One popular excursion on this Italian river cruise through the Veneto region is the lovely Villa Ca’Zen, a 17th-century villa in the Po Delta Nature Reserve, Italy’s biggest regional park. The villa’s long and interesting history also has a link to one of Britain’s greatest poets: Lord Byron (more about that later).
In the early 1700s, many wealthy Venetian families established grand estates throughout the Po Delta region, using the area for shooting, fishing and crop cultivation. The Ca’Zen estate was built by the Zen family around that time, and is situated on the site of a small stone tabernacle that dates back to 1459 and is dedicated to Saint Margherita.
The original estate included the Venetian-style villa, along with a chapel, stables and a portico. The chapel has a beautiful aspect directly facing the River Po and contains two important statues (from the famous Bolognese School) that depict Mary and the Archangel Gabriel during the Annunciation.
In the early 1800s, when the estate passed from the Zen family’s hands to the Marchesi Guiccioli of Ravenna, two extra wings were added to the villa, along with some outlying cottages and several large granary barns.
The history of the villa took on a romantic twist through its association with Lord Byron, who is perhaps the most romantic of all the great Romantic poets. Byron fell deeply in love with Contessa Teresa Gamba who was already spoken for as the wife of Alessandro Guiccioli.
Despite her marriage to Guiccioli, the attraction between the Contessa and Byron was instant and mutual and they became lovers. Angered by their liaison, her husband sent her away to languish in the family estate (Ca’Zen) far from the social life of Venice in an attempt to place distance between the lovers. Alas for Guiccioli, Byron instead pursued his passion and secretly travelled to the estate to be with Teresa. It was from here that the poet penned some of his most celebrated and beautiful works, many of which were dedicated to his lady love and the river.
In the ensuing years, the estate was taken over by the Casalicchio-Avanzo family, and it was the wife of Cavalier Pericle Avanzo, Elaine Avanzo Westropp Bennett, who suggested using part of the country house to rent out to visitors. Its location in the heart of the environmental reserve is ideal for a host of outdoor pursuits. Today, the villa is also very popular as a wedding venue.
The romance, history, culture and landscape of this relatively unspoilt region combine to create a truly memorable experience both on and off the water.
About La Bella Vita
La Bella Vita is a stylish 20-passenger vessel offering comfortable, fully air-conditioned accommodations with a choice of single or double beds. She has two upper-deck junior suites and eight lower-deck staterooms, all with en-suite facilities; and a bright, spacious dining room/bar area. Louvred doors open to the side decks to give a perfect viewing platform. Above, there is a huge sun deck with an awning and comfortable loungers to relax on with a drink and a good book, or just watch the world go by.
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