A few overview comments/points.
1) If possible fly into Venice Marco Polo and leave via Verona or the other way round if doing the Mantova to Venice route. This will simplify your transfers and the amount of time you need to make them. (I flew Aer Lingus from Dublin and this worked perfectly - although the flights were quite expensive).
2) The route is incredibly flat (literally just a couple of overpasses to deal with). To some people this will be idyllic, to others (like me) a tad boring, nothing like a couple of small hills to create a vista and add character to a landscape. Consequently this attracts some families, not necessarily a bad thing, but be prepared that children could be on board. The children were all well behaved and no trouble, but they could do with direction when cycling as they tend to stop without warning etc and on longer days most kids will struggle with spending time riding beyond an hour or so without a serious break. This in turn would make me strongly consider cycling solo. Perhaps on day 1 (and with 2 boat trips to contend with) it makes sense to follow the directions as part of the group to get used to them. But on your own you stop when and where and for as long as you like and dont have to wait for the slowest rider. Of course if you are the slowest, or have kids, then this is for you.
3) Probably best to avoid August and maybe July, due to the heat or if coming those times make the effort to read the directions to ride solo and therefore avoid the midday heat.
4) If a choice exists between the boats, then plump for the Ave Maria. Vita Pugna is smaller and less modern than Ave Maria. Consequently the rooms are a little smaller too (more similar to the Croatian boats).
5) Staying on the boat and not riding is always an option.
6) The mix of nationalities I experienced was considered fairly typical of the groups.
Day 1 - Arrival Day
Arrival at Venice Marco Polo airport and buying a ticket for the Vaporetto, (Water bus) and even finding the landing stages is pretty straight forward. As always in Italy at takes a few attempts to get on the boat that is heading to the Island of Certosa. This island is a "request" stop and for reasons that are not perfectly clear to me, it is necessary to board a different boat to the one that mentions the destination you want.
The boat takes about 40 minutes (and cost 15 euro) and duly stops at the right Island. The Ave Maria is a very short walk away and it is no problem to leave bags on board.
Nearby is a small hotel with a bar and restaurant so it is possible to get some reasonably priced lunch and a beer or coffee, however beyond a 15 minute stroll, Certosa does not really offer much.
So a word of advice: when buying your Vaporetto ticket, consider getting a 48 or 72 hour pass, so having checked your bags you can head to one of the other islands or indeed Venice itself. This will also come in handy for the following day.
After a couple of hours I return to the boat and can check into the cabin. The cabin is well appointed, with a nice en-suite bathroom. There are some important and slightly complex instructions for using the toilet, but everything else seems very straightforward.
There are 24 travellers on the trip, including Australians, Americans, Germans, Austrians, English, Italian and French. Surprisingly there are a few children (with 12 being the age of at least 3 of them) , although after completing the tour I can see why. Our Tour Leader (Beatrice) is French, lives in Germany and has also lived in Ireland and USA and therefore proceeds to give the introduction in English, German, Italian and French. Although on the face of it impressive, this is quite labourious as at least 75% of what she says is aimed at someone else and (embarrassingly for us English speakers) the French and Italians have perfectly good English. There is always a suspicsion in these situations that the German content seems to contain a lot more information, which seemed to be borne out as the week went on.
We were also introduced to "Il Capitano", who was a rather glamorous Dutch lady (Connie) and our two cooks. No one seemed to have any allergies etc, but it was nice to know that they at least seemed to take this and vegeterians seriously.
Day 2 - Rest Day
There is a choice of cereals, ham, cheeses, yoghurt, fruit, toast and some bread rolls. It is set up so that you can make a sandwich for your lunch each day, although you can always buy something en-route if you want more substantial food (or are too lazy to make your own).
Unusually (although with Venice I can see the logic of this), the first day of the tour is a rest day, giving a chance to catch the ferry to St Marks square and look around this amazing city.
Having been before a few years ago for several days, I personally find the large crowds (arriving from Cruise ships) to be rather oppressive and instead head down little back streets to find a quiet square.
Day 3 - Venice to Chioggia (30km)
Two Germans on the trip went solo (which you can do). I stuck with the group, which was painfully slow. A break was taken at the beach for a couple of hours (where some people took a swim). I explored the Island a bit further and met up with them later on. We then all cycled together to take a small ferry (cost 7 euro per person) to the Isle of Pellestrina. Just before boarding the ferry, despite having Marathon plus, puncture protection tyres, I get a nail in my rear tyre. Being given no tools or pump or tube, I therefore had to defer to our leader. It was clear that Beatrice was not confident at the prospect of fixing a flat (and didn't really seem to know whether she had the right equipment). So on leaving the ferry I fixed my own flat, not a big deal, but it did set me up to be asked by others to look at little issues others had with bikes.
Pellestrina was a lovely quiet island with beautiful multi-coloured houses and a pleasant path beside the water. An optional short extention existed to visit a nature reserve, before boarding the boat and then riding to Chioggia, known as the little Venice.
Day 4 - Chioggia to Albarella (40km)
The cycle leaving the town involved negotiating a lot of cross flow traffic, especially random pedestrians and cyclists. We then followed a cycle path and crossed a couple of bridges, some pushing our bikes. The next section was on a road that was quite narrow and was pretty busy, especially given the size of our group. Thankfully this did not last very long and soon we were on a quieter riverside road.
We joined the boat at a nice harbour in Albarella. Tonight the dinner was of Octopus and Turbot and it was good to know that they appreciated that this might not be to everyones taste, so alternatives were available!
Day 5 - Albarella to Adria (65km)
We start with another very short cycle to take a small boat across to Port Levante. Here there was some very nice cycling along quiet roads and a riverside cycle path. To add some extra interest a metre long snake somehow managed to get caught in my spokes and wind around my tyre, before realeasing itself. We take a detour to another beach resort, which given the speed of the group (slow) the temperature (around 36C) and it being a national holiday (so the beach was packed), was probably a detour too far. At 2pm we leave with still around 40+km still to cycle in the midday sun on an exposed cycle path. When the average speed is around 15km and there were frequent stops, then this was quite painful - maybe if we stopped more and went slower we would get there quicker?
There was also remarkably few towns and villages on this section, so nowhere to go.
Finally we stopped for a drink in a fantastically well air-conditioned bar and resumed with a slight temp drop. The final 15km was a bit quicker, but it did seem that the extra 15km detour was probably too much for 12 year old kids.
On arrival we learnt that the German couple who went solo each day, had conspired to have an accident and Uwe had broken his shoulder. Details of how he had done this seemed sketchy which given the completely flat terrain, low speeds and virtually zero traffic of the day, suggested rider error/fooling about.
Day 6 - Adria to Zelo (40km)
Again there were some nice quiet roads and dedicated paths. After a stop in a town and a look at a villa, we then joined the river embankment path. For many people this is probably great (it is 100% flat) but I personally find it a little boring and it tends to be exposed in terms of sunshine.
We arrived at the very beautiful city of Ferrera at around 2pm and had a couple of hours to spend here. Unfortunately most places were closed, so it was hard to find somewhere to shelter.
After re-grouping we cycled a short distance to the railway station (2km) where we stacked the bikes into a trailer and boarded a bus for a 45 minute ride to a Gran Padano cheese factory.
We were shown around the plant, before we enjoyed a glass of wine and some of the cheese itself.
Another bus ride (40 minutes) and we arrived at Sello, a small town.
Tonight we enjoyed a barbecue, where for the first time we sat on the top deck eating al fresco, which (some mozzies aside) was a very pleasant experience indeed.
This village also had an Irish Pub, so a short stroll involved trying to teach the fundamentals of darts to Luigi, who proceeded, like all good ringers to beat all and sundry.
|Some Italian Singing to entertain us!|
Day 7 - Zelo to Mantova (52km)
The cycling also involved closer proximity to villages, which I found more interesting.
I arrived in Mantova at around 12.30, whch meant no riding in the worst of the heat.
Mantova is truly beautiful, but seemingly without the big crowds of Venice and other well known cities. The rest of the group arrived at 3pm, which was surprisingly quick for them, but then I discovered they made a stop off half way, where it was possible to board the boat, which all the children and some of the slower adults took advantage of.
At 5.15 we took a very interesting (included) guided tour of the city that gace a nice outline of the history and took us inside the 2 impressive cathedrals. Roberto, our guide, spoke several languages, but seemed very happy to work in English and for the first time it was the Germans who felt that perhaps more information was being imparted in different languages than their own.
It was then back to the boat for the last dinner and to settle the bar bill before departure the next morning.
Day 8 - Departure
Breakfast was available as usual at 8am, and so was the opportunity to make yourself some lunch to take away. Cabins were to be vacated by 9am, but it was fine to leave bags on the boat if you wanted to.
My flight back to Dublin was from Verona at 4.20pm, so I took the 12.28 train from Mantova, which painfully took 45 minutes to complete the 41kms, I guess at 3.30euro you get waht you pay for. It was then a bus 15kms (6 euro) straight outside the Verona railway station back in the direction I had come from to the airport.