November 2018: Picasso in Milan, truffles in Tuscany, birds in the Delta

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Welcome to the Hidden Italy November newsletter:  Picasso in Milan, truffles in Tuscany, and wintering with the birds in the Delta of the Po River.

Hidden Italy in November

Hidden Italy in November

Due to two cancellations we have availability of a double room available on both the Puglia guided tour (17 to 29 May 2019) and the Sicily guided tour (17 to 30 May 2019).

For full details of both tours please see: If you are interested and available, please contact us at

Exhibitions in November:

Exhibitions in November:

Picasso: Metamorphosis.  Palazzo Reale, Milano,, until February 17.  Over two hundred works borrowed from museums and galleries throughout the world, this extraordinary exhibition explores the idea of mythology and Picasso’s relationship with antiquity.  The six sections juxtapose works by the great artist against ancient pottery, statues, votive plaques, reliefs, idols, and stelae that inspired and deeply influenced him.  Not to be missed!

That’s It!  On the Newest Generation of Italian Artists; Museo di Arte Moderna, Bologna (MAMbo);; until 6 January.  That's IT! is a new generational exhibition, curated by Lorenzo Balbi.  It explores the most recent developments in Italian art through a range of media.  The exhibition presents the works of fifty-six Italian artists born after 1980 and includes several pieces created especially for the exhibition.

Je suis l’autre: Giacometti, Picasso and the others; Primitivism in the 20th century.  Rome, the Baths of Diocletian,; until 1 February. Not to be outdone by their Milanese cousins, this Roman exhibition explores the relationship between the sculptors of the so-called Primitivist Movement and a range of masterpieces of popular and non-European art from the 15th to the 20th century that inspired them.  Over 80 sculptures are presented, including works by Giacometti, Jean Arp, Max Ernst and Arnaldo Pomodoro.

Events in November:

Events in November:

Festival of the White Truffle; San Miniato, Tuscany;; each weekend throughout November.  The attractive medieval hill town of San Miniato (birthplace of Napoleon’s grandparents) produces 25% of Italy’s white truffles and November is the heart of truffle gathering season.  To celebrate, San Miniato hosts food and craft stands and entertainment the second, third and fourth weekends of November.  Many of the local restaurants will also feature reasonably priced truffle menus.  If you haven't had truffles and you are in the neighbourhood, this is a great place for an introduction to this mysterious tuber.

Micat in Vertice, Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena, 22 November to 17 May,  The 96th annual edition of the Micat in Vertice (Latin for ‘splendour on the peak’), hosted by one of Italy’s premier musical institutions, has a rich and diverse program of performances hosted in some of Siena’s most beautiful buildings.  It will be inaugurated with a concert by Russian pianist Alexander Romanovski on 22 November.

Brera Art Gallery, Milano,  In the centre of old Milan, Brera was once the Bohemian heart of the city but it has rapidly developed to become a centre for fashion, design and chic venues for aperitivo and dinner.  The Pinacoteca di Milano, the art gallery around which the district has evolved, holds one of Italy’s major collections.  After three controversial years under its Canadian director, James Bradburne, the galley has been completely revitalised, and was relaunched in October, including a new cafe dedicated to Fernanda Wittgens, the legendary post-war director.

Hidden Italy weekend: wintering with the birds in the Delta of the Po River.

Hidden Italy weekend: wintering with the birds in the Delta of the Po River.

An intricate labyrinth of canals, waterways and wetlands, the Delta of the Po River has been called the Italian Camargue.  Sixty kilometres south of Venice, its seven hundred square kilometres of fertile land and waterways fan out into the Adriatic Sea.  Scattered with a number of small farming and fishing communities, the delta is also home to one of the largest wetland reserves in Europe, annually visited by more than three hundred and seventy bird species.

None of all this existed four hundred years.  The delta was the result of Venetian paranoia.  Until 1604, the Po River, laden with mountain rubble and silt, flowed into the Venetian lagoon.  Terrified that this build-up would eventually fill in their most effective defence, in 1600 the Venetians started one of the most remarkable hydraulic engineering projects in history: four thousand workers took only four years to dig a seven-kilometre channel that diverted the flow of Italy’s largest river from north to south.

It worked.  The relentless deposits fanned out into the sea, creating the Mediterranean’s largest alluvial delta.  Under Mussolini, large tracts of the swamplands were reclaimed and settled.  Life for the people who inhabit the towns and villages that dot the low-lying flood plains has always been a struggle, battling against rising tides and floods that bring both destruction and the source of the region's prosperity.  The rich alluvial flood plains yield some of north-eastern Italy's finest produce, however, the Delta's real speciality is its fish, taken from both fresh and salt water, caught wild or farmed in vast flooded flatlands known as ‘valli’.  The most famous specialities its eels, stewed or grilled over hot coals and cultivated mussels and clams (click on this link to see a wonderful short film, 7 minutes, on Alberto Barini, a legendary Delta fisherman

An ephemeral land, a Badlands between Venice and Ferrara and the Papal States, the delta is at its best in spring and autumn, but it also it has particular fascination in winter when birdwatching is best.  The timeless, slightly surreal atmosphere, recalls the best of the Italian Neo-Realist movies of the 1950s and 1960s (it wasn’t by chance that some of Italy’s finest directors have set films here, including Robert Rossellini and Michelangelo Antonioni).  For more info

How to get there:

Adria is the most convenient point from which to access the delta.  By car:  Take the A4 highway 443 to Adria.  From Venice, take the state highway 309 (known as the Romea) south, taking the Cavarzere/Adria turn-off.  By train:  Regular trains run between Venice and Adria and between Rovigo and Adria.  By air:  The closest airport in at Venice (64 kms), then Bologna (102 kms) and Verona (119 kms).

Where to stay:

Tenuta Ca’ Zen (Taglio di Po,  Immersed in the countryside on the banks of the Po River on the edge of the regional park, this beautiful 17th century villa was the scene of a turbulent lover affair between Lord Byron and the owner’s wife.  Today it is charming ‘agriturismo’ with a range of accommodation options.  It is possible to rent a bike or a horse to explore the delta.  Doubles start from 119 euro per night, excellent breakfast included.

Tenuta Goro Veneta (Ariano Polesine,  Sitting on a southern branch of the Po, this ‘tenuta’ was built as a fort by the Venetians in 1730 to ward off the Pope’s armies in nearby Ferrara.  Today it is an ‘agriturismo’ with ten rooms, a swimming pool and its own restaurant, strategically placed to the Sacca di Goro (for birdwatching), Mesola Woods (for walking) and the beaches of Baccuco and Barricata (for swimming).

Hotel Leon Bianco (Adria, Piazza Cavour,  A very comfortable hotel in the centre of Adria, with all the mod cons including a wellness centre.  Doubles start from 120 for a double, b&b per night.

Houseboats Holidays Italia (Porte Levante, Via Colombo 36a,  For the game.  Four-person boats from 1300 euro per week.

Where to eat:

Locanda degli Antichi Spiriti (Potro Tolle, locality Santa Giulia, via Longo 20).  Another excellent restaurant a short walk from the Arcadia also well-known for its fish dishes such as barbequed eel and baby squid with polenta.  Dinner per person around 35 euro.

Arcadia (Porto Tolle, locality Santa Giulia, Via Longo 29).  Overlooking a branch of the Po di Gnocca, this restaurant is well-known for its fish dishes, particularly the mussels, sources from there own farms.  Dinner per person around 30 euro.

Trattoria Vasco e Giulia (Comacchio, Via Muratori 21).  Situated between the ‘bridge of the three bridges’ (symbol of Comacchio) and the lively fish markets, this welcoming restaurant (run by the Fogli mother and daughter team) is an institution.  It specialises in mussels and vongole, grown in the nearby Sacca degli Scardovari.

La Bottega di Comacchio (Comacchio, Via della Pasceria 3).  Run by husband and wife this time, this ‘bottega’ specialises in local street food:  smoked or marinated eel panini and various types of piadine (flat-bread sandwiches) made with pumpkin, spinach, or squid ink and filled with fish or salami.

What to do:

Friday night:

Check in to your accommodation, kick back and soak up the atmosphere before an early dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Saturday:  Go birdwatching:

By far the best time to observe birds is from late summer to the end of winter when over one hundred and seventy-six species of birds hold up here for the cold weather.  The following areas are particularly popular resting places in this period: the salt-flats of the Valli di Comacchio and the Sacca degli Scadovari; the low-lying lands of the Isola della Donzella, the Isola di Polesine and the Isola Albarella, all clustered around the mouth of the river, as is the Great Forest of Mesola in the south, one of the last wooded areas in the Delta.

By water:

Take a tour with Marino Cacciatori (Porto Tolle, Via Matteotti 304, who offer a range of cruises to explore the intricacies of the park (they also rent bikes).

Do it yourself:  It’s definitely more fun to do it yourself.  Canoes can be hired from Marino Cacciatori.  For a bit more comfort and range, five metre boats with 40 hp outboard motors that can hold up to six people can be hired from Porto Barricata SRL (Porto Tolle, Via del Mare 77,  You don’t need a license or any previous experience.  The company provides you with maps of the Delta and suggested route.  Have no fear, there are plenty of landmarks and there is a full mobile coverage throughout the Delta!

By bike:

With its low-lying, flat roads and trails, the Delta is perfect for bike riding.  There are many different cycling routes.  Maps and bikes are usually available from your accommodation.  Bikes can also be hired from Porto Barricata in Porto Tolle (see above).  There are many options, but here are two examples are:

A seventy-kilometre circular ride around the Isola della Donzella.  Leaving from Porto Tolle Tiepolo (from the carpark in front of the Town Hall) you head south and do a loop of the beautiful wetlands of the Sacca degli Scardovari, crossing the ‘bridge of boats’ at Santa Giulia and then following the Po di Gnocca back to Porto Tolle.

A shorter option is a twenty-nine kilometre route that leaves from the Isola di Alberella, following a marked route north along the Via delle Valli Nord, suspended above the water, to Portesine.  From here you follow the banks of the Adige River to Rosolina Mare and the botantical gardens at Porto Caleri.

Sunday:  Go touring.

There are some extraordinary towns with a sixty-minute drive of the Delta:

Adria (east):

Being on the trade routes that worked the Adriatic coast, the lands around the Delta have a very ancient history, the earliest finds dating from the 11th century BC.  The pleasant rural town of Adria was founded by the Etruscans in the 6th BC, when it was only three kilometres from the coast (today it is twenty-five kilometres away).  It was so important that it gave its name to the nearby sea.  Adria has an excellent museum (the National Archaeological Museum) with splendid collections of Etruscan relics, Attic ceramics, Roman glassware and local products.  The star attraction is the Tomb of the Chariot, viewed from a gantries.  There is also an excellent restaurant nearby:  Minuetto (Corso Vittoria Emanuele 200) which set in a villa that dates from the 1800s’.  This lovely restaurant specialises in ‘sformati’ of seasonal vegetables.

Chioggia (north):

One of the main fishing ports of the Adriatic Sea (famous for its mussels), Chioggia has a large daily fish market.  The main town is on the island that closes off the southern reach of the Venetian lagoon.  It is a charming knock-about town that maintains much of the characteristics of its big sister but without the crowds.

Chioggia has an interesting natural history museum with extensive collections of shells, fish, crustaceans, coral and fossils, as well as the Museum of the Southern Lagoon with extensive archaeological and ethnographic collections (it is over four centuries older than Venice). 

Chioggia has a remarkable longitudinal urban structure with three canals and a parallel wide main streets with smaller canals pealing off like the bones of a fish.  The real pleasure of a visit here is just wandering around soaking up the atmosphere.  There are a number of good restaurants, such as Bella Venezia (Calle Corona 51, in front of the fish markets) and La Taverna (Via Cavallotti 348, a bit more upmarket), which serve excellent local cuisine, however, if you are feeling adventurous and would like a uniquely local experience, La Vecia Casa is the place to go.  Not a traditional restaurant, more a family home, this institution is hosted by Fernando Villan, is one of the town’s great characters.  There is no menu, you will be served whatever is going, typically grilled catch of the day with salted potatoes followed by a freshly baked almond tart.  There is also no fixed price – you pay what you wish.  For more info

Ferrara (south):

The glorious town of Ferrara, to the south of the Delta, is renowned as the former residence of the Este dukes, one of the most illustrious courts of the Italian Renaissance.  Ferrara lies on a fertile plain and is an important market for fruit.  It is also one of the most pleasing towns in northern Italy, well-administered and with a peaceful atmosphere.  Cycling is the main means of getting around.  The city is divided into two distinct parts: the southern district retains many attractive cobbled streets and medieval houses, where as the grander district to the north was laid out by Ercole I d’Este in the 15th century.  There is much to see, including:  the Castello Estense (the former palace of the Este dukes); the cathedral and the old ghetto.  Two fine restaurants in Ferrara:  Antico Giardino in Via Martinelli (a lovely place with a garden) and Il Bagattino in Via Correggiari (a simple trattoria that serves excellent local fare).  For more info:

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