DeltaFarm, open-air tourism comes to Porto Tolle to boost the local area

DeltaFarm, open-air tourism comes to Porto Tolle to boost the local area


With its colossal smoke stack towering 250 metres into the air; the Porto Tolle power station has become an iconic feature of the Po Delta landscape. Since the end of the 1970s, this ‘power tower’ has stood proudly over the site almost as if to symbolise the deep connection between the power station and the local area. The chimney is also the tallest structure in Italy and from its top it offers impressive views of a much broader horizon, suggesting that the site’s story is far from over. The power station was fully decommissioned in 2015 but is now ready to turn the page and open a new chapter in its history in the form of DeltaFarm, the innovative open-air tourist village designed to replace it.  

The project was developed by Human Company, Italy’s leading open-air tourism specialist, and submitted as its proposal to breathe new life into the former power station site. “The Po Delta is a unique area because of its flora and fauna, because it is such an easy place to practice various sports and because it showcases a very different kind of Italy to the one most people are used to,” explains Marco Galletti, CEO of the Florence-based Human Company. “We knew Enel Produzione was looking for projects for the area and we fell in love with the place on our very first site inspection.” The group aims to deliver quality sustainable tourism in close contact with nature and open to all. A low environmental impact holiday format that values the importance of the green spaces in which the structures are located.  

A unique area that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, located in a region that, according to the findings of the Open-Air Tourism Survey carried out by Human Company and Travel Appeal, is foremost in the minds of Italians and foreign visitors choosing the open-air format. The latter holidaying approach is a genuine lifestyle movement in Northern Europe but is now gathering momentum here in Italy too with over 2,000 villages already up and running, and tourists flocking in from Germany, Holland, France and Switzerland. 

Finding the right project to take the place of the power station was no easy task. It did not just involve setting up a new business at the site but required the kind of proposal that could guarantee development and employment levels comparable to those of an industrial plant that, until the end of the 1990s, was producing almost 10% of Enel’s national energy production. The transformation of the energy production model, which has changed radically since the 1980s, has meant that the power station has now outlived its usefulness. 

Enel Produzione threw down an ambitious gauntlet to investors by asking them to come up with socially, environmentally and economically sustainable projects. In its proposal to inject new life into the former power station area, Human Company delivered the kind of figures and ideas that convinced everyone: a village capable of catering for up to 8,000 tourists per day with commercial activities, artisan workshops, fish markets as well as markets for the superb locally-grown and sourced specialist foods and flowers. The project was unveiled at a public meeting last April: the new village will take shape in the southern section of the former power station site and cover 110 hectares, 20 of which will be woodland. Direct employment is projected at 400 personnel and the village will be open to local businesses that want to get involved. The project will place particular emphasis on developing the open-air tourist village, a hub for water sports that will become a national and international reference point, the creation of a visitor centre to showcase the superb local environment and landscape, and a centre for local products, recreational fishing and tourism centred around fishing heritage.

A challenge that involves the entire area because Human Company’s goal is to turn Polesine into a new tourist destination that will showcase to an international public within the village the very best of the local area.

“Being able to transform an area like that of the power station site is an opportunity for operators like ourselves and for the Nation as a whole,” explains Galletti.

The process of converting the power station continues. Enel Produzione and Human Company are now working on defining the timeline for the project. Three aspects in particular will be at centre of the next stage of the work: analysis of environmental characteristics and verification of both the technical aspects of the project and those relating to the authorisation process. The technical and economic assessments will be followed by a detailed definition of the project, which aims to ensure the maximum reuse of the existing structures from a circular economy perspective.  

As announced at the packed public meeting last April that revealed the details of the project to Porto Tolle’s citizens for the first time, the ultimate aim is to begin the repurposing work in 2019 with the goal of preparing the open-air village for its launch in the 2023 tourist season.

And what about the famous chimney? Galletti is unequivocal, “We’ll leave it standing. It is Italy’s highest structure and will become both a symbol and an international attraction.”