VILLAGES AND CASTLESWonders all over Emilia
Magical atmospheres: stories, legends, enchanted landscapes
Leaving his own mark, making a dream come true: if it was Count Pier Maria Rossi’s wish when he imagined Torrechiara, well, he definitely hit the target! This wonder of Parma Valley is the symbol of 15th century Italian castles: whatever the view angle, it commmunicates an idea of perfection. It is actually a perfect movie set: you can admire it in “Lady Hawke” (1985) for example. Your tourist guide can’t wait to take you through the frescoed rooms that celebrate the virtues of Pier Maria and the power of the Rossi, the Sforza and the Farnese families. The Golden Room celebrates both Pier Maria and Bianca’s romance and the crucial role played by the Rossi’s “state”, stretching from the Po river to the Apennines. Something unique that you won’t find anywhere else!
Here everything speaks of culture, beauty and taste … in every sense! These hills give quality wines and even the production of local extra virgin olive oil has been re-started.
Do you want to learn more about this story?
In the lowlands, you can enjoy the Rossi Stronghold in S. Secondo, or Roccabianca castle (guess who it was dedicated to!). A short distance from Torrechiara we can find more castles and abbeys such as S. Maria della Neve, Montechiarugolo (listed among the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy), Felino and Sala Baganza: among the many interesting things they offer, there are some “chapters” of Pier Maria’s story. Some kind of serial adventure, not to be missed!
Bardi e Compiano (PR)
Are you looking for a castle with a distinctly medieval atmosphere? Let’s go to Bardi then and enjoy a breathtaking view of the mountains and hills of Parma and Piacenza. Perched on a red jasper outcrop, the fortress is rather awe-inspiring: from a distance it brings thoughts of battles and torture to prisoners in the dungeons!
Fascinating and impregnable, not by chance it remained for four centuries in the firm hands of the Landi family from Piacenza, protecting another small “state” that controlled the strategic valleys of the Ceno and Taro rivers.
Nevertheless, these severe walls and halls hosted court life and passionate love stories. Your tourist guide will tell you more on that, before leaving the castle and having something tasty together, including the renowned PGI porcini mushrooms. And speaking of excellence: the parish church has a surprise in store for art lovers!
If you want to follow the Landi family story, a short distance away there is Compiano, one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, with its imposing castle, offering charming accomodation and unusual attractions: from the International Museum of Freemasonry to the Raimondi Gambarotta art collection. Ready to go?
Fontanellato e Soragna (PR)
The “Bassa”, the plain stretching from Parma to the Po river, was the seat of great aristocratic families, always conflicting or in temporary alliance with each other. In these charming villages, so rich in traditions (including gastronomic ones!), you will find splendid castles-residences.
Some are still inhabited by descendants: this is the case of Prince Meli-Lupi of Soragna, for example, whose family fortress still keeps treasures of arts and craft: rooms, halls and furnishings of breathtaking beauty. And you will also be amazed at the story of the Donna Cenerina… But I will not tell you more and spoil the surprise!
A short distance away, we find the Sanvitale stronghold in Fontanellato, surrounded by its moat, in the heart of the village.
In this village, which has springs and water even in its name, the very young Francesco Mazzola, known as the Parmigianino, frescoed a small room for Paola Gonzaga Sanvitale, with scenes from the ancient myth of Diana and Actaeon: still today we see the goddess bathing with her nymphs, punishing the enterprising hunter. A mysterious story to be told! And that’s not the only peculiarity of the castle.
But this whole area, dear to the memory of Giuseppe Verdi and Giovannino Guareschi, is so amazing! Not only fortresses and castles like those of S. Secondo, Roccabianca and Sissa, but also the Labirinto della Masone: you will see not only the largest labyrinth in the world, but a unique place, actually the “dream come true” of the great graphic designer and publisher Franco Maria Ricci. Listen to your tour guide: they are magical places and opportunities, not to be missed!
Scipione (PR) e Vigoleno (PC)
Near Salsomaggiore Terme, in the village of Scipione, we can admire the Pallavicino castle. Count René von Holstein, the owner, lives with his family in a wing of the building and is a direct descendant of the Pallavicino marquises, an extremely ancient lineage that has been present here for at least a thousand years. The “state” of the Pallavicinos was very important, in the past, also for the control it exercised over the precious salt wells in the area.
This castle holds many memories in an atmosphere of familiar intimacy and sober elegance, in beautiful and original settings, which the owners lovingly preserve and continue to enhance.
Thanks to its magnificent position, the castle looks towards the Piacenza area: from the Loggia on the top you can even see the towers and walls of Vigoleno, one of the most Beautiful Villages in Italy and Orange Flag of the Italian Touring Club.
Tourist guide word: here is a “combo” that is worth the trip!
In Vigoleno you can visit, among other things, the large keep, you can stroll along the patrol walkways, the alleys and squares, enjoy the intimate atmosphere of the Romanesque Saint George church. And since we can also take a good sip of the precious local Vin Santo and some other delicacies from Piacenza and Parma … I’m sure you’ll agree with me!
A few kilometers from Vigoleno we find Castell’Arquato, a true “perfect village”: it is declared Orange Flag of the Italian Touring Club, a City of Art and Culture and one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. Not for nothing does it share various shots of the film “Lady Hawke” with Torrechiara!
It is beautiful to climb along the narrow streets of the village, towards the Piazza Alta, the Town Hall, the Rocca Viscontea, the beautiful Collegiate Church of S. Maria Assunta with its museum. Every corner here shows its treasures: historic fountains, ancient palaces, very original small museums, such as the one dedicated to the writer and librettist Luigi Illica or the Cortesi Geological Museum.
By the way, did you know that dolphins and whales swam in these hills millions of years ago? And that a “slice” of a geological era is called “Piacenziano”? We can toast to all this in one of Castell’Arquato wine bars, with the wines of the Val d’Arda and Val Tidone, accompanied by many tasty things, cold cuts, homemade pasta, cakes. But the Piacenza valleys have other treasures and curiosities to share.
Do you want to immerse yourself in a neo-Gothic and Renaissance atmosphere that looks like the set of a costume film? Then head on to Grazzano Visconti, built around the Anguissola castle. Do you want the thrill of a place that was declared the Most Beautiful Village in Italy in 2019 and has an extraordinary cultural value? Then don’t give up on Bobbio, in Val Trebbia: look for it in “Nature and Culture” and get ready to go!
e le terre Matildiche (RE)
Welcome to the Great Countess Lands! I’m talking about Matilda, the powerful lady who in 1077 left the emperor Henry IV outside the door of the castle of Canossa, in the snow, thus forcing him to make it up with the pope. The story then turned more complicated … and if you want I will tell you!
For now, just think that Canossa, whose remains still survive, was the heart of the Terre Matildiche (Matilda’s Lands), with the castle of Rossena, the tower of Rossenella and a whole network of castles, such as Sarzano and Carpineti, abbeys and parish churches.
Word of your tourist guide, this is a perfect territory for those who want to experience the charm of the Middle Ages in a very special context! These hills, due to their conformation, seem to be made specifically to support towers and castles communicating with each other on sight. And did you know that just nearby the village of Votigno has been recovered and restored to host a community of Tibetan Buddhists?
What adventures of the spirit, in the province of Reggio Emilia! As if that were not enough, not far from here, among ancient rocks and fossils, we can admire the Pietra di Bismantova, a surprising “natural fortress” that even Dante Alighieri knew well. How many things you can find, in addition to good food, in the valleys and hills of Reggio Emilia… What are you waiting for? Contact me … and let’s go!
Sassuolo (MO) e Colorno (PR)
What do these two residences, worthy of princes and kings, have in common? More than one thing. Close to Modena the former, close to Parma the latter, they are both “delizie” (Delightful Places), as the Dukes of Este called them: places of recreation, where these aristocratic families could enjoy court life in the most relaxing and pleasant way, especially in summer.
The Dukes of Parma in Colorno and the Este family in Sassuolo spared no expense in surprising their guests, in an atmosphere of luxury and glowing beauty.
The marbles, the stuccos, the chinoiseries, the majestic spaces of Colorno (not surprisingly called the “Reggia”, or Royal Palace) compete with the stuccos and golds of the apartments, but above all with the amazing visual effects created by the painter Jean Boulanger in Sassuolo: also for your tour guide, walking through the Bacchus Gallery is a breathtaking experience. You have to go there, there is no “virtual visit” that can compete!
The green areas outside have also been designed in harmony with these prestigious buildings. In Sassuolo, you can admire the very original Peschiera and the park-garden, now being restored, in Colorno the historic park-garden that has already recovered its original design: the Palace really looks like a “smaller size Versailles”!
Colorno can also be reached by bicycle from Parma, along a beautiful cycle route. Especially if you are a biker, it is an opportunity not to be missed!