January 7, 2023 – Land and freedom. These are the words that enriched my experience in visiting the Po at Papozza. The credit goes entirely to Roberto, met by chance on Tuesday morning: I was having breakfast and a man on horse materialized around Falkor, an unusual sight in a big city like Milan, but more normal in places like this. At a curious look from him, I felt like opening the door and saying hello. Within minutes I was invited to his house for an aperitif.
His exquisite hospitality (which translated into an extension to dinner with risotto cooked on a wood-burning “cheap stove” of yesteryear), his culture and his preparation from an environmental point of view struck me. The result was three hours of very pleasant and enriching chat and discussion. Perhaps this has been my most authentic “traveller” experience up to now, given that I come from a very “city” life in which my main characteristics, for many years, have been shyness and reserve. It’s never happened to me to open up like this to a casually known person and join him for a home-cooked dinner!
A life for the environment
He is an environmental guide; he has managed the nearby WWF oasis for many years and above all he has gained experience in Zapatista Mexico which has led him to adopt the motto “land and freedom” also in this corner of Polesine. For 18 years he has lived on a farm that he personally renovated and surrounded by two hectares of land, including a natural wooded area, full of animals (horses, donkeys, goats, chickens, ducks) and fruit and vegetable crops for family use. He was also a member of WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), whose mission is to connect visitors with organic farmers, promote cultural and educational exchange, and build a global community aware of ecological agriculture and the sustainability practices. Everything here at his home follows this principle.
Between one chat and another he told me about Papozze, where the Po essentially divides for the first time: on one side, later, it will turn into the Po di Venezia, while on the other side the Po di Goro starts. The Veneto Regional Park of the Po Delta also begins here. In Papozze there is the aforementioned Oasi Golena di Panarella of the WWF, where, among other things, it is possible to stop in a large car park, and an indicator placed in one of the floodplains of the Po as evidence of the greatest flood that can be remembered in recent years: in October 2020 the water reached 7 meters and 34 centimeters above the hydrometric zero.
That event was obviously exceptional, but Roberto told me how today, since 2019, there has been a total lack of floods that were absolutely normal for the great river: twice a year, in spring and autumn, which served to “clean the river” depositing debris and rubbish on the floodplains and renewing the land. Drought and lack of floods then lead to the ascent of the “salt wedge”: at high tide, the sea water goes up the Po for even tens of kilometers, with inestimable environmental damage and with the impossibility of using the water of the river for irrigation purposes, thus also putting agriculture at risk.
A somewhat disillusioned view
Added to this is an environmental sensitivity which according to Roberto is by no means on the increase, despite the common feeling, and an increasingly less widespread general culture. “While once the young sons of local farmers studied to improve their social position and relieve themselves of poverty, today those who live in these areas prefer to devote themselves to fishing for clams: a well-paid night job, which according to them makes studying useless. Because working regularly in this way, it’s easy to ‘get the BMW’ and not care about everything else…“, says Roberto.
In short, a somewhat disillusioned vision of the world, to which he has tried and still tries to make a contribution, hosting when he can tourists interested in sharing a little authenticity and organizing tours on foot, by kayak, on horseback. But don’t talk to him about cyclists (the banks of the river make up the Po cycle route, from Turin to Venice) or motorhome enthusiasts: the former run with their heads down thinking only of covering kilometers without even looking around, the latter think more in terms of BBQ parties, incompatible with the fragile delta environment. Perhaps a little more awareness would be enough to improve the relationship between tourists (too often in a hurry and focused on themselves) and the local area, but this is the situation today.
Between one anecdote and another the evening flows quickly, and in the end Yoda and I just have to go up the embankment and walk the few hundred meters that separate Roberto‘s La Girandola farm from our Falkor, breathing deeply lungs the air from this area.
- Where to sleep – In the parking lot of the WWF Golena di Panarella Oasis. Camping Meridiana 2000 in Papozze has unfortunately been closed for some time.
- Where to eat – At the beginning of the town of Papozze, in via Braglia 3 (6.6 km away from the car park), is the restaurant-pizzeria Le Magnolie. I haven’t tried it, but the reviews are good.
- Camper service – The closest (13.9 km) is in Mazzorno, along the banks of the Po, in via Gesù Crepaldi 6. Here there are 5 large stalls, electricity for a fee (€2 for 8 hours), camper service and drinking water loading (for a fee: 10 cents every 10 liters).