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A Guide to Comacchio, Emilia Romagna’s Canal Town and Po Delta Gateway

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Updated: 8th August 2023

My second visit to Comacchio was supported by Visit Comacchio and Ravenna Tourism

Comacchio’s canals might be fewer and less famous than those further north in Venice, but they hold their own share of secrets and stories. Discoveries in and around these waterways range from pre-BC Roman Ships with their wares intact to the long-lost Etruscan port of Spina. And now, the traditional fishing town sitting at the mouth of the Po River – Italy’s longest – has become an abode for a new type of resident: 20,000 pink flamingos which call the shrimp-rich waters of the Po Delta’s salt pans home.

Having been cut off and somewhat secluded until around 1820, when the first main road was built, Comacchio developed in its own sleepy way – with some investments from the former wealthy owners, the Dukes of Este. Eel is the speciality on the plates here; fishing methods and houses remain traditional – even though the industry has suffered greatly since the 1950s – and the verdant vast lagoons and wetlands of the Po Delta and other nearby protected areas have remained pristine. 

One of Italy’s hidden gems, Comacchio, is best explored slowly, spending a few days flitting between wildlife, the laid-back historic centre and the beaches. Still, I appreciate not everyone will have as much time, so below you’ll find suggestions on how to do Comacchio as a day trip and more tips on things to do in Comacchio for those planning a longer visit, including hotels and holiday resorts.

Sunset in Comacchio, with aperitivo hour on a boat restaurant
Sunset in Comacchio, enjoying aperitivo on a floating restaurant

Getting to Comacchio 

Comacchio is in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. If you have a car, reaching Comacchio is easy from all the nearby major cities. The driving time from Bologna is around 70 minutes, from Ravenna 40 minutes, and from Venice around two hours.

By public transport, the easiest route is from Ravenna, where there are some direct buses from the central bus station and Ravenna Farmacia. Still, it will take between 80 minutes and two hours. Coming from Ferrara by bus is similar (with a connection), while from Bologna, I’d suggest making it an overnight visit as a day trip will be pretty long.

How to spend one day in Comacchio

To best explore during your Comacchio day trip, I’d propose hiring a bike if you want to spot flamingos and see the Po Delta, returning it in the afternoon. If you’d prefer to explore on foot only, see my suggestions of tours and activities after the one day itinerary and pick and choose which works best for you. 

If you want to use any local buses in and around Comacchio, for example, to go to a holiday village or the beach, you can search for the best timetables on tper.it.

Morning: Explore the Po Delta and spot flamingos

One of the most magical aspects of Comacchio is the town’s proximity to the Po Delta. This vast protected park – the mouth of the Po River, Italy’s longest – is spectacular, with salt pans, marshes, traditional fishing houses called Trabucchi Comacchiesi and plenty of pink flamingos – thousands of which now call the park home.

You’ve got a few options to explore the park, but I’d propose renting a bike to easily get closer to the best part: the salinas (salt pans), where most of the flamingos are usually found. Bike rentals are available from the IAT Comacchio tourist office and the Manifattura dei Marinati. Po Delta Tourism offers a variety of other options, such as boat and bike or just boat tours of these lagoons. However, they are only on certain days of the week, so I propose hiring the bike separately and making your own tour (see the below note about certified guides for the salt pans). Still, you can check out all of their Po Delta tour options here to see if their schedules match yours – Peter, my guide when I first visited Comacchio, was certainly a character.

Once you have your bike, you’re free to cycle around the large lagoons of the Po Delta, spotting the fishing nets of the typical stilted buildings en route – if the boat tour is running, you can use this to cross to the salinas rather than making the entire loop. The most impressive part is the stretch along the Valli di Comacchio, a narrow slither of raised land raised flanked by water, and along here you’ll usually see plenty of flamingos. They thrive in this area due to the high quantity of brine shrimp, the pink pigment giving the birds their colour.

Just be aware to get closer and visit the salt pans or the viewing tower, you must be with an authorised guide as it’s a protected area – arranged with the Salina di Comacchio directly or another operator such as the Po Delta Tours mentioned above.

Lunch at Monnalisa Restaurant overlooking the beach
Lunch at Monnalisa Restaurant overlooking the beach

Lunch: Sea view seafood lunch 

If you’re not sticking around in Comacchio for dinner, I suggest returning the bike and enjoying lunch along the canal. But if you have the time, make the most of your bike and cycle to Comacchio’s coast, where you can enjoy a seafood lunch and perhaps even a quick dip.

On my most recent trip, I visited Le Dune Beach, where you’ll find a few restaurants. I had a delicious lunch of fritto misto (mixed fried fish) and a cold seafood platter at Monnalisa Restaurant – part of the Holiday Village Florenz – paired with a few too many glasses of their locally produced white wine, which has a unique taste due to the grapes being grown close to the sand. 

Alternatively, you can track the Canale Logonovo back from the Po Delta to the slightly closer Lido degli Estensi, where you’ll find other dining options. After lunch, consider briefly passing through Porto Garibaldi, the port town where fishing still occurs.

Afternoon: Walking tour of Comacchio’s canals and history 

Comacchio is compact, and in just a few hours, you can see the city’s highlights and main museum on a walking tour, followed by a few detours and further exploring of the secondary canals.

The best place to start is at the Ponte dei Trepponti, considered Comacchio’s prominent landmark and the old entrance gate. This peculiarly pentagon-shaped bridge – with two sets of staircases on one side and three on the other – was constructed in the 17th century; however, further towers and adaptations have been added since. Once crossed, you’ll see one of the oldest buildings in the town, the old fish market, which now houses temporary art exhibitions or puppet theatre shows. Walk a few steps ahead on the Via della Pescheria, past the old prison (fish theft was rife once upon a time, and you’ll see the four-columned facade of the Museo Delta Antico.

Used as a hospital until 1970, the impressive building now serves as the town’s history museum, and it’s an essential stop to learn more about Comachio’s history. Covering everything from how dredging and land reclamation were used to found the fishing town to archaeological discoveries from the long-lost Etruscan town of Spina – once one of the most important trading towns in the world – the interactive museum provides plenty of information in English. Most fascinating is the Fortuna Maris, an old Roman merchant ship which was discovered mostly intact and full of goods, clothes and other items during a canal dredging in the 1980s – thanks to the high salinity of waters, it remained incredibly well preserved.

Here's to a coastal escape in Emilia Romagna
Enjoying an Aperol Spritz at La Locanda del Delta

Evening: Traditional dishes along the canals 

Comacchio’s canals look their best at golden hour when the soft amber light bounces off the pastel-hued buildings and – if you’re lucky with a windless day – reflects on the water’s service. It’s also when the canals come alive, with people enjoying aperitivo at the bars lining the canal. Some even have docked boats so you can enjoy a drink or dinner while floating on the main waterway.

One of the most extensive terraces offering fantastic views can be found at La Locanda del Delta, a restaurant I have eaten at twice. I can highly recommend the mussels or the rice mounded high with seafood, but if you want to go traditional, then you’ll need to order the eel. The most cherished of local specialities, Comacchio is home to both an eel tinning museum and even an eel festival. Why? A vast number of the slippery creatures move between the sea and the Po Delta’s lagoons when the water temperatures change, and thus it became the town’s main food source. Honestly, it’s not my favourite dish, but it’s the most typical thing to try during your one day in Comacchio.

Fish platter with eel in La Locanda del Delta.
Fish platter with eel in La Locanda del Delta.

Best things to do in Comacchio and Emilia Romagna’s Po Delta

If you have a more extended stay planned in Comacchio (or just want to pick out a highlight or two), these are more of the best things to do in Comacchio and nearby in the Po Delta.

Take a dolphin spotting boat tour with TAO 

When I was visiting the beaches near Cervia, further along the coast, I was lucky enough to meet Andrew Ferrari, a marine biologist who works with TAO (Turtles of the Adriatic Organisation). At the time, he was working on a conservation project there as a turtle had laid their eggs on the beach – something rather remarkable for this stretch of coast, as they tend to only come here to feed. However, I did learn that they offer boat trips to spot dolphins responsibly – the funds being used for research – with departures from nearby Comacchio.

Walk the Old Town’s canals and bridges 

Often called ‘Little Venice’, the canals and bridges which define Commachio tell the stories of the old fishing community. While there are only a handful of waterways to trace here, strolling along them and spotting young boys practising their gondola tour, enjoying a drink in a bar, or admiring the Trepponti bridge are arguably the biggest draw of one of Italy’s most beautiful towns.

Eat eel, or perhaps try to attend the eel Festival 

While I’m discussing the delights of the sea, I can’t skip Comacchio’s beloved eel. The first time I visited the town expecting calm canals, I was greeted with crowds on every corner: the Comacchio Eel Festival (in September or October) was in full swing, and everyone was here to celebrate. With abundant slippery creatures found nearby – they move between the lagoon and sea when the temperatures change – it’s become a staple on almost every restaurant’s menu, somewhat different to the more known cuisine of Emilia Romagna.

Tour the Manifattura dei Marinati museum

Located in the old fishing district on the town’s perimeters, the Manifattura dei Marinati is the place to head to understand more about the lagoons and in particular, eel. A small video (in Italian) gives an overview of the eel industry and how Comacchio used to look, while a small exhibit on the traditional types of boots and tools used adds a little more colour. Inside the old smoking room, where fires have coated the walls in black, eels are still tinned for distribution, and you may get to spot the work in action.

Visit Comachhio’s farmed fish shop

If you’re self-catering in Comacchio, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Pescheria Trepponti to grab the freshest fish. The staff working here will also happily give you recipe and preparation tips, or you can enjoy a seafood platter on ice on their small terrace.

The Old Fish Market
The Old Fish Market

See art in the old Fish Market (Antica Pescheria)

One of the oldest buildings still standing in Comacchio, the Antica Pescheria (old Fish Market) is just across the Trepponti bridge. There’s not much to shout about, but often you’ll find some nice displays from local artists or photographers on the walls.

Relax on the beach

There are more than a handful of beach village resorts along the Emilia Romagna Riviera, with some of the best close to Comacchio being Le Dune Beach, Florida Beach, or the pine forest-backed stretch near Lido di Spina. This protected area, which sits alongside the Sacca di Bellocchio State Reserve, is wild and undeveloped – meaning no rows of umbrellas and sun loungers, but rather birdlife and the soundtrack of waves. 

Feel typical fishing life in Porto Garibaldi

Porto Garibaldi, the 15th-century fishing port, is just a short journey from Comacchio’s canals. While bombing during the war sadly damaged much of the port and left the town somewhat worse for wear, a short visit here will give you a feel for the local fishing industry, especially in the morning when the boats dock with their catch. 

The Museo delta Antica has a large section dedicated to the Etruscan city of Spina
The Museo delta Antica has a large section dedicated to the Etruscan city of Spina

Tour the impressive Museo Delta Antico archaeological museum 

Museo Delta Antico is arguably Comachio’s highlight. When I first visited the town, I skipped this museum, but on my recent return, I gave myself an hour inside, which still wasn’t enough. The building – once the town’s hospital constructed on the commands of Pope Clement XIV in the late 18th century – is impressive in itself, but the well-curated and interactive exhibitions are even more compelling.

The space covers everything about Comacchio’s history as a fishing town, including the canals and dredging, with archaeological finds aplenty. The section focused on the Etruscan town of Spina is particularly fascinating, sharing the story of how this ancient seaport was one of the most prominent trading posts in the 6th Century BC.

You’ll also be impressed by the Fortuna Maris, an old Roman merchant ship which was discovered in the 1980s as part of a canal cleaning. Thanks to the mud and salt, the ship and its load have been incredibly well preserved, yet it’s still one of Europe’s hidden gems.

Learn about the lost city of Spina 

After learning about the Etruscan city of Spina in the Museo Delta Antico, you might want to dig a little deeper. Lost in the 3rd century BC for reasons yet confirmed (perhaps adapting trade routes, sea level changes, or attacks and fires), myths and mystery abound – through mud and water have helped preserve some insights.

In 1922, while dredging work was taking place, remains and archaeological finds from Spina were finally found. These findings have now been used to reconstruct a couple of typical houses and a small open-air museum in the Valli Station of Comacchio.

Flamingo spotting in the Salina di Comacchio by bike and boat 

As detailed above in the Comacchio itinerary, you have a few options to try and spot flamingos and learn more about the salt pans and traditional boats of the region. While I detailed a DIY option above, if you can schedule your trip to include one of the local boat and bike tours by day or even at sunset, you’ll get some first-class insights from an expert local guide as well as privileged access to the salt pans and flamingo observation tower as these are only accessible with an approved guide. The boat tour will also take you alongside some of the traditional fishing huts (Trabucchi Comacchiesi) with their large hanging nets. 

Alternatively, kayak rental is also available if you want to explore some of the lagoons (but not the salinas) on your own power.

Learn about traditional clam fishing

Another tour I took on my first visit to the Po Delta National Park focused on the traditional methods of clam fishing – still in use today – using a wooden rake-style tool, the rasca. As this tour takes you to the Sacca di Goro (by the regional border with Veneto), it’s quite a journey, so only recommended if you have a few spare hours and an interest in seeing the traditional fisherfolk still carrying out their taste. 

Experience Comachhio’s canals during February’s carnival

If you’re in Comacchio for the one-day event in mid-February, you’ll find the winter blues being blown away by colourful floats and costumes at the town’s Carnival. While Carnival isn’t a unique thing to the town, the fact that the majority of the entertainment takes place on boats makes it worth a visit if you’re nearby.

Best time to visit Comacchio 

The best time to visit Comacchio and the Po Delta is from spring until autumn. However, keep in mind temperatures in July, August, and early September can soar, making it slightly uncomfortable for a busy day’s sightseeing. While you could also visit in the winter season for a stroll around the town or bird watching, the beach obviously becomes less appealing.

The best time to visit Comacchio for birdwatching is spring and autumn when the migrations take place; pink flamingos are now spotted year-round, as they have also taken up residency here. The Eel festival takes place either in September or October.

Great places to stay in and around Comacchio 

While Comacchio doesn’t have a vast choice of hotels, it offers something for every price point – from camping stays and holiday-style resorts to more upscale boutique stays. It’s advisable to book in advance around popular holidays and from July until August. 

Camping and holiday resorts near Comacchio 

Around Comacchio and the Po Delta, there are plenty of camping options which are a far cry from a plot of grass for your tent. Some of them, such as the Spiaggia Romea Club Village in Lido Delle Nazioni (where I stayed on my first visit), offer a nature-based resort close to the beach, complete with pools and activities alongside different styles of lodgings and buffet-style restaurants. This land was destined for over-development, but luckily a family purchased the land and only built on a small area, preserving the rest for nature and wildlife. An electric golf cart can take you on a ‘mini-safari’ through this part of the park where white Camargue horses roam and bird-spotters watch for local species. 

Other decent choices include the Holiday Village Florenz, which has both cabins, pitches and glamping tents and its own beach club, or Camping Tahiti, which is a little back from the beach (it has a complimentary shuttle), perhaps the most family-friendly destination resort I’ve been to in the area.

The pool area at Camping Tahiti
The pool area at Camping Tahiti

Hotels and boutique stays in Comacchio 

The majority of accommodation in Comacchio is private homes and apartments, but if you’d prefer a hotel, there are a few I’d suggest. The rooms at Locanda del Delta (above one of my favourite restaurants in town) are nice, modern and seconds from the canal – some even have views of the waterway. The Villa Cavour B&B has spacious rooms, a quaint garden to enjoy a lazy breakfast, and a couple of the rooms face a smaller canal. Locanda La Comacina is another canal-facing spot that was highly recommended to me, though I haven’t personally visited, so I can’t give any personal feedback.

Ravenna's Byzantine mosaics are mesmerising
Ravenna’s Byzantine mosaics are mesmerising

Where to go after Comacchio and the Po Delta

After you’ve explored the canals, spotted the flamingos, and savoured all the eel one could possibly eat, you might be wondering where to visit next in Emilia Romagna. Here are a few nearby suggestions.

Marvel at the mosaics of Ravenna

Ravenna is undoubtedly one of the most underrated cities in Europe. Once the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the city has eight Unesco-listed monuments, with the colourful Byzantine mosaics being the star of the show. I’d suggest spending at least two days in Ravenna, although it’s a fairly compact city so that plenty can be enjoyed on a day trip. 

Enjoy beach days on the Emilia Romagna coast 

The Emilia Romagna Riviera is a great place to escape the heat on summer days. Lounge on the beaches of Cervia and explore Milano Marittima – a garden city turned beach resort town – to the south of Comacchio. 

Cycle the streets of Ferrara 

Slightly inland from Comacchio, the grand city of Ferrara (the capital of the province that Comacchio falls under) makes for an excellent day trip. Hire a bike and discover the top things to do in Ferrara, such as the Este Castle and the city’s cathedrals and palaces. 

Explore more of Emilia Romagna (and beyond) 

From Comacchio, you’re well placed to discover more canals in Venice, spend two days in Bologna eating the most delicious dishes, head to the hidden away medieval town of Brisighella or explore all of the other amazing places to visit in Emilia Romagna. You could even go on a day trip to San Marino, a landlocked micro-country.

A Guide to Comacchio: Canals, Flamingos & The Po Delta – Explore Etruscan history, quaint canals, and flamingo-dotted lagoons in Comacchio, Emilia Romagna's Po Delta Gateway.
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