along the Fissero/ Bianco canal, which runs parallel to the Po river and connects Mantua to the Adriatic Sea. Due to organisational reasons, weather conditions or provisions issued by local authorities, the itinerary may be subject to some changes before and/or during the holiday. Issues with high and low water, as well as logistic obstacles such as officially ordered - previously not announced - repair work on locks or bridges can modify some of the daily stretches or overnight stays and may even request a transfer by bus. These decisions are only taken by the barge’s captain.