Today was our final day of biking on the bike/barge tour and Rosita led us out of town on a clockwise loop around and through a large nature reserve northwest of Mantua. Our first stop, after 10 km, was in the small town of Curtatone where she showed us the Basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie. Large but unimposing and typically ornate inside, the church is an important pilgrimage spot and is still visited by great numbers of pilgrims. The interior is strikingly different from any church I have seen before. Most churches display pious statues of various religious figures but this one also displays life sized statues of people from different walks of life who represent a particular miracle that saved them from a gruesome death thanks to their prayers to the Virgin Mary. I am sure that the one of the guy with his shoulders dislocated and legs chopped off wishes she had acted a bit sooner though!
Continuing on through quiet streets, dirt and paved trails, this route was a lot more interesting than our former diet of boring levees. At least we got to travel through a few small towns and park-like settings along with the canal trails.
After 28 km, we diverted into the small town of Soave for coffee, where we also picked up a few bottles of beer and wine for future breaks (thank goodness for panniers).
Back on quiet trails, we eventually crossed a causeway between 2 of the lakes around Mantua (Lago Superiore and Lago di Mezzo) and back into town.
Rather than go straight to the barge, now only a few km away, we decided to have lunch at a vacant restaurant patio located right off the path. With nobody in sight, we took over a bunch of the tables, opened our beer and wine stocks and had a nice picnic lunch. It was a little disconcerting when Darryl somehow set off an alarm but no cops came and it eventually turned off.
Back at the barge, after stowing our bikes for the last time, some of us wandered off to explore the town before supper. The Basilica di Sant’Andrea is a standout – a massive, ornate church with an 80-metre high cupola. The frescoes are deceiving – they appear to be 3-dimensional but are actually just painted in the trompe l’oeil style – you have to get within a few feet before you realize that they are not carvings.