A farmhouse stay near the Po River Delta on the east coast of Italy appealed to Bob and me because it was located a few miles from Parco Regionale Veneto del Delta del Po (The Regional Park of the Po River Delta). The Park is one massive sprawling wetlands that promised some excellent birdwatching.
From Tuscany, we drove on narrow mountain roads across the Hills of Chianti before finding ourselves on a freeway. Hoping to take advantage of that to narrow the distance to Ravenna, instead we were detoured onto an elevated section of highway, a bridge really, that spanned valleys and farm fields.
It went on for what seemed like hundreds of kilometres.
Once in Rovigo, a community set in the vast agricultural area abutting the Po River, Bob and I started to take note of different birds in the fields.
Grey Herons seemed to be everywhere.
A colourful Eurasian Magpie gliding along the edge of one field…
flashed blue when it landed in the long grass.
We did not delay, and by 2 p.m., Bob and I had acquired supplies and located our lodgings. As we poked up the driveway, it seemed unlikely that we were in the right place. A couple of stern buildings that resembled brick barracks…
were separated by a third building that housed some farm equipment. One door stood wide open wherein a gentlemen sat perched in a chair surveying the property. He had a modest vegetable market inside and was tending his customers. Within moments, the proprietor arrived to welcome us to our new digs.
Our cottage was more like a house. Well, it was a house in typical Italian farm-style.
A lot of the houses we had been seeing in the area were closed up tight with shutters drawn over all windows and doors. They looked rather abandoned even though most were tidy with brightly-coloured facades and shutters in complimentary shades.
Our farmhouse was no different with its bright yellow exterior and forest green shutters outfitted with deadbolts. Even the hidden windows had locks. The shutters had served their purpose though, for once inside the structure, we found the interior was refreshingly cool. The shutters had kept out the heat of the western sun as it beat in on the cottage all afternoon.
After our cozy and quaint retreat at the vineyard in Gaiole, our new accommodations felt quite commodious yet charming and comfortable.
After getting settled, we went to check out the lay of the land to speed our departure for birdwatching early the next morning. If I thought Italy couldn’t get any better, I was wrong.
The Regional Park of the Po River Delta encompasses a unique environment that was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1999. Through the Park, the Po River flows and is joined by six tributaries before emptying into the Adriatic Sea.
The wetlands, the largest in all of Europe, are unbelievable…vast and beautiful. Stretched over 54,000 hectares, they are home to almost 300 species of birds, over 1,000 species of plants, and about 370 species of animals.
You can literally drive for hours on the series of dikes and around the lagoons, through the communities and ports, around the canals and next to the fishing houses. The landscape reminded us very much of The Netherlands.
As we wended our way through the maze of roadways, we soon discovered a small colony of flamingos near Porto Levante and were thrilled despite the distant views. They were one of our target birds.
Awhile later, an opening in the vegetation along one stretch of the roadway allowed better views.
Greater Flamingos are the most widespread species of the flamingo family.
Attaining heights of up to 5 feet, these tall, slender birds can weigh as little as 4 pounds, up to 9 pounds.
We toured the Po River Delta for about 3 hours. A lone fisherman, like ourselves, was taking advantage of the last daylight hours.
Little Egrets perched on a utility wire surveyed the wetlands from on high.
That was an unlikely place to see a Little Egret, we thought.
While enjoying the onset of a beautiful sunset, Bob and I met a local birdwatcher who struggled to give us input on birding locations because of his lack of English, but he kindly gave us a map of the area. Boy, did that come in handy!
As we motored along the narrow dikes and crossed numerous bridges, the darkness deepened.
Still, Bob and I pulled over to snap photos of the radiant sky.
The red and golden rays of the sun transformed the wetlands into a dramatic setting perfectly reflected in the series of lagoons.
Finally, we had to admit that we were lost in that maze of dikes and channels, communities and bridges, but we did finally find our way back to the farmhouse. There, we threw open the 10-foot tall shutters on our bedroom patio door, pulled the screen down, and retired to the peaceful sounds of the countryside. We were planning on an early start next day…6 a.m.