Stage 8: Mantova to Sermide

Distance: 65.2 km

Time: 3 hours 9 minutes

Speed: 20.7 km/h

Ascent: 113 metres

Total distance: 450.4 km

Total time: 23 hours 40 minutes

Wordle scores: Captain 4 and 3, Stoker 4 and 5

Word of the day: “ritornare” (ree-tor-nah-reh) – to return

The Stoker writes:

We came to Mantova exactly twenty years ago. For three hours! We drove from Lake Garda for lunch, I remember there was a food market on in Piazza delle Erbe, and we were plied with so many samples we were too full to have any actual lunch.

It was good to be back, and to have more time to explore. We went out for dinner on Tuesday evening, and shared a pizza in a lovely piazza, below a clock tower. The piazza was really difficult to walk on, because it was made up of big pebbles set into concrete, very uncomfortable. I noticed that all the waiting staff wore incredibly thick-soled beetle-crusher footwear – who could blame them!

Yesterday being our rest day we relaxed and did some forward planning, route-finding and accommodation hunting, then had a light lunch before heading into the Palazzo Ducale complex. It was the palace of Mantova’s governing Gonzaga family, and gosh did they ever live in some style. The palace was huge, the tour long but really well sign-posted and very interesting. Here are some highlights.

After a full exploration we headed out, somewhat gobsmacked at the opulence we’d seen, and took ourselves down to the lake to join our boat trip. It was gorgeous, covering two lakes, Mezzo and Inferiore. The lakes around Mantova were created by the Gonzaga family for the defence of the city – it was surrounded at one stage, although one of the lakes was filled in, leaving Mantova as the peninsula city it is today.

The views of Mantova’s ‘skyline’ were fabulous as we headed from Mezzo towards Inferiore, via a short canal with a low bridge construction above. At this point a man appeared from the lower deck armed with a hammer and a phone. He used the phone to keep the captain posted on whether we were going to get under the bridge with the radar intact. Quite what he planned to do with the hammer if we didn’t, I don’t know. Fortunately, we sneaked underneath without the need for any on-the-fly reconstruction. It was explained that the water level is unpredictable, so they have to check every time.

Once in Inferiore, we could see great swathes of waterlilies and (we were told) water chestnuts. There were swans and cormorants, herons, and an explanation over the loudspeaker of everything we were seeing, its history and development. It was only in Italian, but we did quite well, I think, in picking up most of it. There was a particularly lovely section of waterlilies with big pink flowers, imported originally from Japan. Here are some pictures.

The return journey was conducted in silence, which was a great way to do it. Dinner in our apartment and another good sleep, and that was our rest day done.

We had breakfast this morning at a lovely little cafe, where the tandem attracted a lot of admiring attention, and the Captain was quizzed at length about our plans. Then it was off into the suburbs, and a slightly uncomfortable half hour to get to the first cycle path. We rode first along a little canal, then we were back on the uncomfortable road briefly as we neared the Po river.

We’d originally been planning to go to Parma after Mantova, then Reggio Emilia, Modena and Ravenna. On closer inspection there was no way to do that without using quite big roads, and we decided we were only planning to go back to Modena because we’d had a really good meal there! We scratched our heads a bit yesterday, remembered that we’d really enjoyed the cycle paths along the side of the Po, and chose a route for the next couple of days to return to the Destra Po cycle path towards Ferrara. It’s a section of the path we didn’t do in 2018, having left the Po at Ferrara, going in the opposite direction.

So it was with big grins that we rode up onto the argine of the Po, and tapped along in glorious isolation, next to the river. Like most European rivers, it has suffered from the lack of water, it seemed to have sandy banks and beaches I don’t remember from our last visit.

There had been a huge black cloud to our left all day, and we were fairly convinced we were going to get drenched at some point. As luck would have it, though, it chose our lunch break in Revere to break overhead, with a ferocious twenty minutes of heavy rain whilst we were safely in a trattoria eating pasta. The tandem was not so lucky…

We left the trattoria with under 20km to go and the black cloud now safely to our right, rejoined the argine and continued towards Sermide, today’s destination. It was immensely relaxing, no traffic to worry about, views of the river, and lots of bird life – egrets, herons, cormorants, ducks, coots. Oh, and a huge hare, which spotted us and casually flattened his ears to hide himself whilst we sailed past. The sun even came out.

Sermide came up in no time, and we’re now installed in one of those simple but pleasant hotels that Italy does so well, with the Tour de France on the TV, and half an eye on the cricket at Headingley!

Here’s today’s route and a short video

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