Guests on Uniworld’s eight-day Venice & the Po River itinerary will tour the city by a boat before a private viewing of Saint Mark’s Basilica. // © 2013 Skye Mayring
Read the editor’s blog about the Venice Biennale
contemporary art exhibition.
It’s hard to top a bowl of Bologna’s famous tortelloni pasta, especially when it’s crafted by hand using a centuries-old tradition. Simple, local ingredients work in harmony with each other, and the pasta is served piping hot as part of an epic, multi-course meal that starts with mortadella and ends with gelato. Bolognaise and lasagna also trace their roots to Bologna, which is aptly nicknamed “Le Grassa” (The Fat). Indeed, the gourmand in me was on cloud nine while touring Northern Italy with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection last month. I even took part in a hands-on pasta-making lesson, so that I could try to replicate Bologna’s fresh tortelloni pasta and impress my foodie friends back at home.
Uniworld’s seven-day Venice & the Po River itinerary celebrates cuisine and culture, from an elaborate onboard wine pairing dinner to a vineyard tour and tasting in the Valpolicella viticultural zone of Verona. The trip starts with two nights in Venice onboard the newly renovated River Countess before setting sail for Padua, Ravenna, Verona and Bologna. At the end of the sailing, passengers return to the romantic canals and cafes of Venice for an overnight.
“If you want to see Northern Italy, we believe that our river cruise on the River Countess is the best way to see it,” said Uniworld’s president and CEO Guy Young. “We have an incredible docking location in Venice — and overnighting onboard the Countess is better than staying at any of the city’s five-star hotels.”
In Venice, we explored the Dorsoduro and San Marco districts by foot and toured the Doge Palace with a knowledgeable, local guide. She led us from the Doge’s court, over the Bridge of Sighs and to its connecting prison, where most convicts spent the remainder their lives in dark cells. The Bridge of Sighs, originally called the Prisoners’ Bridge, was poetically renamed by Lord Byron. He envisioned new prisoners sighing as they crossed the bridge, catching a glimpse of the sun for the last time.
The Venice experience culminates with a scenic boat ride along the Grand Canal and a private viewing of Saint Mark’s Basilica. Perhaps it was the expert lecture about Venice’s patron saint, having the “Church of Gold” all to ourselves or the special lighting effects throughout the cathedral that made it look as if it were lit by hundreds of candles, but a majority of passengers in our group cited the evening at Saint Mark’s Basilica as the highlight of their trips.
Those who appreciate art loved visiting Giotto’s frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Giotto is one of Italy’s best-known Middle Age painters whose provocative work influenced countless artists. His controversial depiction of hell — which still exists in full, vibrant color on the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel — inspired Dante’s famous work, “Inferno.”
Padua, like the towns of Ravenna, Verona and Bologna, is not located particularly close to the dock, so passengers will have to spend a significant amount of time riding to and from the destinations via coach.
“Our itinerary on the Po River is a little bit different than our traditional cruises. It is a hybrid between a river cruise and an escorted tour,” said Young. “Because the itinerary is heavy-paced, we want to slow it down in 2014. To that end, we’ve taken Ravenna out of the itinerary for 2014 and are replacing it with an excursion that is closer to where the ship docks at Porto Levante.”
A slight change to the itinerary is effective immediately, however. Because of the Costa Concordia incident, the Italian Maritime Authority changed the regulations on which ships can sail the Adriatic Sea. The authority no longer allows river cruise ships to sail on the section of the Adriatic Sea that Uniworld intended on cruising. Therefore, rather than sailing on the choppy Adriatic, passengers spend the day on a guided tour and meet up with the ship at a different port.
Besides the day I spent eating my way through Bologna, I most enjoyed exploring the historic center of Verona on a walking tour, which started at the Brenta River. The smell of honeysuckle and parmesan cheese permeated the air as we strolled down Verona’s cobblestone streets, past outdoor cafes and enoteche (regional wine shops) where locals sipped on the region’s drink of choice, Aperol spritzes, made with prosecco, Aperol orange liqueur and soda.
But no visit to Verona is complete without paying tribute to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. While “Romeo and Juliet” is largely accepted as a fictional play, the Montague and Capulet families actually lived in Verona, their existence verified by a reference in Dante’s epic poem, “Divine Comedy.” The Capulet’s home remains in the heart of the historic center, bustling with hopeful lovers who inscribe their names on a graffiti wall to symbolize their eternal love for each other. A 13th century, gothic balcony, ubiquitously referred to as Juliet’s Balcony, overlooks a charming courtyard and is the town’s undisputed object of wonder. For about $8, visitors can have their own Juliet moment at the top of her world-famous balcony — a declaration of love in iambic pentameter is not included in the fee.
The eight-day Venice & the Po River itinerary starts at $2,899 per person. Guests can extend their journey by booking the 13-day Splendors of Italy vacation, which includes the aforementioned river cruise as well as Florence and Rome. The longer itinerary starts at $5,499 per person.