Want picturesque medieval villages with cobblestone streets, rolling hills all around and good food? Then the area near Piacenza seems to be tailor-made! It is rich in history, culture and culinary delights. Colli Piacentini are made up of different valleys, each of which contains castles, ancient hamlets and cities of art such as Piacenza, the beautiful hamlets of Castell’Arquato and Vigoleno, Rivalta and Grazzano Visconti, the last one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations.
The itinerary through the hills of Piacenza for a romantic and suggestive weekend, not far from Milan:
Let’s start the trip from Borgo Fontanellato, a small village (about 7000 inhabitants) in the province of Parma.
The historical center is all gathered around the Rocca Sanvitale which is one of the few rocks surrounded by a moat still full of water.
The Rocca Sanvitale, also known as the Castle of Fontanellato, is a defensive construction that existed since 1100, but the fortification that we can see today dates back to the fifteenth century. The fortress is opened all year round and offers interesting guided tours to its furnished halls.
Fontanellato is beautiful in every period of the year, being also a very living village. Besides the fortress, there are other historical places of interest such as the Scuderia Sanvitale and the church of the Blessed Virgin of the Holy Rosary.
In the main square you will find many bars so don’t miss to stop for breakfast, the view of the Rocca is magnificent.
The countryside of Fontanellato hides another surprise: the Masone Labyrinth, our next itinerary stop.
The Masone Labyrinth (Il Labirinto della Masone)
Lose yourselves in the world’s largest bamboo maze made up of over 200,000 bamboo plants of different species.
I can assure you that it is not easy to find the way out through those 3 kilometers of routes concentrated in 7 hectares of land. Without a map it would take hours to solve the maze! If you have a good orientation and you like walking it could take about 40 minutes to find the exit. I’ll not tell you how long it took to me! 😉
The Labyrinth of the Masone is also a cultural park. His creator Franco Maria Ricci is known as an Italian publisher of high quality collector’s editions of books on art, history and design.
So, in addition to the labyrinth, you will visit:
- a permanent exhibition about the long and rich history of mazes;
- the art collection of Franco Maria Ricci (about 500 works from the sixteenth to the twentieth century);
- a temporary exhibition;
- a library dedicated to the most illustrious examples of typography and graphics; plus a bar and restaurant on the territory of the labyrinth.
Let’s move towards Borgo Castell’Arquato
Narrow cobblestone alleys, towers, bell towers and medieval battlements that stand out over the surrounding countryside, among precious vineyards and rolling hills: the borgo of Castell’Arquato is an incomparable medieval village and brings back to a magical dimension.
Castell’Arquato not only is a city of art considered among the most beautiful of Italy, it rises in a privileged position, at the top of a green hill on the extreme Apennine offshoot just out towards the Po Valley. The area is rich in gastronomic excellence and wines, such as Gutturnio, Bonarda, Barbera, Ortrugo, Monterosso.
After centuries, Castell’Arquato has not lost, but rather kept unchanged, the typical charm of medieval villages. Visiting Castell’Arquato will be like stepping back in time.
Its historical and artistic testimonies are rich and varied: the Rocca Viscontea and the elegant Palazzo di Podestà, the suggestive Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta in Romanesque style and the Palazzo del Duca.
The most significant building, La Rocca Viscontea, is the symbol of the town. One of the highlights of the visit to the castle will be the stunning view that awaits you from the top of the 42 meters. Just like soldiers in wartime, try to track down the enemies hiding on the hills!
💡 Interesting to know:
The beauty of this rock has not remained indifferent even to the eyes of Hollywood, in fact here were filmed some scenes of the famous movie of 1985 Ladyhawke.
In Castell’Arquato you can have lunch at Trattoria Da Faccini, where you can enjoy really tasty and well presented dishes with a very good wine list.
💡 Interesting to know:
Among the delicacies and typical products of Emilian cuisine (above all the tasty DOP cured meats) we count:
- pisaréi e fasö, small gnocchi cooked with a sauce of tomatos and beans.
- tortelli, anolini (puff pastry filled with various braised and minced meats)
- stracotto alla piacentina with horse meat or beef
- snails with broth and tomato
- latte in piedi (it tastes like crem caramel)
- busslanein, hard or crumbly biscuits
- turtlitt, sweet tortelli stuffed with chestnuts or mustard
Grazzano Visconti: a very particular “medieval” village
We finally head to our last stop. Grazzano Visconti appears as a fairytale village. Located on the Piacentini hills, it is full of bizarre statues and small craft shops, entirely pedestrian and developed with richly frescoed houses that overlook the picturesque streets.
💡 Interesting to know:
Few people know that Grazzano Visconti is a false history. You will feel like walking among perfectly preserved houses, towers and crenellated walls in typical medieval style… but every brick dated back to the twentieth century only!
The presence of the Castle is documented since 1400 so it has survived over the centuries but it was only in the 20th century that Giuseppe Visconti had the idea of transforming and enhancing the small agglomeration and local handicrafts, giving visitors the magical village in neo-medieval style.
The most enchanting places of the village are the two main squares, Piazza Guido Visconti, where is located the Gothic church of Sant’Anna, and Piazza Gian Galeazzo Visconti, where is the Albergo del Biscione, built in the early 1900 and well adorned with the symbol of the snake.
If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter saga you’ll be happy to know that here you can find the Bewitched Emporium, a shop entirely dedicated to the characters and stories of the most famous magician in the world.
Do not miss the opportunity to have an aperitif with spritz and “gnocco fritto”. Enjoy!