10 Reasons to Explore Italy by Water in 2024

Italy is one country that’s on pretty much everybody’s holiday hit list. The art, the history, the architecture, the Italian food – it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most visited and loved destinations in Europe. For those looking for a more laid back and relaxed holiday, rather than the fast-paced, list-ticking experience of many tourists, there is another way… cruise Italy at leisure on a luxury barge.

What Do River Cruises Around Italy Entail?

Anyone who’s discovered the sheer pleasure of luxury barge cruising knows just how wonderful it is to meander sedately along pristine rivers and canals, watching the picturesque scenery drift by. But if you’ve yet to experience a cruise in Italy like this, you’re in for an absolute treat. Not only do you get the benefits of the abovementioned slow pace (no running for buses or trains, or queuing up for tickets), you can also enjoy a host of well-planned shore excursions to take in the culture and history of the towns and villages through which you’ll pass. Add to that the fact that you get to see so many lesser-known, off-the-beaten-track places as you cruise Italy. You really do feel like you’re getting to see the authentic soul of this wonderfully warm-hearted country.

Can I Go on a Cruise from Italy?

You certainly can! In fact, we often say that it’s the perfect country to host this kind of travel, with a host of beautiful rivers and canals that take you through some of the most charming scenery in the country. Our Italian cruise itineraries encompass the stunning waterways of Venice and the surrounding Veneto region, and up through the Po Valley via the River Po and the Bianco Canal to the Renaissance city of Mantua.

Many of the ancient waterways were once trade routes used by early Mediterranean settlers and the Romans – so for those with a penchant for history, you’ll be following in some pretty impressive footsteps.

The River Po Delta visited aboard hotel barge La Bella Vita, Italy

What Are Some Italy Cruise Highlights?

Venice, the surrounding provinces, and the Po Valley are gems that you have to see on your cruise to Italy. Traditional Venetian cuisine is a particular highlight, with delicious seafood sourced locally from the lagoons. Of course, you must sample all of the delicacies you’d associate with a trip to Italy, the cheeses, lavish desserts, and mouthwatering pasta dishes.

Historic towns and cities are an unmissable part of any cruise in Italy, with the country famed for its renaissance and neoclassical architecture. You don’t have to look far to spot a work of genius in Italy. In particular, you should try to go off the beaten track and visit quaint regions unsullied by the tourist masses.

Italy Waterways Map

Here’s where we travel on our itineraries.

La Bella Vita Venice to Mantua map

10 Reasons to Cruise Italy’s Rivers and Canals

1. Stay in a home away from home on your Italian cruise

We don’t call our luxury barges ‘floating hotels’ for nothing, especially aboard hotel barge La Bella Vita. Every one of our vessels is designed with guests’ comfort in mind, and so much care has gone into their interiors, facilities and ambience. Once you’re on board and unpacked, that’s the last time you’ll have to do it – so much more relaxing than having to pack and unpack again every couple of days. With a choice of cabins, from staterooms to suites, delightful common areas to relax and socialise, and fabulous staff on hand to make everything seamless, a cruise from Italy really is an experience to remember.

2. See stunning Renaissance architecture

River cruises to Italy allow you to explore a host of towns and cities, particularly in the Veneto region where in the company of our onboard guide, the highlightsare Venice, Ferrara and Mantua. These wonderful cities are packed to the brim with magnificent Renaissance architecture and, with opportunities to go ashore on private guided tours or to explore at your own pace, you’ll be able to get a truly first-hand experience.

3. Enjoy fantastic Italian gastronomy

The top-quality gourmet food and wine are a big part of our Italian cruise experiences. Our on-board master chefs prepare fine dining with a focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients from local markets. The authentic Italian cuisine will give you a taste of the region through which you’re cruising and the intimate nature of the small group cruises means your chef will present each meal, whilst the hosts will   talk through  the accompanying wine choice. It’s a gastronomic journey in every bite!

4. Cruising in Venice

Because of the size of La Bella Vita, we can go where larger vessels often cannot and, in fact, cruise ships are already banned from certain waterways in and around Venice. While we call them Italian river cruises, we also travel along a network of canals, including in Venice and the wider Veneto area and the lovely Bianco Canal, which runs adjacent to the River Po.

5. Delve into history and culture

We’ve designed a range of private, and often exclusive, shore excursions as part of our Italy cruises so you’ll be able to experience an immersion into the rich culture and history of places along the way. You can discover the Roman, Etruscan and Byzantine history of the Veneto region and the stunning Renaissance art and architecture of Chioggia, Ferrara and Mantua. Having an onboard guide throughout the cruise means you’ll get a history lesson delivered in the most appealing of ways.

6. Cruises to Italy offer unique experiences

We’ve designed some very special and exclusive events for those wanting a little ‘something extra’ as they cruise through Italy. Our private dining experiences, for example, offer some truly unique opportunities to make your holiday even more memorable – including dinner with a real life Italian Countess at the 17th century Villa Ca’Zen on the banks of the River Po!

7. Get up close to nature

For anyone who enjoys the feeling of being embraced by nature, you can’t get much closer than a river cruise to Italy. We travel through an incredibly diverse range of landscapes and natural environments, and the slow nature of our cruising means there’s time to genuinely appreciate it. From the lagoon islands of Venice , to wild beach dunes and pinewoods brimming with birdlife further out in the Veneto region, your body and soul will be revived by nature as the vessel navigates the waterways.

8. Italian hospitality

You’ve heard about the legendary hospitality of Italy, well you can multiply that ten-fold on our Italian cruises! The wonderful English-speaking crew members on board La Bella Vitaare there to make sure you have the time of your life. The personal service and attention to detail extends from the captain and thechef right through to every single guide, host and deckhand. They are trained to be discreet but attentive, and to cater to your every need so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the scenery, food and on-board facilities.

9. You can book the whole vessel

Whole barge charters aboard La Bella Vita are a fantastic option for 10-20 people if you’re looking for an idea for a family get-together or special occasion. Whether it’s a multi-generational family holiday or a group of friends looking for a catch-up, having the entire barge to yourselves (including the captain, chef and crew) is an absolutely unbeatable experience. Cruises of Italy are like one big happy house party!

10. Enjoy a themed Italy cruise

Another fabulous way to enjoy a cruise to Italy is on a tailored themed itinerary designed to suit your interests. At European Waterways, we offer a wide range of whole boat charters themed to things like wine appreciation, golf, opera or family getaways. It’s an incredible way to tailor your holiday to the individual interests of your family and/or friends.

If you’re looking for a flavour of what to expect on one of our cruises around Italy, this short but very tempting video is here to help! While naturally we’re a little biased, we really do believe that it’s the best way to enjoy the myriad delights of this incredible country. But it’s not just us; many of our guests return year after year, because once you’ve travelled like this, there’s honestly no other way.

We’ve designed our itineraries with a great deal of thought to ensure our guests are able to enjoy their holiday at their own pace, exactly as they want to. We offer a diverse range of shore excursions for those who want to delve into more of the culture and history, but if you prefer to spend the day lazing on deck sipping an aperitif, you’re free to do exactly that.

Prosecco and canapes aboard hotel barge La Bella Vita

Italy Cruise Itinerary Examples

You can cruise Italy on La Bella Vita from May to October each year, for six magical nights and seven thrilling days. Our Italy cruise itineraries are brimming with cultural delights, guided excursions, and themed activities.

Here’s an example of what an itinerary might look like for one of our cruises from Italy:

Wine Appreciation Cruise

Day 1 – Explore the Venice sights, sip wine at St Mark’s Square

Day 2 – Wine tasting on the island of Sant’Erasmo, visit the Istrian sea wall

Day 3 – Visit the fish market at Chioggia, enjoy dinner at 17th century Villa Ca’Zen

Day 4 -Take in Renaissance architecture, enjoy wine tasting at Villa Widmann Borletti

Day 5 – Excursion to the historic city of Ferrara before dinner and wine tasting aboard La Bella Vita

Day 6 – Wine tasting at the mediaeval town of Soave, explore on a guided tour of Mantua

Day 7 – Breakfast and transfers

Villa Ca'Zen visited aboard La Bella Vita by Rose Palmer Sungail

Experience the Joys of Italian Cruises for Yourself

While we’ve mentioned ten reasons to cruise Italy by river, there are, of course, so many more reasons – but half the fun is discovering them for yourself! Everyone will have a different highlight and that’s the beauty of this mode of travel. If you’re attracted to small groups, slow paced travel with fine dining, excellent accommodation and attentive crew, then barge cruising is definitely for you.

The vessel we use on our cruises around Italy is the wonderful La Bella Vita, a 20-person barge that will be your home-from-home as you cruise between Venice and Mantua (by the way, Mantua is much further up than many of the larger riverboats can go). This scenic route, which takes in the highlights of Veneto and the renowned Po Valley, delivers the very best of the country’s landscape, culture, cuisine and local hospitality on a (fine dining!) platter. Travelling along the rivers and canals on La Bella Vita allows for a much more intimate experience than on a larger river vessel or ocean liner, but with all the comforts of a luxury escape.

Let’s Talk Italy Cruises

If we’ve won you over, why not get in touch with us so we can talk you through your options and help tailor an itinerary to your needs? This small-group, slow and relaxed way to travel is genuinely like no other and we can guarantee that once you’ve joined us on one trip, you’ll be back for another! So, what are you waiting for? Now is the time to make your booking before you miss your chance.

By the way…

As well as our Italian cruises, we offer fantastic itineraries in France (including Burgundy, the Canal du Midi, Bordeaux & Gascony, Champagne, the Loire Valley and many other places including, Holland, Scotland, England and Ireland.

La Bella Vita cruising amidst flowers by Rose Palmer Sungail

Share this article