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Valli di Comacchio, our Camargue and its majesty the eel

Under the summer sun, the boat moves silently. Along the banks they grow marsh reed and glasswort, which is now a protected species, in the distance flocks of birds fly away, the splashes of water on the face are definitely refreshing. The valley that leads the boat knows all the secrets of these solitary and somewhat wild places that seem to dissolve into infinity: “Look over there”, he says, pointing to a group of pink flamingos who have found a safe nest here, the place of their hearts. They are marvelous, elegant, precious and shy creatures: they should not be disturbed, but you can at least let yourself be enchanted by their beauty.

Browse the valleys of Comacchio (Ferrara), the Italian Camargue, it’s like plunging directly into a story lost in the mists of time, a story of fatigue and work linked above all to fishing, especially eel. Between the Po delta and the seathe valleys are the largest complex of brackish wetlands from Italy. A little over a century ago, they extended over approximately 49,000 hectares: remediationwhich made it possible to recover land for agriculture, reduced it by three quarters, but represent an extraordinary ecosystem (the entire Po delta is a UNESCO biosphere reserve) and a living testimony – and still present – of age-old traditions which modernity has not undone.

The boat docks at one of the traditional fishing huts which were the “pivot” of the organization of work: until the 17th century, they were built of reeds and straw, then they were rebuilt in masonry and enlarged. A dozen valleys worked at each fishing post, and each group formed a “family of the valley”, with a caporione, a sottocaporione, retaroli, boys. There were also the guards to watch over the poachers, the harpoons moving on nimble boats, the vulicepi. Some casoni have been recovered and today – as museums of the valleys – they offer insight into valley life, its ‘rituals’ and equipment.

The strong period of fishing coincides with autumn, when eels from the valleys they lead to the sea: they must reach the Sargasso Sea, with a very long journey, to reproduce. For capture themalready in ancient times it was invented an ingenious trap arrow-shaped, the dam, which separates the eels from other fish. At Marinated manufacturing, in the historic center of Comacchio, a little Venice of bridges and canals, still today the eel marinade follows recipes handed down for centuries: it is possible to visit the fire room, with the twelve chimneys to cooking, and the vinegar room with vats and barrels, where the brine is prepared for preservation. For three weekends, between September and October, Comacchio celebrates eel in the festival dedicated to these ancient flavors, recognized as Slow Food Presidia. But every day of the year, in these valleys, we savor the passage of time. With enchanting slowness.


The mystery from the city disappearance

100 years have passed since the extraordinary discovery of the first tomb in the necropolis of Spina, an Etruscan city in the valleys of Comacchio which flourished from the 6th century BC thanks to trade with Greece, and three centuries later a ” gone” forever. Precisely in 1922, during the reclamation of the valleys, the tombs began to resurface which returned Attic ceramics, kits and other precious testimonies of a rich, refined and cultured city. The exhibition, which runs until October 16 at the Palazzo Bellini in Comacchio, is dedicated to the anniversary of Spina’s “discovery”. And opposite, on the other side of the canal in the historic center, you can visit the evocative Museum of the Ancient Delta which also houses the cargo of the Roman ship wrecked around 19 BC and found forty years ago in the Ponti Valley.


The hidden gem of the Goro bench. A tongue of sand which is a paradise

The Comacchio valleys can also be visited on motorboat excursions that depart, for example, from the fishing station of Foce. But in the Po delta there are other isolated and special places, such as the island of love, the pearl of the Goro scanno, a strip of fine sand in the exact place where the river “merges” in the Adriatic. It can be reached by motor boat from Goro (the birthplace of Milva) or with a short ferry crossing from Ariano Polesine. Characteristic of the island, the 22 meter high lighthouse built in 1950: the caretaker’s house is now a welcoming inn, where you really feel out of place. And the small beach in summer is equipped with umbrellas. Another part of the island is a nature reserve, to protect a rich wild fauna and flora: pink herons, oystercatchers and refectory are at home here. A little paradise.


The marinated eel from the valleys of Comacchio is the most typical transformation of fish from the valley. For this reason, the old treatment method (provided for by a regulation of 1818) has been restored inside the Manifattura dei Marinati, in the center of Comacchio.

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