There’s nothing like taking a detour while traveling in Italy. I’m not talking about an accidental detour because you get lost, although those can be an adventure as well.
No, this is when you’re driving out and about along the Adriatic coast, passing by myriad beach towns, and then your friend says, “Hey, let’s go see the Abbey of Pomposa.” That’s a great detour.
Summer 2017 brought me back to Siena for the Palio on July 2, which was as exciting and thrilling as the first time I saw the historic horse race in 2016. I then ventured north, to visit friends in Bologna. My friend Silvia invited me to spend a few days at her family’s home at Lido degli Estensi, or the Estensi Beach. And who am I to turn down an invitation to the beach? The area is north and east of Bologna, in Emilia-Romagna, in the province of Ferrara.
We were driving along an ancient road, called the Romea, when Silvia suggested the Abbey would be a nice stop. I didn’t need convincing. “I have been there many times and I really love it,” she told me recently.
For me, as we passed marshes to the left and beach towns on the right, coming upon a centuries-old monastery was a treat. “It really is typical in Italy to find something as a surprise around the corner,” Silvia said. “It happens to me quite often in Bologna too.”
The Abbey is a Benedictine monastery near Ferrara, founded between the sixth and seventh centuries. By the year 1000, it had become a meeting point for pilgrims and monks and thinkers. The first thing you see is the bell tower, or campanile, which stands about 158 feet tall. The rest of the complex is the church of Santa Maria, the cloister, the refectory and a small museum.
When we left Bologna the day before, we made another stop, in a little town called Comacchio, complete with a canal, bridges, a church, museum and a thriving eel business.
We walked into a grocery and I was amazed at how creative the bakers can be with bread dough. I’d also never seen anchovies packaged in so many different ways. But everything was pretty much about the eel business.
It was late afternoon when we got to the apartment. We left the car in the garage, hopped on some bicycles and headed to the beach. Riding through the center of town was just like riding through any small beach town in the U.S., minus a boardwalk and saltwater taffy seller. But there was a fabulous gelato shop!
We got to the beach, rented an umbrella, two chairs and enjoyed the late afternoon sun. As many times as I’ve been to Italy, and I’ve been to Italy many times since 1986, this is only the third time I’ve gone to the beach. Here, there were amusements, restaurants and bars. The cabanas and umbrellas anchored in the sand threw me back to a 1960s beach party movie.
Our sojourn was quick but it was filled with sun, sea, a centuries-old Abbey and gelato. I’d say that was a successful getaway!