The 45th Parallel...Taglio di Po

 I had made it - half-way between the North Pole and the Equator. I hadn't intended to be straddling the 45th parallel but I was there nonetheless, at Taglio di Po.

 I had read in the local paper about the official opening of the cycle route that ran along the river Po, past Taglio di Po, and past many of the  villas from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that dot this part of Italy. From Rovigo, our only form of transport to Taglio was bus and that meant not being able to take our bicycles. 'Fear not', I said to Stefano, 'there is bound to be somewhere to hire a bicycle when we get there. I mean, it is a cycle route for goodness sake and this area relies on tourism.' 

Less than an hour from Rovigo and we were disembarking from the bus in the centre of Taglio. We had arrived at 2pm, and true to form the town was asleep. A few men sat in the shade of the coffee bars, nursing a Prosecco or Campari whilst we hunted for a bicycle hire shop.

Our hunt was futile, so we resigned ourselves to walking, and not covering the distance we had intended to. (Subsequently, we were informed there are in fact two hire shops in the town but their exact whereabouts was forgotten by our informer.) All was not lost, by walking we were more inclined to stop, dive down half-hidden steps and find ourselves in conversation with fishermen who, after a poor day's fishing so they told us as they sped past in their boats, were heading home. 

Taglio di Po gets its name  (taglio means cut in Italian) from the engineering works carried out by the Serenissima of the Republic of Venice in the early seventeenth century that saw the creation of a new channel of the river Po. We walked a short distance from the town centre and up onto the riverbank on the island of Ariano as a rather useful sign informed us. Our new destination was the villa Ca' Zen, built by the Zen family and once the home of a lover of Byron; and so we set off at a leisurely pace, frequently overtaken by power-walking women and casual cyclists.

To our right was the wonderfully wide expanse of the Po, lined with trees and shrubbery from whence the chatter of birds was almost deafening. Herons, egrets and ducks sat in the shady branches, occasionally taking to the air or standing stock-still camouflaged by the foliage. To the left were fields of wheat, fruit trees and various vegetables. 

An overgrown set of steps is always a temptation, and one I rarely resist. This set took us to the river's edge where, tucked behind some trees where the mud emitted an unpleasant smell of rotting vegetation and fish entrails, we found a small flotilla of fishing boats tied to posts, bobbing on the sun-dappled water. Further along was the rickety and derlict boarding of what had once been a landing stage for pleasure cruises. If it had not been quite so time-worn, I could have sat there and watched the life of the river unfold before me.

The region of Veneto is known for its villas, with a good many having been designed by Palladio. Ca' Zen is not an example of a Palladian villa but one that had progressed from hunting lodge to villa. The villa's chapel caught our eye first, as we rounded a long curve of the track, nestled in amongst the greenery. We broke off from the main track and approached the villa onlong a short, shaded drive that offered us much welcomed respite. Lizards soaked up the warmth from the stones of the gate-posts as our arrival was greeted by three dogs whose main aim was to be stroked.

There is no denying it, Ca'Zen is a beautiful villa. Its asymmetric wings spread out from the central hall and the peeling green paint on the shutters evokes romantic feelings of faded grandeur. Except the villa is not faded, retaining its grandeur with wooden beams, silver tureens and grand bedrooms; but it is certainly a romantic setting. We rested on the terrace in the shade, looking up at the pink facade, snuggled into each other despite the heat - it brings that feeling of calm passion to you. How calm Byron's passion was when he was here I could not tell, but he was a frequent visitor when he was in the midst of his affair with the Contessa Teresa Gamba. Though she was married to the considerably older Alessandro Guiccioli, Teresa had begun an affair with Byron whilst in Venice. Teresa's husband sent her away from Venice to Ca' Zen but that did not cool the ardour of the pair and they met in secret at the villa. Byron wrote Stanzas to the Po based on his time here, and even a poor poet like me was enchanted enough to put pen to paper (though the effort was so poor I will not foist it upon you, but offer instead Byron's skill below). 

Back on our feet we explored the stables, said hello to the horses and goodbye to the dogs, then made our way back along the river-side to the town, which was showing signs of life. There was, however, only enough time for a coffee and quick chat with a couple of local girls before our bus to Rovigo turned the corner.

The town of Taglio di Po may be short of offerings of interest but the surrounding area is defnintely worth a visit. Ca' Zen is just one of a few of the villas along the Po's banks that offer B&B, or full-board; and many of them offer bicycle hire, local guides, horse trekking and boat rides along the river. 

There is a little bit of everything in Polesine, the strip of land that runs between the lower courses of the Po and Adige - villlas, nature parks, museums and galleries - and it is the perfect base from which to explore further. Venice, Ferrara, Padua and Bologna are all within easy reach by train, bus or car. Polesine itself is gloriously flat for easy cycling between towns and villages, only the Euganian Hills offering a small bump on the horizon. Due to its relatively unheard of status Polesine also offers a less crowded alternative for holidaying. 

Polesine is definitely worth a visit, and you'll be half-way to either the North Pole or the equator!

Ca' Zen website available in Italian and English

Rovigo/Polesine tourism website available in Italian and English

Venetian Villas website - history, information and links to individual villa websites

Stanzas to the Po - George, Lord Byron

River, that rollest by the ancient walls,
Where dwells the lady of my love, when she
Walks by thy brink, and there perchance recalls
A faint and fleeting memory of me;

What if thy deep and ample stream should be
A mirror of my heart, where she may read
The thousand thoughts I now betray to thee,
Wild as thy wave, and headlong as thy speed!

What do I say -a mirror of my heart?
Are not thy waters sweeping, dark, and strong?
Such as my feelings were and are, thou art;
And such as thou art were my passions long.

Time may have somewhat tamed them, -not for ever;
Thou overflow'st thy banks, and not for aye
The bosom overboils, congenial river!
Thy floods subside, and mine have sunk away.

But left long wrecks behind, and now again,
Born in our old unchanged career, we move;
Thou tendest wildly onwards to the main,
And I -to loving one I should not love.

The current I behold will sweep beneath
Her native walls and murmur at her feet;
Her eyes will look on thee, when she shall breathe
The twilight air, unharmed by summer's heat.

She will look on thee, -I have looked on thee,
Full of that thought; and, from that moment, ne'er
Thy waters could I dream of, name, or see,
Without the inseparable sigh for her!

Her bright eyes will be imaged in thy stream, - 
Yes! they will meet the wave I gaze on now:
Mine cannot witness, even in a dream,
That happy wave repass me in its flow!

The wave that bears my tears returns no more:
Will she return by whom that wave shall sweep?
Both tread thy banks, both wander on thy shore,
I by thy source, she by the dark-blue deep.

But that which keepeth us apart is not
Distance, nor depth of wave, nor space of earth,
But the distraction of a various lot,
As various as the climates of our birth.

A stranger loves the lady of the land,
Born far beyond the mountains, but his blood
Is all meridian, as if never fanned
By the black wind that chills the polar flood.

My blood is all meridian; were it not,
I had not left my clime, nor should I be,
In spite of tortures, ne'er to be forgot,
A slave again of love, -at least of thee.

'Tis vain to struggle -let me perish young - 
Live as I lived, and love as I have loved;
To dust if I return, from dust I sprung,

And then, at least, my heart can ne'er be moved.

Note on the geography and regions mentioned above.

Italy has 20 regions, Veneto being one of them. Veneto is the 8th largest in size and the fifth most populous.

Within Veneto are 7 provinces. Rovigo is one of the provinces and largely coincides with the area known as Polesine.


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