In Italian, la bella vita means “the beautiful life”, and indeed, for six glorious days that is exactly what travel writer, photographer, and avid quilter Rose Palmer-Sungail – aka ‘Quiltripping‘ – experienced on European Waterways’ luxury barge cruise La Bella Vita in Italy….
Memories from a 'Beautiful Life' aboard La Bella Vita
After two previous European Waterways barge cruises in France, I highly anticipated this cruise from Venice to Mantua, knowing it would be filled with outstanding service, excellent food and wine, and bespoke excursions. And I was not disappointed!
Now that I am home, I can’t help but keep thinking about my time on the La Bella Vita. Images continue to replay in my mind as I recall my most memorable experiences from this trip. These happy flashbacks make me smile and take me back to those spontaneous moments that made this cruise so special for me.
When I close my eyes, I can still feel the fine sand in between my toes on the long, sandy beach on Pellestrina – an island in the Venetian Lagoon. I dipped my feet into the Adriatic, and after a hot day of sightseeing, the briskness of the water was refreshing. I continued wading into the gentle surf, the initial chill quickly going away as my body got used to being in the sea. I kept walking because the soft sandy bottom made it easy to just keep going and going and going.
I waded almost a full football field length before the waves finally came up to my chest. Yet despite the depth, I could still clearly see my toes through four feet of crystal-clear surf. I bobbed up and down with the waves, playing in the sea as I normally do with my grandchildren.
Pellestrina is one of the long, thin, barrier islands that buffer the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Colorful houses, harbors with small fishing boats, and farmland line the island’s western coast. The east coast is all one long sandy beach. It’s a popular recreation spot with the locals, but by that time of the afternoon, the beach was completely empty. I revelled in the feeling of having the sea all to myself, imagining that if I squinted hard enough, I could almost see the Croatian coast on the other side.
As the sun set over Pellestrina, our guide Flavio took us to a nearby beach bar. We sat on the harbor wall with the locals, drinking spritzes accompanied by small bar snacks, or cicchetti. A young couple arrived on a small boat, tying off to the dock behind me. I remember being amazed at how the young woman got out of the boat so effortlessly in high heels. Conversations in rapid fire Italian surrounded us. We sipped and snacked and chatted, and the sun turned into a huge fireball as it sank into the lagoon behind our backs. Then it was time for another delicious dinner on board.
I close my eyes again, and this time I see the colorful houses reflected in the canals on the small island of Burano. I had been to Burano before and actually prefer it to Venice. This time though, I had the island to myself.
It was the first morning of our cruise and we were docked at Burano. I woke up early to see the sunrise and to explore the canals without any other tourists around. The town was not quite awake yet. Only a few locals were starting up their boats, heading off to work as we would with our cars. I ambled along the quiet streets, appreciating the simple, colorful homes without all the distractions of open cafes or shop displays.
The light gradually changed from early morning blue to warm yellow and the reflections in the canals became brighter. A fisherman set up his pole on one of the bridges, though he seemed more interested in the young woman that jogged by or the three friends that were power walking around the island. Sweepers appeared, their neon green vests complimenting the bright houses around them as they cleaned up in preparation for another day of visitors.
As I strolled along the canals, a single swan kept pace with me. If I stopped, it would approach me, hoping for a treat no doubt. When I had nothing to give, the swan contentedly nibbled on the weeds growing along the canal’s banks, until I started walking. Then it would follow me again.
Slowly, the town came to life. More and more of the locals were heading to the ferry dock. The magic hour had ended, but I had experienced Burano in a way that very few visitors ever get to do. It was now time for breakfast back on the boat.
The images keep coming. A patchwork of scenes continues to crowd my memory and my vision.
We are cruising though the Giudecca Canal on our first afternoon on board. I was standing on the sun deck with a cool Aperol Spritz, warm breeze ruffling my hair, anticipation building as I waited to get that first glimpse of St. Mark’s Square.
Our chef was doing a cooking demonstration as he made lasagne from scratch, including the pasta. Then at dinner we all quickly devoured hours of work and asked for seconds. Hostesses Isabella and Francesca were always smiling, always eager to please, and always authentically engaging in a charming Italian way. Talking with intern Paolo who was excited to practice his English language skills, which were already quite good.
As I go down memory lane, I’ve got Spotify playing a selection of popular Italian music, the soundtrack I associate with this cruise and in particular with the Captain’s farewell dinner. Who knew that our captain could also sing so well? We didn’t discover this until our last night on board when he led us in a rousing rendition of “Volare” with all of us loudly singing the first line of the chorus because that was all we knew.
Volare… oh, oh!… Cantare… oh, oh, oh, oh!
I am still smiling because now I can’t get that tune out of my head.
I am also smiling because as I relive all these moments, I realize that I loved everything about my La Bella Vita cruise. European Waterways went out of their way to provide the highest quality experience in every way. But most important, they made it possible to come home with special memories that I will cherish forever. Now that’s amore!
Enjoy the good life with La Bella Vita
Rose travelled from Venice to Mantua on the 6-night all inclusive Classic Cruise aboard La Bella Vita in June 2023.
Inspired? You can follow in Rose’s footsteps on a cruise aboard the 20-passenger La Bella Vita, which cruises between Mantua and Venice between April and October! For more information, order a free copy of our brochure or perhaps have a no-obligation chat with a member of our team via our Contact Form.