Given the fact that Venice is the most famous canal city in the world, it stands to reason that each year Venetians celebrate a festival of the oar with a regatta known as Vogalonga.
The regatta does not have an ancient tradition going back hundreds of years. In fact, it all started as a race between friends in 1974. It was actually a protest against the number of motor boats being introduced onto the canals of Venice, and the first participants were anxious about the deterioration of their city so invited all those who had `put down their oars’ to take them up for just one day of the year. That first regatta was a success and it has escalated since then.
Although it is sometimes referred to as a race, it is actually non-competitive and follows a picturesque 30 kilometres route through the canals of Venice and the lagoon up to Burano. What started off as a small gathering of around 500 local boats from Venice and the neighbouring cities, is now an international gathering of over 1500 boats from around the world.
Following the race’s success and on the wave of re-discovered love for the traditions and the call to save the city, more than 50 rowing clubs sprang up in Venice and the surrounding area, which gradually acquired splendid procession boats rowed with ten, twelve and eighteen oars. Boats which had long since disappeared from the Lagoon were rebuilt, having formerly only been seen in works of art by the great Venetian landscape painters such as Pietro Longhi and Francesco Guardi.
One of the best ways to view a regatta is from the water, and each year there is an eight day cruise on the barge La Bella Vita held to coincide with the regatta. La Bella Vita is a stylish 20 passenger vessel that was newly refitted in 2010 to high the standards of the European Waterways fleet. There are two upper-deck junior suites and eight staterooms, each with en-suite facilities.
The cruise begins at the ships mooring near St Mark’s Square. From there it sails the short distance to Riva San Biagio, where it moors to give best viewing of the regatta. Over the next few days the vessel cruises to Mantua, but there is much sightseeing and touring during each day when there are visits to explore many of the towns, castles and magnificent gardens which dot this exquisitely attractive region of Italy.