Perhaps some of you remember that last year in August we published an article about the Beata Vergine Maria delle Grazie Sanctuary in Curtatone (Mantua) and the annual festival of the Madonnari (designers of sacred images made with colored chalks) that takes place every year for three days in the vast square right in front of the church entrance.
Well, at the end of the article we mentioned another very interesting reason to visit this millennial fair: the park of the river Mincio and the flowering of the lotus flowers on its waters which happens precisely in July and August.
Our recommendation as “vertical (in-depth) explorers”, which are travelers who move with small shifts in search of different points of interest concentrated in a small area, to deepen the knowledge of a region and fully enjoy its peculiarities, such as to visit Mantua, Sabbioneta, the Festa Delle Grazie and surf on the Mincio during Summer.
By intuition, we decided on the sunset boat tour, at seven in the evening, at the end of a day full of exciting discoveries and I must say, it turned out to be the best choice ever.
We arrived in Mantua at the last moment at the boat dock and picked up the ticket booked the day before (we advise you to do the same because the boats are small and you could risk not being able to get on board) armed with a fan and anti-mosquitoes ready to take on the marsh insects and related discomforts.
We know the Po valley well enough, its waters and summer temperatures to be fierce and ready for any eventuality, but don’t ask me why this little trip turned out to be sweet and blissful like a summer dream.
But before I tell you about the beauty of the boat ride let me pull out the pedantic teacher inside me and let me describe in a few lines the story of the waters we are mentioning.
Mantua appears to visitors as a sort of enchanted place since over the centuries it has not been able to expand beyond the water belt within which it is located.
The city is practically surrounded by artificial lakes whose structure was created in 1190 by the engineer Alberto Pitentino who organized a defense system of the city by rearranging the river Mincio natural flow and surrounding the inhabited center with three artificial lakes, obtained in the bend of the river.
When the Gonzaga family, who ruled the area between the 14th to the 18th century, arrived in Mantua they found a city so happily protected that they could easily devote time and resources to the arts and good living.
At the time of Isabella d’Este Gonzaga, a cultured patron of arts, the flowering of lotus flowers still did not exist, but it is thought that the spirit of the Marquise of Mantua inspired the involuntary architect of this fascinating invasion.
History tells us that in 1921 Anna Maria Pellegreffi, a young natural science graduate, decided to plant the lotus rhizomes in one of the three artificial lakes, Lake Superior. A century later, being a highly infesting plant, the result is a floating island of flowers and leaves (the biggest one outside South East Asia) and the spectacular presence of a fauna, above all volatile, which here comes to reproduce undisturbed.
The lotus, we all know, is a sacred flower for Hinduism and Buddhism and observing it on the water it is easy to explain why: beautiful, compact, delicate and powerful at the same time, it seems to be born from nothing because the large water-repellent leaves completely hide the roots with which it anchors to the muddy lake bottom.
While the boat proceeded silently in the canals specially created by the keepers of the Aquatic Park, visitors kept a religious silence and God knows how difficult this is when it comes to a group of Italians!
The spectacle of the setting sun coloring the water and the sky of a thousand flaming reverbs, the imposing and unstable vegetation on which only the light aquatic birds could afford to stop, the small boats that passed to dozens of meters cutting the water surface in a very light motion, the ancient bell towers far away on the banks ….. each element enriched the living picture in which we were happening to be.
Isabella the Marchesa was also an expert perfumer and would have certainly loved the delicate scent of Nelumbium Nucifera and if she had had it available she would certainly have created with the fragrant lotus one of her pastes that she used to send to princess and queens contained in “bussoletti”, small gold spheres to attach to the belt.
And when we got back onshore and had a drink watching the last golden moments of the amazing long summer sunset we couldn’t avoid thinking
“ My God, these Gonzagas knew how to live!!!”
Some useful links for your visit (We highly recommend this company for your boat trip! They truly have a passion for the Mincio river and the tour guide was super knowleagable of the river offerings)
How to arrive at the boat dock: