Exploring Venice, its nearby cities, and the River Po on Uniworld’s River Countess is as luxurious as river cruising gets, says Anna Gizowska

Venice
Venice

If someone told you that you could visit five magnificent Italian cities – Venice, Padua, Ravenna, Bologna and Verona – from the comfort of a five-star hotel without ever having to pack or unpack, or worry about the logistics of getting there and back, you’d be thrilled. And that’s exactly what you get sailing the Venetian Lagoon and River Po aboard Uniworld‘s boutique ship River Countess.

No other river cruise into the heart of Venice has such exceptional access to the closest and best moorings in the city. From the first day to the last you are always within walking distance from the Canal Grande, Piazza San Marco and Basilica di San Marco, Ponte di Rialto and the pink and white marble Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace).

The first day is spent exploring Venice with a walking tour, a private small boat cruise of the two-mile Canal Grande and plenty of free time to enjoy a gondola ride or a hop on the vaporetto waterbus. With 50,000 visitors a day (63 million per year), you will be delighted with the VIP queue-hopping with the well-informed Uniworld guides. Jumping queues has never felt this good. You see twice as much in half the time with none of the stress. And it gets better. This is the only cruise with exclusive access to a private evening tour of the Basilica di San Marco, a rare and unforgettable treat.

If Italian is the language of love, then River Countess is the floating chauffeur who steers you to your rendezvous, and waits patiently every evening for your return before tucking you up in your 400-count Egyptian cotton bed sheets and handing you a pillow menu. Expect opulent cabins, spa treatments, L’Occitane body products in the marble-clad bathrooms, gourmet chefs and menus, flat-screen TVs and complimentary in-room wifi.

The Lounge on River Countess
The Lounge on River Countess

After a sumptuous night’s sleep and a breakfast of kings you’ll be ready to head by coach to the charming university city of Padua, to visit the Scrovegni Chapel – home to frescoes by Giotto – one of the godfathers of art, the first to have painted a self portrait and to have used perspective in paintings.

With chocolate tagliatelle on the menu, a lunch stop at Padua’s historic Pedrocchi Café is a must. It opened in 1831 and has a policy of never turning anyone away – the owner’s legacy to city residents.

After lunch get ready to be stunned by the lavish décor inside the Basilica di San Antonio, which houses the saint’s tomb. This chapel celebrates everything that’s over-the-top in art. Why have one cherub when you can have hundreds? Many pray for miracles by touching his tomb.

Then it’s back on board for a scenic cruise of the Venetian Lagoon towards Chioggia and maybe an evening stroll in Venice or a nightcap in the Castillo Lounge bar that stays open until the last guest goes to bed.

Mosaics in the San Vitale Basilica, Ravenna
Mosaics in the San Vitale Basilica, Ravenna

Next morning, it’s beautiful Ravenna, the last capital of the Roman Empire and home to some of the most important Byzantine mosaics in Western art. For lovers of classic literature, this is where Dante died in 1321. But it’s not all about highbrow art. This is also a beautiful place to while away the afternoon soaking up the sunshine and trying some local Italian dishes like the delicious piadina – an Italian flat bread, eaten with soft cheese, cold meats and washed down with the local red wine – a heavenly combination.

But the real culinary treat is the pasta-making workshop in Bologna – a foodie’s paradise and home of the tortellini, lasagne, mortadella sausage, ragu and bolognese sauce, which incidentally, is not eaten with spaghetti here but with tagliatelle. What’s for lunch? Lots of pasta and, of course, more delicious wine. But you can walk it all off by climbing the 500 narrow wooden steps (320-feet) of the leaning towers of Le Due Torri (Two Towers). That’s a total of 1000 steps if you can make it back down again and over to the University of Bologna (founded in 1088 and the oldest in Europe).

Last but not least is a trip to Verona, the setting for Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet – and Juliet’s balcony is a photo opportunity not to be missed. You can even scribble a love note on the wall in the courtyard. Then head for a glass of Valpolicella wine from the celebrated Veneto vineyards nearby.

As this fabulous voyage reaches an end there’s still time to enjoy a day and a half in Venice and sip a Bellini at Harry’s Bar, a favourite of Ernest Hemingway.

Whoever built Venice understood the language of love and had the passion to transform bricks and water into something truly extraordinary. So if you arrive not understanding art, at least you will leave understanding passion. In Venice, that’s all that really matters.

GETTING THERE: Titan, in partnership with Uniworld, has an eight-day Venice and the Gems of Northern Italy cruise on River Countess from £2,149pp, departing 5 November 2017 including flights, full board, transfers, excursions, complimentary drinks, gratuities, wi-fi, taxes and Titan’s VIP Home Departure Service®. Call 0800 988 5867 or visit titantravel.co.uk/uniworld.

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.