GGianangelo Sartori has just painted a new motif on the bow of his traditional wooden boat: a coot sprouting out of the reeds. Such boats with their flat bows used to be used in shallow waters for stalking ducks, today they are used for nostalgic excursions or historical rowing races.
“We use motor boats for hunting and fishing,” says Sartori with a grin – after all, friends of tradition also have to manage their energies. The pensioner spends a large part of his time at the El Bisato rowing club, located on the outskirts of Battaglia Terme, where a lock compensates for the height difference between two sections of a waterway.
Battaglia Terme is connected to the provincial capital Padua, around 20 kilometers away, via the navigable Canale Battaglia, and it can even be reached from Venice via waterways. A network of canals and navigable rivers, many hundreds of kilometers long, spans Veneto, originated in the Middle Ages, when loads and people could be transported more easily in this way than on bumpy country roads.
Most of the waterways have been preserved and can still be used today. Excursion boats operate between Venice, Padua and Battaglia Terme. You can also explore the waterways with a rental boat; a houseboat is recommended for a multi-day tour.
By boat from Padua to Battaglia Terme
Padua is recommended as a starting point. The city, criss-crossed by waterways, is full of art treasures, the botanical garden is a world heritage site, and there are other Unesco sites to visit in the surrounding area.
And that is particularly environmentally friendly: You can be driven on the deck of a pleasure boat to Battaglia Terme, and back to the provincial capital of Padua you roll on a rental bike on the canal embankments with a tail wind almost by yourself. It goes past vineyards and harvested corn fields, where irrigation sprinklers tower over the clods like iron bird’s beaks.
There are places steeped in history along the way. For example, the Catajo Castle, owned by the Austrian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand before the First World War. Some of the more than 270,000 animals that the trigger-happy Archduke brought down in his life, he is said to have killed in the surrounding hill country.
The last Habsburg lord of the castle was then Emperor Karl I. Shortly before the end of the First World War, he “transferred” a large part of the art treasures hoarded in the castle to Austria.
So it is hardly surprising that the employee recommends a visit to another magnificent building while walking through the bare halls: the Villa Giusti on the outskirts of Padua, where, among other things, the solid wood desk is shown, where the negotiators signed the armistice agreement after the Austrian defeat .
The canal couples the city to Venice
Then the next boat trip is waiting at the city wall. “Only get in when I say so, and then don’t move,” recommends Alessandro Campioni, before offering his hand so that the guest can take a bold step in the wobbly boat.
The “Friends of Piovego” association is based at the Castelnuovo citadel, one of the old entrances to Padua. The canal links the city to Venice. Campioni is president of the association, which is committed to maintaining the watercourse and the more than eleven kilometers long fortress walls around the old town.
Like a snake biting its tail, canals frame the medieval heart of Padua, which was additionally secured with a rampart by the Venetians, who ruled the city for over 400 years. Several watercourses have disappeared under streets and tram tracks.
The ring around the outside with possible detours to the center, however, remains navigable with boats. On the Piovego, Alessandro Campioni is currently working his way up the river with slow strokes of the oar.
The curfew due to Corona left its mark
Mask is the name of the type of boat he has chosen for this jaunt. “The agile, fast barges were used especially during Carnival and on nightly love visits, where they preferred to remain unrecognized,” explains Campioni.
He stands like a gondolier in the back of the boat, propping his upper body rhythmically against the rudder with his arms stretched out. He stays on a straight course by gently swiveling the rudder with the blade on the side when pulling backwards. “This technique Venetian style there is nowhere else in the world, only here in the dominion of Venice. “
Fallen tree trunks protrude into the water from the shore, and Campioni also has to curve around algae that are floating in green carpets on the surface of the water. During the corona-related curfew and then in the warm summer, when there were far fewer boats than usual, the aquatic plants multiplied magnificently, says Campioni.
Apart from a few rowing colleagues and an almost empty excursion boat that arrives from Venice, it is quiet on the waterway. The boat glides quietly along.
A gray heron is on the lookout for prey on one of the gray wooden posts that mark the fairway. A kingfisher crouches further ahead in the branches – with its shimmering blue head and red doublet only visible because it flies up when the boat approaches, only to disappear a stone’s throw further into the green thicket.
Aperol Spritz and the stairs by Canaletto
The nice thing about boating in a city: You are right in the middle of it all and yet in a privileged spectator position. There are the residents who take a break by the water. 70,000 students live in Padua. Young people often sit on the embankment walls and stairs, now all with masks that are removed later in the afternoon when it is time for an Aperol Spritz.
The bittersweet, orange-colored drink was invented by two brothers from Padua, says Alessandro Campioni. The distillate made from rhubarb, cinchona bark, gentian, bitter orange and herbs, mixed with prosecco, soda water and ice, is one of the ten best-selling cocktails worldwide.
In front of the Porta Portello city gate, he points to the stone stairs that lead down into the water and pauses to show a famous painting of the 18th century Protztor, decorated with the lion of St. Mark, on his smartphone: the artist Canaletto has the work roughly from that Point of view created where Campioni now lets his boat drift. Based on this painting, says the club president, members rediscovered the stairs that had long been hidden under the earth and underbrush.
The trained architect Campioni knows stories that are not in the travel guide. About Casanova, who, after fleeing the lead chambers of Venice, came to Padua through Porta Portella, where he found shelter in the Palazzo Bragadin-Michiel. “In his letters he quotes a man named Campioni several times – my family is a Paduan veteran.”
Through the arcades of the old town to the palazzo
The Bragadin-Michiel Palace, decorated with a tympanum and arched windows, stands a few hundred meters behind the city gate. After Campioni has tied up his boat at Castelnuovo, the best thing to do is to drift through the alleys on foot, with dry feet even when it is drizzling thanks to the arcades that stretch for kilometers through the old town.
But again and again it means: Put your head back! Pay attention to the magnificent facades! For example at the basilica with the grave of St. Anthony, visited by pilgrims. When the sun pinks out, the domes shimmer silver.
There is the botanical garden or Galileo’s work desk in Palazzo Bo, the historic seat of the university, where, in addition to the universal genius from Pisa, other celebrities such as Copernicus learned or taught. Needless to say, the anatomical theater at the university, like the botanical garden, was the first of its kind in the world.
It’s time for an aperitivo. Why not on the terrace in front of the “Caffè Pedrocchi”? The restaurant, adorned with a neo-Gothic portico, offers a magnificent view of Via VIII. Febbraio. How graceful Signoras float over the bumpy pavement in high heels!
Some have leaned their bicycles, the most popular form of transport in Padua, against the opposite wall. Your puppies, who were in the front of the handlebars, now sit nicely on their mistresses’ laps and keep an eye on the purchases stowed on the luggage rack. When people are entertaining, you almost automatically come to the second glass.
And where do you go for dinner? The choice is huge. It’s best to order cod, a regional fish specialty made from steamed, dried cod. A wonderful match is a wine from the Riviera del Brenta – the canal-traversed landscape at the gates of Padua towards the Adriatic, which you should explore for the next day.
Tips and information
Getting there: Usually very good by train, for example in a sleeping car from Munich without changing in less than 9 hours (nightjet.com). It takes 45 minutes by train from Venice Airport.
Corona: All over Italy there is a mask and distance requirement in public spaces, hotels, shops and restaurants are open with severe restrictions. Strict rules apply to entry, current information: auswaertiges-amt.de; ambberlino.esteri.it
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