First, a bit of Italian geography – the 57 mile long Sile River in northern Italy flows through beautiful countryside, the historical city of Treviso, and empties into the Venetian Lagoon. The Venetian Lagoon is an enclosed bay in the Adriatic Sea where the city of Venice is situated among 118 other islands and archipelagos.
Monica and I were going on a river adventure and I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Navigazioni Stefanato has run Sile River cruises since 1978 and we were up bright and early to make our 8:30 AM boarding time for the Silas, a 120 passenger riverboat. Our itinerary was going to take us from the small village of Portegrandi down the Sile River into the Venetian Lagoon, continuing for stops at three different islands. On the schedule were the scenic and very interesting islands of Burano, Torcello and San Francesco del Deserto. The atmosphere was like a party as people were getting on the boat – everyone talking and laughing, all ready for the experience. There were families, couples, friends and even a few small dogs in handbags; all geared up for fun. I had a feeling we were going to have a blast!
Our entertainment started with Glauco, our esteemed captain and tour guide, with his running commentary and wise cracking jokes. I didn’t understand half of what he said and Monica patiently translated the other half, which is how I knew they were wise cracking, but most of which I still didn’t get. Some of it was in dialect she said, which made me feel a little better because I have a hard enough time understanding Italian, let alone Venetian.The boat started slowly down the river with gorgeous landscape views of fishing houses and local wildlife.
Envisioning all the forms of local Venetian seafood prepared in a multitude of ways, I got excited thinking about what we would eat when we got to Burano. Grilled razor clams? Roasted Branzino? Maybe a bowl of linguine topped with crab? But we were told lunch would be served on the boat and with the popping of the bubble over my head, all I saw in my mind was a hot dog and a bag of chips. Then I remembered that this was Italy and knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. And I was most certainly not let down…
Because before we knew it, it was time to eat! And doesn’t everyone eat antipasto and drink Prosecco at 9:30 in the morning? This was going to be a great day!
After “breakfast”, the first stop was the island of San Franceso del Deserto, a tranquil and spiritual place with a tiny 15th century Franciscan monastery. Four Monks inhabit the island and with advance notice, they will give you a tour, in Italian, telling the history and how St. Francis traveled to the island in 1220.
After a peaceful and serene visit to the cloisters, we all got back on the boat. And guess what time it was? Aperitivo time! Doesn’t everyone drink a Spritz after church? Saluti and Cheers!
Post Spritz, our next stop was Torcello, a quiet island with its main attraction being the 11th century church of Santa Maria Assunta .
Back on the boat, it was time for…lunch! I just love this vessel! Our first course (yes, we had multiple) was Risotto di Gò, a heavenly specialty of the region made with a local lagoon fish. All of the food was made fresh in the boat kitchen and the party continued with more Prosecco. Our very entertaining table mates, a family of Mom, Dad, seven-year old daughter, Nonna, Nonna’s friend and a little white dog, were on their fourth carafe of Prosecco of the day-and we know two members of the group weren’t drinking…but who was counting?
For dessert, platters of cookies including Bussolà, a local cookie from Burano, and small cups of espresso came out to keep us going for our next stop.
Our last stop, Burano, a charming island with candy colored buildings was absolutely worth the wait. Brightly colored houses and narrow boat filled canals with a few piazzas scattered about are the landscape of captivating Burano. Known for beautiful hand-made lace, there are plenty of shops selling this centuries-old handicraft as well as several small bakeries selling Bussolà; buttery, light and my new favorite cookie.
We weren’t quite done with the libations since a day on an Italian boat going down the Sile River into the Venetian Lagoon wouldn’t be complete without a Grappa, which was offered upon reboarding the boat. The ending ride back up the river was a bit more calm and quiet with all the passengers in good spirits, relaxed and extremely well fed.
Never would I have imagined a simple boat excursion could turn into such an incredible and unforgettable experience. Awesome food, great wine, stunning scenery and wonderful people – but for me, that’s Italy.
(Glauco will be our private boat captain, along with an English speaking guide for our “Taste of Prosecco and the Veneto” September 13-19, 2015)
Navigazione Stefanato tel 39 0422 788663