Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

All aboard for the Good Life; Maria Harding Takes a River Cruise along Italy's Po River and Lives like the Locals

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

All aboard for the Good Life; Maria Harding Takes a River Cruise along Italy's Po River and Lives like the Locals

Article excerpt

Byline: Maria Harding

NOW here's a top tip for your next dinner party. Gather up a heap of acacia flowers and deep fry them in a light tempura batter.

Add salt and herbs to the batter and you'll create delicious and most unusual fritters to serve with aperitifs. Add a little spiced sugar, on the other hand, and you'll have a delicious dessert which, served piping hot with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of honey, is a guaranteed show-stopper.

You may have spotted by now that there is a small snag to this recipe.

First, you must find your acacia flowers.

But take a lazy cruise along Italy's meandering River Po aboard a locally owned river barge called La Bella Vita and you'll find them, quite literally, growing on trees.

We tucked into the savoury version of acacia fritters, washed down with chilled prosecco, while basking in the Italian sunshine on La Bella Vita's top deck as she nosed her way back to Venice from Chioggia, a pretty seaside town which, with a rich history and its own bridged canals, gives its celebrated neighbour a run for its money.

As well as Roman, Etruscan and Byzantine ruins and those picturesque canals, Chioggia boasts a well-stocked fish market which both we and our chef Andrea had visited that day - us to take in the bustle, he to gather freshly caught Adriatic cod and cuttlefish.

Our sun-soaked alfresco lunch was just one highlight of our trip from Mantua to Venice along the Po - Italy's longest river, which cuts, like a saucy garter, across the 'thigh' of Italy from the Western Alps to the Adriatic.

Some of Italy's most spectacular Renaissance towns and cities have sprung up on or near the Po's banks, in a region known La Bassa Padana which is famous as much for its cuisine as for the architectural glories of Mantua, Cremona, Piacenza and Ferrara.

Balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma ham all come from here, and the local shops are rich in goodies like Langhiarano ham, Mantovan garlic salami and pastel-tinted local pasta, all of which make great souvenirs for foodies to take home.

But the best grub was to be had onboard our boat.

Andrea, a dab hand at his native cuisine, dished up an impressive parade of regional delights such as Borlotti bean stew, Baccala Mantecato (salted Atlantic codfish) and Sarde in Saor (fried sardines served with raisins and pine nuts). For pud, we feasted on creamy trifles, soft almond cakes and pungent local cheeses, served with aplomb by Daniella, the boat's unflappable Maitre d'.

They were accompanied by local wines served by friendly sommelier Giovanni, who would point out each wine's region of origin on a wall map.

And that, in a nutshell, is the joy of travelling on this little boat.

A converted former sand barge with room for only 20 passengers, La Bella Vita is not as luxurious as some river cruisers offering tours from Venice. …

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