In my recent article, Polesine Italy: Two Rivers Run Through it, I told you about a series of attractions in Polesine, an area of northeast Italy which is sadly overlooked and seriously overshadowed by neighboring Venice. Two attractions not mentioned in the previous article are covered here: food and lodging. They are inter-connected in that many of the appealing places to stay are agritourism establishments, and agritourism has a special significance in this part of Italy. The economy of Polesine has been based on agriculture for millennia, and travelers have been coming here equally as long.
The abundance of locally-grown produce and locally-caught seafood from the Adriatic contribute to the area’s culinary reputation. Now, to say that food is an attraction in Italy is like saying that the Renaissance had cultural importance; it’s so obvious as to be meaningless. What makes the food in Polesine distinctive is that it is grown in a fertile strip of land between two rivers, the Adige and the Po, flanked by the Adriatic to the east and ventilated by its winds. This unique geographical position imparts a special tang to the area’s rice, lettuce, asparagus, and radicchio, claim local farmers. Preparation is simple and straightforward, exalting the natural flavor of the raw materials. For example, a dish as seemingly banal as lettuce and tomato takes on new dimensions when the lettuce is Lusia, picked, washed, packed, and delivered to the restaurant the day before, and the tomatoes are equally fresh and local.
Equally appreciated: Polesine is not (yet) inundated with tourists from outside the region. So the hospitality is less jaded and the food more genuine than you are likely to find in Venice and its surroundings.
Food and Lodging in Polesine
Agriturismo Corte Carezzabella
This charming country home was started in 2008 by a young couple with no previous experience in hospitality but long-standing ties to the region. They slowly reconstructed an early 19th century farmhouse and now offer 16 guest rooms and apartments carved out of former granaries. A swimming pool, library, lounge, internet, air-conditioning, and a flower-punctuated patio pamper guests. Today the owners don’t have to worry about bringing in new clients because their loyal customers return regularly. The aptly-chosen name means “Court of the lovely caress”, since that is the way guests describe their stay here.
Food is locally-sourced both for breakfast and – upon prior arrangement – lunch and dinner. A recent lunch included: grilled tomatoes with garlic, risotto made from Carnaroli, rice, eggplant torta, zucchini frittata, various salumi, breads, cheese and jam. A budino (pudding) was served for dessert. All were either made in the Corte kitchen (you can also take cooking lessons here) or grown nearby.
Via G. Marconi 754, 45030 San Martino di Venezze (Rovigo)
Azienda agrituristica Valgrande
Valgrande is first and foremost a farm restaurant, featuring typical recipes of Polesine, with a special nod toward its desserts. All the meats served (chicken, pheasant, duck, goose, and rabbit) are raised on the farm. Vegetarians won’t go hungry, as vegetables are also a large part of local tradition. Each of the five rooms reserved for guests has its own name and character (owl, blackbird, rooster, peacock, and nightingale), a nod to the area’s importance for bird-watching.
A recent dinner featured platters heaping with prosciutto, salumi, and homemade focaccia followed by a vegetable risotto, pheasant with potatoes and eggplant, and panna cotta with local melon for dessert. Prosecco from nearby Valdobbiadene leads the wine selection; Polesine does not have its own wine-growing area.
via Riviera 849, Bagnolo di Po (Runzi)
Agriturismo Millefiori Corte delle Rose
“Court of the roses” is not a misnomer for this renovated country villa; roses grow in the extensive gardens as do many other flowers (if not thousands as per the name “millefiori”). The eight rooms and apartments are furnished in rustic style with wrought iron beds and wood furnishings, plus all the mod cons. An inviting pool, the free use of bicycles, and the nearby Park of the Delta del Po provide opportunities for guests to burn off calories ingested during long satisfying meals in splendid antique surroundings.
A recent lunch consisted of the Polesana version of bruschetta with melon, risotto capped by Lusia salad, cappone served with local vegetables, and a sugar-sprinkled vanilla tort for dessert.
Via Borghetto, 7 Rovigo (Fenil del Turco)
Hotel Capo Nord Isola di Albarella
If an agritourism facility is not your style, consider the destination resort of Albarella . Albarella is a once-mosquito-infested island south of Venice that was bought by an elite industrial family. It has been disinfested, landscaped, and redesigned as a private sports enclave for the wealthy (whose needs the owners understand personally). Albarella boasts its own golf course, 20 tennis courts, a riding stable, an archery range, sailing and wind surfing schools, and 14 other sports activities. Because access to the island is carefully controlled, the complex appeals to affluent Italians (not to mention plenty of Russians and other Europeans) who value privacy and security for their weekend playground.
In addition to villa and apartment rentals, Albarella has two hotels for non-residents: Capo Nord and the Golf Hotel, both four-star. Capo Nord, restructured in 2013, has the look and feel of a Swedish country retreat, all pale wood, sleek furniture, and efficiency without effusiveness. Buffet breakfasts and dinners are attractively presented but memorable more for appearance than taste.
Restaurants in Polesine
Ristorante Marina 70
Porto Tolle is the culinary capital of Rovigo, with one excellent restaurant after another, all obviously fish-focused considering the seaside location. In this eatery one can enjoy a dish of sparkling-fresh mussels (the best this writer has ever tasted outside the green-lipped mussels of New Zealand), spaghetti con le vongole veraci (spaghetti with fresh clams), equally fresh and briny; then a dish of sole, squid, and eel, with a salad of local greens, tomatoes, and carrots on the side. And finally, panna cotta plus a crostata di frutta .
The view of the delectable items spread across the table is so great it is hard to shift one’s eyes to the enchanting seascape of the Adriatic beyond the glass walls. One leaves the table moaning with pleasure and groaning with excess . . .or is it the other way round?
Via Belvedere 2, 45018 Porto Tolle (Rovigo)
Ristorante Medioevo di Rosolina
There is nothing antiquated about this restaurant except the name. The structure is large (a renovated country house) but is divided into four separate dining rooms, each with its own ambience, so the mood is friendly and intimate.
You can choose “fish” or “meat” as your preferred menu, or try one of Medioevo’s three pizza menus. Opting for the sea, I enjoyed a fish risotto and a grigliata mista di crostaci (a mixed grill of crustaceans: astice, scallops, mazzancolle, shrimp, and crab), plus regional radicchio and mixed salad. For dessert, local cheese with homemade jams and fresh fruit.
Via Ca’ Diedo, 4 – Rosolina (Rovigo)
Written by and photos by Guest Author Claudia Flisi for EuropeUpClose.com. Claudia Flisi is an award-winning writer based in Italy. She has two passports, two multicultural sons, two bicultural dogs, and one quintessentially Italian husband (one is enough). For more information, visit her website.
The author lived in Veneto for several years and returns annually. She revisited it this July as a guest of local authorities.