The cycling part of this tour is mostly along the flats of the Po Plains and is relatively easy, with very little elevation gain. Daily rides vary from 25 to 55 km – mostly on paved cycle paths along rivers and canals, or along quiet country roads. The boat 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 boat, to allow easier access onto cycling paths or simply to enjoy the cruise. The total length covered over 5 days of cycling is 205 km (127 miles), but you are free to stay on the boat if you prefer.
You will be welcomed aboard the Ave Maria anytime after 4.30 p.m. The introductory briefing, and our first refreshing apertivo, is at 6.30. After dinner you can stroll into town and savor the historic town center or (if you’ve already done that) we might just stay aboard and spread a little ukulele joy!
2. Mantua round tour (35 km)
This day will be dedicated to the discovery of this little-visited cultural gem, its three picturesque “lakes” formed by the Mincio, and its surrounding countryside – once a City State ruled by the Gonzaga family and now considered by many as Italy’s “Sleeping Beauty”.
In the afternoon, we will meet up with a guide for a walking tour of Mantua, and enjoy the rest of the day in town or head back to the Ave Maria for some more ukulele time.
3. Mantua – Zelo (50 km)
This is a busy day! 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. Once there, we saddle up and follow the broad sweeps of the levee towards Ostiglia, renowned for its medieval fortress and the scene of some fierce fighting during the closing days of World War II, as the Allies drove Hitler’s forces back.
We’ll also visit Bergantino, home of the Museum of Fairground Rides and its collection of street organs, all expertly restored and visit a cheese factory in Grana Padano, where we will have the opportunity to sample some well seasoned Grana. We catch up with the Ave Maria in Zelo, a sleepy village on the Canal Bianco, the waterway which runs parallel to the Po.
4. Zelo – Ferrara – Adria (50 km by bike + 60 km by bus)
This morning we cross the Po and ride southwards through a patchwork of farms, orchards, and hamlets, as far as Ferrara, known as the ”Cycling Capital of Italy.” Under its ruling family, the Este, this city-state attracted architects, artists, and scholars for centuries, who pioneered town planning principles that have been emulated worldwide ever since.
Then a private bus and trailer will 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. After dinner we might indulge in a passeggiata into town for a well-earned grappa or gelato.
5. Adria – Po Delta Nature Reserve – Island Pellestrina (40 km)
After a short cruise, we will cycle into the delta of the life-giving Po, a unique wetland that is Europe’s primary reserve for herons and home to a sizable colony of flamingos. As we continue towards Chioggia, we can also enjoy a break at a fine-sand beach nearby for a dip in the Adriatic (weather permitting!) and a hot savory piadina! Chioggia, a colorful fishing hub, is also known as “Little Venice.” We overnight along the Island Pellestrina.
6. Island Pellestrina – Venice (30 km)
Pellestrina, a humble and tranquil fishing backwater replete with cottages, boats and nets, is the first of two islands we traverse today. Then a short island-hop by ferry lands us on the Lido di Venezia. After rejoining the Ave Maria, we take an unrushed cruise in front of St Mark’s Square to our final mooring in Venice. After dinner we can savor Venice at night, free of the crowds and at her most romantic.:
After breakfast we meet up with our Venetian guide for a tour through the historic center. 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, her explorers reaching as far as China and Newfoundland. After the guided tour, we will have the afternoon free to enjoy the city at our own pace.
Departure after breakfast.
The tour 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 boat’s captain. Remember, flexibility will be the key to having a happy time with your ukulele, no matter what.