eurovelo 8 in Italy: Part 2 Along the Po from the Adriatic to the Alps

Published on:  | Last updated: 31 March 2017

The central core of eurovelo 8 in Italy is the route along the Po. The distance from the Po delta to Torino is a bit over 600 kms - the exact distance depends on your starting point and which of the route options you take. The route passes within easy reach of some of Italy's great art cities including Ferrara, Mantova and Parma, as well as some lesser known but equally historic cities like Cremona, Piacenza and Pavia.

The eurovelo 8 in this section mainly follows cycleways and very quiet roads - often are roads that are closed to everyone except local residents. These mainly run on the top of the argine - the 10-metre high embankments/​levees built to contain the mighty river. The cycleways include the Fe20 Destra Po which is one of Italy's best quality cycleways enabling you to cruise for mile after mile in complete tranquillity. When I rode sections of this route the surface was tarmac all the way to Cremona, but after that the sections of unsur­faced track became more frequent.

As you'd expect, this section is almost entirely flat - with the climb to the top of the embank­ments probably the only climbing you're likely to do.

Map

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Distances
Gorino - Ferrara (Destra Po) 93kms
Ferrara - Cremona 190kms
Cremona - Piacenza 60kms
Piacenza - Pavia 79kms
Pavia - Casale Monferrato 109kms
Casale Monferrato - Torino 98kms
The Villa Morosini on the north bank near Polesella (Veneto)

The Villa Morosini on the north bank near Polesella (Veneto)

Along the Po you have the option of taking the Sinistra Po (north bank) or the Destra Po (south bank). (The Sinistra Po is the left bank as you look down river and the Destra Po is the right bank). You could follow the route sticking to one bank but probably it’s best to combine them. Bear in mind that the Po is a big river and bridges are fairly few and far between and inevitably can be busy.

You also have the option to detour through Mantova and Sabbioneta (the two together are a UNESCO World Heritage site). I think this is worth doing unless you are pushed for time.

The VENTO project

The Vento Project is a team at the Politecnico di Milano led by Paolo Pileri. The proposal is for a cycleway that would link Venice with Torino (hence the name which means ‘wind’ in Italian) with a connection to Milano along the Naviglio-Pavese cycleway at Pavia.

The route along the Po proposed by the VENTO project

The route along the Po proposed by the VENTO project

VENTO point out that almost 80 percent of the route is either already a dedicated traffic-free cycleway, or only requires a simple change of rules (some sections are formally only open only to authorised vehicles). The cost for the works on the remaining 20 percent (for example making proper provision for bikes on a number of bridges) would cost less than the cost of 2 kms of autostrada.

The team have run a very effective and dynamic campaign and have been very successful in mobil­ising support - including the support of an impressive list of local author­ities along the route. The length of the list does also illus­trate the problem: there are an awful lot of actors involved. The VENTO project does seem to have had a real resonance, and is gaining momentum so I’m hopeful that the Po cycleway will reach its full potential. Watch this space.

There’s a Google map of the VENTO route - this is an extremely useful resource for the Po section of the route.

From the coast to Ferrara

Cyclist in Ferrara (in the background is the Palazzo dei Diamanti)

Cyclist in Ferrara (in the background is the Palazzo dei Diamanti)

My suggestion is to cross the Po at Porto Tolle and then follow the coast via Scardovari and Santa Giulia to Gorino and from there take the Destra Po cycleway (here the local name is the FE20) via Mesola and on from there to Ferrara. If you have the time you could swing further south to visit the Abbazia at Pomposa and the Chiesa di Santa Maria - you could even go as far south as Comacchio and Ravenna. 

From here the Fe20 takes you along the riverside and into Ferrara. The distance from Porto Tolle on the coast to Ferrara is about 93 kms. There’s not much in the way of services along this section of the route, although there are a couple of fontanelle. However, enter­prising local businesses have put signs up giving inform­ation about bars etc within striking distance of the route. 

Ferrara is another world heritage-listed city. You could continue along the excellent cycleway and bypass it but it would be a shame. Here's an extract from the UNESCO citation:

“ 

Ferrara is an outstanding planned Renaissance city which has retained its urban fabric virtually intact. The devel­op­ments in town planning expressed in Ferrara were to have a profound influence on the devel­opment of urban design throughout the succeeding centuries. The brilliant Este court attracted a constel­lation of artists, poets and philo­sophers during the two seminal centuries of the Renaissance. The Po Delta is an outstanding planned cultural landscape which retains its original form to a remarkable extent.

Among the great Italian cities Ferrara is the only to have an original plan that is not derived from a Roman layout… developed from the 14th century onwards and, for the first time in Europe, on the basis of planning regula­tions that are in use nowadays in all modern towns … Ferrara [is] the only planned Renaissance town to have been completed. ”

Read the rest on unesco.org

Cafe in Ferrara

Cafe in Ferrara

Ferrara's highlights include the great fortress of the Castello Estense in the centre of town. But if you only go to see one thing I would make it the Salone dei Mesi in the Palazzo Schifanoia (opening hours). You can have a little look around using Google Street View (yes really, and no, I don’t know how they got the car in there either) - although the best pictures are on the Web Gallery of Art. Sadly most of the frescoes are now very badly faded. The ones that there are are left are truly magnificent.

For the darker side of the life of the Este court you can visit the dungeons of the Castello. According to Wikipedia:

“ 

Parisina Malatesta was the second wife of Marquis Niccolò III, who was something of a rake and a great deal older than her. After seven years of marriage that had been generally quite calm, she ended up falling in love with her stepson Ugo, son of the Marquis and Stella dei Tolomei, and he with her. The two young people were discovered, subjected to a rapid trial and finally beheaded. It was 1425; Parisina was 20 years old, Ugo only 19.Coming down the stairway, on the left was Parisina’s cell. Following the corridor is Ugo’s one, having, on the ceiling, prisoners’ writing done with candle smoke. ”

If you fancy getting out into the sunshine you could also take a cycle ride around the city walls as well as its centro storico.

Ferrara - architectural detail (Cimitero monumentale della Certosa di Ferrara)

Ferrara - archi­tec­tural detail (Cimitero monumentale della Certosa di Ferrara)

From Ferrara to Piacenza, Cremona and Pavia

From Ferrara you have the option of picking up where you left off and following the Fe20 cycleway to Bondeno or the shorter option of taking the Fe101 cycleway across-country to Bondeno. After Bondeno you continue along the Destra Po following the riverside to San Benedetto del Po and the bridge at Boretto. (If you want to go to Mantova and Sabbioneta then the best option is probably to cross the river using the bridge between Revere and Ostiglia). 

The route passes through San Benedetto Po with the Abbazia del Polirone.

Before crossing the bridge at Boretto you have the option of a couple of detours.

Brescello and the Paese di Don Camillo e Peppone

The first is to the town of Brescello. The town was the setting for the hugely successful films about Don Camillo and Peppone based on the series of short stories by the writer Giovannino Guareschi. Set in the post-war Italy, the protag­onists of the two stories are the priest Don Camillo and the Communist mayor Peppone. The two are fierce rivals, but under­neath the compet­ition there’s real respect and affection. 

Here’s a short extract from one of the films showing the two engaged in an impromptu cycle race along the riverside:

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Translation of the voiceover:

“ So resumes the never-ending race between them in which each wants desper­ately to come first, but if the other falls behind he waits for him to catch up. The road is the same even if Don Camillo takes the left side and Peppone the right; together they will continue their journey. May God go with them  ”

To put the stories and the film into context: the first book of stories was published in 1948. The Allied advance through Italy between 1943 and 1945 had seen what was in effect a civil war (Guareschi himself had been imprisoned in a concen­tration camp and both his protag­onists had been parti­giani resistance fighters), and arguably Italy came close to civil war in 1947.

In the town there’s the Museo Peppone e Don Camillo which features props and memor­abilia from the films - including a tank.

Detour to Parma

At Boretto you could also detour to another great art city, Parma. highlights include the Galleria Nazionale one of Italy’s richest art collec­tions. (It also has a truly excellent online gallery).

La Scapigliata by Leonardo da Vinci

La Scapigliata by Leonardo da Vinci. Parma (Galleria Nazionale di Parma). Picture by Luan Di Nunês from Wikimedia Commons

Boretto to Piacenza and Cremona

From Boretto the Sinistra Po cycleway (except it’s called the Ciclabile Golena del Po) takes you to Cremona and Pavia. The bridge to Piacenza has a cycleway and is defin­itely worth the trip across the river.

Cremona is known as the city of the violin. It was the home of to the Amati dynasty of violin­makers. Andrea Amati is credited with the invention of the violin, cello and viola. His grandson Nicola Amati was (probably) the teacher of the great violin­makers Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri. Not surpris­ingly there’s a Museo del Violino in Cremona. 

There’s also a magni­ficent theatre, the Teatro Ponchielli (history, picture gallery and inform­ation about visits). If you’ve got the energy you could visit the Duomo (cathedral) climb to the top of the Torrazzo with its astro­lo­gical clock. 

View of the river Po between Piacenza and Cremona

The river Po between Piacenza and Cremona

From Cremona to Pavia and beyond

The route takes you into Pavia across its iconic covered bridge over the river Ticino. Pavia is a lively university town: the university is one of the world’s oldest univer­sities in the world. Students have included Christopher Columbus and Alessandro Volta

I missed it, but according to one of my guide­books the Certosa di Pavia (Charterhouse) at Pavia is ‘the pinnacle of Renaissance archi­tecture in Lombardy’.

Ceiling of the Certosa di Pavia

The Certosa di Pavia. Picture by Yoruno from Wikimedia Commons

From Pavia to Torino and Saluzzo

I haven’t ridden the route between Pavia and Torino. Again you have the choice of following the north or the south bank (sinistra or destra). The proposal for the VENTO route crosses the Po at near the villages of Tre Re and Mezzana Corti. It then follows the south bank (Destra Po) to Casale Monferrato where it crosses back over and continues along the Sinistra Po to Chivasso and then to Torino itself.

Options and connections

The major inter­con­nection is with the Ciclopista del Sole (eurovelo 7) south of Mantova. The Ciclopista del Sole heads south towards Firenze and Roma via Modena and Bologna - and north via Mantova, Trento and Bozen to the border with Austria. You could use the branch of the Ciclopista del Sole that connects with the Drauradweg to make a large circular tour via Maribor in Slovenija.

The route also connects with the Via Claudia Augusta at Ostiglia you could use the route to take you back to Verona - from where you can catch one of the bike-friendly DeutscheBahn Eurocity trains to Innsbruck and München (Munich).

Another potential northern connection is the Adige-Po cycleway.

Close to Piacenza the route inter­sects with one branch of the Ciclovia Francigena/​eurovelo 5 (until recently this was called the Ciclovia Francigena (until recently called the Ciclovia dei Pellegrini) - Pilgrim’s cycleway). This then heads south-west, over the Apennines and onto Toscana. It also inter­section is with the Bicitalia Tirrenica cycleway which heads south-west via Parma and over the Apennines. It also connects via Mantova with Verona.

At Pavia you could take the cycleway along the Naviglio Pavese into central Milano, or altern­at­ively there’s the option of the Ticino cycleway which takes you to the west of Milano to Sesto Calende on the Lago Maggiore. The Ticino cycleway also passes close to the Milano Malapensa airport.

More information

Places to stay

Campsites along the Po

There are very few campsites along the Po 

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A note about the campsite at Cremona

I stayed in the campsite at Cremona in 2012. It was clear that the place was in need of a lot of investment. The campsite is owned by the comune (council) and rented to a cooper­ative who have run the site for the last 30 years. As it turns out the cooper­ative wrote in late 2012 to the comune complaining about the lack of investment and threat­ening to give up the lease. I’ve not been able to find out anything more: the campsite’s website is still functioning, so no news is good news to an extent, but equally there’s no news about the site receiving any investment. 

Resources

Useful websites about cycling in the area

General tourism websites

The VENTO project

There’s even a documentary film about the project. Here's a trailer:

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Don Camillo and Peppone

There’s also a documentary from BBC Radio which will give you some more of the background about Giovannino Guareschi Blind date with Don Camillo. The dramat­isa­tions of the books are also regularly repeated on the BBC’s Radio 4 Extra. (If you are not in the UK you could try googling for instruc­tions on how to access iPlayer using a VPN).

Ferrara Podguides

If you fancy a cycling or walking tour of Ferrara then you might be inter­ested in downloading the free mp3 audioguides: http://www.ferrarainfo.com/en/podguides

Torino and the Royal Palaces of the Savoia

If you want to visit any of the Royal Palaces around Torino then the best place to start is residenzereali.it (it/​en/​fr). If you'd like to do the corona di Delizie cycle route around Torino then the most useful source of inform­ation is the Corona in Bici app (iTunes | Google Play)

Articles in this series

Mural in a bar-ristorante between Piacenza and Cremona - the caption reads: hello great river, in your silence we find the wisdom that we search for in vain elsewhere (ciao grande fiume nel tuo silenzio c'e' quella saggezza che, in vano, altrove andiamo cercando).

Mural in a bar-ristorante between Piacenza and Cremona - the caption reads: hello great river, in your silence we find the wisdom that we search for in vain elsewhere (ciao grande fiume nel tuo silenzio c'e' quella saggezza che, in vano, altrove andiamo cercando).

Get in touch

Please get in touch if you find any errors in the information, or if there’s anything, good or bad, that you’d want other cyclists to know.


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