Of all the lagoons in the Veneto, Caorle is the most easterly and the most exemplary. For years its four basins – Valle Zignago, Valle Perera, Valle Granda and Valle Nuova – were unknown except to hunters and fishermen, despite being immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in Across the River and Into the Trees. They are still a world apart, far from the pollution and tourist fuss that is destroying the natural habitats of Venice and the summer bedlam of monstrous resorts such as nearby Jesolo.
The Granda is the last of Veneto’s classic lagoons – the one closest to its natural state and the only one with a full complement of wetland birds and vegetation. Some 15,000 birds winter here, skimming over misty waters which are rarely more than 50 cm deep. Myriad species of geese, coots and duck (notably pochard) predominate in the cold months, giving way in summer to large numbers of breeding water-birds, such as night and squacco herons, little egrets, Marsh and Montagu’s harriers.
A distinctive local feature is the survival of the casoni – fishermen’s huts made from reeds, which can be found in the lagoon’s remotest reaches.
The Landscape and Nature
If we’re talking about the distinctive natural features of the northern Adriatic coast we have to at least mention the pine forests and the river landscapes. The pine forests have paths and routes that lead straight to the sea, and that you can follow on foot or by bike through over 3000 adult pines. They are green oasis that give certain towns – such as Eraclea – the name of ‘green pearl’ of the Adriatic coast. The river plays a very important role in shaping the hydro-geological space of the coast – but so does the landscape, which takes on colours and shades of unique charm and beauty. The banks of the Revedoli canal, which runs for about 10 km – just 2 km inland from the towns of Caorle and Eraclea – links the mouths of the Piave and Livenza rivers, and can be reached on foot down very atmospheric little gravel lanes.
The “Laguna del Mort”
Another noticeable habitat in the area is the “Laguna del Mort”, situated near Eraclea, south-west of Caorle and to the east of the estuary of the river Piave. Despite the not very attractive name (it means the 'Dead Man's Lagoon' in Italian), this is a fascinating location for both its flora and the fauna, especially in terms of birds. The site, as it looks today, was created by an abandoned branch of the Piave, remained cut off during a particular flood event. It is a characteristic salty lagoon located at the back of a dune cordon along the littoral.
Inland, an extended stabilized dune environment hosts a mature pinewood with many tree species and an understory representative of the local vegetation, typically Sub-Mediterranean in nature and found originally along all of the northern Venetian coast. It is composed mainly of Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus), Phyllirea (Phyllirea latifolia), Juniper (Juniperus communis) and Wild Asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius) – among many others.
The natural dynamics here have been modified by the presence of artifacts built as defense against sea erosion (such as transversal piers and concrete ‘stairs’ parallel to the coastline) and also by a noticeable reduction in the solid supply of silt, once guaranteed by the river Piave. If the ‘stairs’, on the one hand, look quite artificial, on the other hand they have created a neat, artificial separation between land and sea, and have guaranteed – in fact they still guarantee – the survival of this original remnant of coastline, all too often compromised by the high tides and sea-storms.
The beauty of the ‘Laguna del Mort’
Access via land to the ‘Laguna del Mort’ – both on foot and by bike – is only possible from Eraclea Mare by following a long, shady unpaved lane through the verdant pine forest to discover a surface area of around 125 ha, made up of coastal dunes and small ridges populated by the typical fauna and flora of the wetlands. In 2003, the ‘Laguna del Mort’ – together with its beach area – was declared one of the 11 most beautiful beaches in Italy by Legambiente, and consequently awarded the title of ‘Site of Community Importance’.
The Landscape of the ‘Great Land Reclamation’
The history of Caorle and Eraclea in the last century is closely related to the ‘Great Land Reclamation’, because until the end of the 19th century over 70% of this area was submerged by water. Today the countryside inland of these seaside towns offers itineraries that lead to the discovery of vast horizons, with fertile fields and monumental water pumps, which allow you to observe the beauty of this new face of the landscape: a neat, linear outline, dotted with lots of atmospheric scenery.
The ‘Litoranea veneta’
The ‘Litoranea veneta’ is an internal waterway that links a tightly packed network of rivers and canals parallel to the Adriatic sea coast. From the docks of Eraclea Mare to the villages of Torre di Fine and Briàn, there are pleasure boat itineraries full of very interesting environments and landscapes, art and history. In the Eraclea area, the locks of the Revedoli canal (now disused) signal the continuation of the Veneto waterways eastwards, passing into the Largòn canal. The Largòn flows through the Altanea valley (‘valli di Altanea’) into the Connessura canal, and finally into the Livenza. Sailing back along the Livenza you can travel to Motta di Livenza, and continue along the Meduna and Noncello rivers to eventually reach Portobuffolè and the major town of Pordenone.