cascina

Grand Little Tours
of the Valleys of Piacenza

Compiled by giorgio zanetti

(New graphic platform March - 2020)

The Arda Valley is the most Eastern of the four major valleys in the province of Piacenza, not far from the boundaries with the province of Parma.

When describing the Arda valley, all of the other minor valleys surrounding it are usually included, and they are: on the Western side we find the Riglio, Vezzeno, Chero Chiavenna, and on the Eastern side the Ongina and Stirone. Just a few kilometres after its source the Stirone torrent veers North East crossing into the province of Parma.

The Arda valley includes some of the most well cultivated lowlands of the province, pleasant rolling hills, vineyards, geologically interesting clay escarpments (calanques) and a beautiful Provincial Park.

The Arda torrent has its source on Mt. Menegosa (1356 m. asl) and after a few kilometres it encounters a dam near Lugagnano, forming the artificial lake of Mignano. Continuing its course it is joined by the Ongina torrent just before flowing into the Po river after 60 Km. from its source.

Archaeological findings in the form of pre-historic Castellieri (small fortified villages) up in the mountains and of Terramare (dwellings built on palisades above ground) in the lowlands, point to ancient human establishments in the area.

The expression terramare derives from the words terra marna which in the dialect of Emilia Romagna means terra grassa or black earth type soil.

In the Arda valley there are 79 fortifications (castles, fortified towers and dwellings, etc.).

  1. Arda Valley Tour - 145 km
The Nure valley, although an important valley in its own right, has nonetheless remained a "closed" valley because it lacked a direct and well defined passage over the Appennines till the early 1960's.

The Nure river, which gives its name to the valley, has its source on the Northern slopes of Mt. Nero (1754 m. a.s.l.) and after a course of about 75 Km. - the second longest of the province - flows into the Po river 10 Km. East of Piacenza, in the vicinity of Roncaglia.

The upper valley is somewhat influenced by the sea air keeping it free of fog and strong winds, and therefore relatively pleasant even during the winter months.

In this valley there are 79 fortifications (castles, fortified towers and dwellings, etc.)

One of the main attraction of the valley is the hamlet of Grazzano Visconti.
In the upper valley we find the highest mountains in the province of Piacenza:
  • Mt. Bue, 1777 m. asl
  • Mt. Ragola, 1711 m. asl
  • Mt. Nero, 1753 m. asl
  • Mt. Maggiorasca - at the boundary with the province of Genova - 1800 m. asl
The many trails criss-crossing these mountains will reward the hiker with vistas of high pastures, meadows and small lakes - remnants of the Würmian Glaciation.

Towns Along the Tour - 190 km
  1. Podenzano
  2. Vigolzone
  3. Pontedellolio
  4. Bettola
  5. Farini
  6. Ferriere
  7. San Giorgio Piacentino
  8. Pontenure
The Trebbia valley is considered to be the most important of the valleys in the province of Piacenza from a historic and geographic point of view, and combined with its beautiful natural appearance is, without a doubt, a rather fascinating valley.During the first world war the young Ernest Hemingway visited this valley and described it, in his diary, as the most beautiful in the world.

The Trebbia river, which gives its name to the valley, has its source in the Ligurian mountains (30 Km. from Genova) and flows into the Po river, just West of Piacenza, after a tortuous 115 Km. The waters of the Trebbia are still rather pristine and in many locations along its course they offer, in the summer months, solace to numerous sunbathers and gratification to the many canoeists that come here from all over Europe.

The Trebbia river has various tributaries but the most important one is the Aveto which joins the Trebbia in the upper section a few kilometers South of Bobbio.

In the Trebbia valley we find 82 fortifications (castles, fortified towers and dwellings, etc.).

    li>Trebbia Valley Tour - 230 km
The Tidone Valley is situated in the western sector of the province of Piacenza, next to the province of Pavia. The Tidone river , which gives the valley its name, has its source on Mt. Penice, in the vicinity of Canedo (760 m. asl), in the province of Pavia, and flows into the river Po after about 50 Km.

This is a wide valley with gently sloping hills covered by extensive vineyards, protected from the winds and full of sunshine.

In the Tidone Valley there are 49 ancient fortifications, castles, etc. and the smaller but charming a tributary on the right banks of the Tidone - has another 42.

  1. Tidone Valley Tour - 140 km
Above background image: Castell'Arquato


Nure Valley - Valnure

We leave Piacenza Southbound to pick up highway S.S. #654 at the intersection with S.S. #45 (this road takes you in the Trebbia valley).

One of the main attraction of the valley is the hamlet of Grazzano Visconti; in addition there are castles, old churches, old rural hamlets and towns.

During the summer months the "Pro loco" associations of each town, are busy organizing various festivities with cultural and artistic themes.


Green area depicts Nure Valley's itinerary
1

Podenzano (118 m. asl)

Along the tree-bordered road, just before Podenzano, we reach Gariga (in the area were found remains of mosaics and Roman tombs) where a castle, now a noble country-residence, stands; on the east side of the structure traces of the draw bridge are still visible; on the first floor there are elegant rooms with paneled ceilings.

In Podenzano, 11 Km. from Piacenza, there is a XVI c. castle built on the remains of one first mentioned in 1152. The castle, now the town hall, was rebuilt in the XVI c. with stone walls on a rectangular plan , and boasts two cylindrical and two square towers at the corners.

The Romanesque Oratory of St. Germano (IX c.), by now transformed in Baroque style, has the apse decorated with small suspended arches along the cornice, and has kept its original fine bell tower.
The new parish church, designed by Eng. Ucelli and built in a proud Byzantine style contains a very fine and unique Via Crucis created by the painter Luciano Ricchetti (1897-1977).

The Physicist and Mathematician Giuseppe Veneziani (1772-1853), was born in Podenzano.

The parish church
2

Vigolzone (165 m. asl)

Half way between Podenzano and Vigolzone we must stop to visit the church of Maiano on the right side of the road. This Romanesque style church was already in existence in the XI c. together with a hospice for the pilgrims going to Rome; in fact still visible in the two-arched window, on the East side of the bell tower, are a terra-cotta knife and a bowl; symbols that the pilgrims were welcome to stay here for free; inside there is a fresco from the 1400 representing Our Lady of Graces. Now the church is frequently used for weddings ceremonies.

A little further on we arrive to the internationally famous Grazzano Visconti. This village, with the castle originally built in 1395 but now renovated and closed to the public, is a rather unique and rare example of Neo-medieval surroundings, built by Count Giuseppe Modrone of Milan, at the beginning of 1900 according to "the tendency of the Italian architectural revival of the 1800 and 1900".

In the village we find many artisan shops (the wrought iron artifacts are famous), the little church with the interior ostentatiously decorated in a Neo-fourteenth century style, the town magistrate's palace with its decorated façade and other interesting buildings.

In Vigolzone, 16 Km. from Piacenza, there is a castle that was originally built in 1095; at the time it was considered to be the strongest fortification in the Nure valley, but eventually it was conquered and destroyed.

The present rectangular-plan structure was rebuilt according to the 1800's style and boasts a 40 meters tall keep where once stood the draw bridge, and large towers alternating at the corners.

In 1888 the poet Giosuè Carducci visited the castle.

Maiano's church
3

Pontedellolio (210 m. asl)

Five kilometers after Vigolzone we cross the Nure river and enter in Pontedellolio (also Ponte dell'Olio), which means "Oil Bridge", and named as such because of the high level of commerce in olive oil that used to arrive here from the Ligurian coast, transported over the Apennine passes along mule tracks.

Worth visiting are the Baroque style Oratory of St. Rocco - XV c. - where, in the apse, we find a 1619 painting of the Modonna and Saints; the parish church of St. Giacomo where, on the wall to the left, there is a St. Giacomo in Glory, painted by Giuseppe Peroni and in a chapel at the right of the presbytery, we find 13 paintings representing the Sacred Mysteries dated in the XVII c.

The fine St. Bono palace also belongs to the Baroque style; at one time it was surrounded by a lovely park, where in 1819 the unfortunate queen of England, Caroline of Brunswick resided.

From Pontedellolio there is a road that goes to Rivergaro in the Trebbia Valley

Two kilometers past Pontedellolio, and just before entering the hamlet of Riva, there is the church of Our Lady of the Snow, in which there are two sculptures in wood attributed to the Flemish artist Jan Hermansz Geernaert, one is a Crucifix dated 1775, and the other a Madonna dated 1739.
The hamlet itself is dominated by the privately owned castle, originally built in 1277 with the stones from the Nure river, and eventually finely restored in 1885; presently it is used as a villa; towers of different size and style are protecting the whole, at each corner.

4

Bettola (329 m. asl)

Continuing towards Bettola, we notice on the other side of the river the silhouette of Spettine castle which we'll visit on our return (see San Giorgio, below); on our left is Mt. Santo, standing at 676 m. a.s.l., on top of which there are rather imposing ruins of a castle reachable by a dirt road.

Before entering Bettola, on the way to Bramaiano, we notice a fine and pleasing building with elegant loggias and verandas of the XVI c. and the Farnese tower.
Bettola, 34 Km. from Piacenza, is the de-facto capital of the Nure Valley and presents itself with an interesting urban plan because it is formed by two distinct boroughs divided by the Nure river.
We first drive through the borough called St. Bernardino on the right bank of the Nure and after crossing the bridge we find ourselves in the borough called St. Giovanni.
In St. Bernardino we find the XVII c. parish church where we can admire, amongst the stuccos, the frescoes painted in 1716 by G. B. Galluzzi; in the large main piazza of St. Giovanni we find instead its parish church dedicated to St. John but also known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of The Oak Tree for the apparition of the Madonna in 1496; this church was built in 1885 in a somewhat Romanesque style.
Also found in the piazza is a statue of Christopher Columbus, erected in 1892, to commemorate the common belief that he was born in the nearby hamlet of Pradello where a fortified tower built in 1300 still stands.

SIDE TOURS: from the main piazza we can drive up to Pradello, visit Colombo's Tower, and continue to the Cerro Pass (766 m. a.s.l.), from where a mule track takes us, in about 5 Km., to the Montosero summit at 1301 m. a.s.l.; from here, on clear days, one can admire the Padana Valley and the Alpine arc. In addition in the parish church of St. Lawrence in Calenzano (15 Km. from Bettola), built in 1670, we will find paintings by Roberto De Longe and Sebastiano Galeotti.

From the Cerro Pass we can reach the Trebbia Valley at Perino on highway S.S. 45.

Bramaiano
5

Farini (426 m. asl)

The municipality of Farini was established only in 1928. The town, 43 Km. from Piacenza, well situated on the left bank of the Nure, is surrounded by an interesting and rich natural environment encompassing hamlets which still display the traditional architecture.

SIDE TOURS [Itinerary - extra 50 km ]: 
To the West, 17 Km. from Farini, following a rather scenic road there is Pradovera, 937 m. a.s.l., attractive summer vacation area, located in a lovely spot surrounded by mountains. In the vicinity, still visible, are the ruins of the ancient stronghold standing on a rocky abutment.

After Pradovera we can continue to Santa Barbara, and always keeping to the left we arrive in Mareto, 955 m. a.s.l., a small but pleasant hamlet located on the slopes of Mt. Aserei, 1431 m. a.s.l. In Mareto was born the Theologian and Historian Father Felice da Mareto, of the Order of the Capuchin Friars.

Always continuing towards Farini we arrive in Cogno St. Savino, 829 m. a.s.l. and 5 Km. from Farini.
The hamlet, precariously situated on a cliff overlooking the Rossana brook like a little San Marino, is salubrious and charming. The parish church, originally a jewel of the Romanesque style period, was modified and expanded in 1904, but it retained the beautiful bell tower, dated 1000 A. D.
The quadrangular tower, 18 meters high, is built with perfectly squared and polished stones, and is elegantly crowned on each side with a two arched window.
From the church yard we can enjoy a fine view towards Groppallo and the Nure Valley.

Back in Farini, following a twisting and panoramic road on the East side of the town we arrive, after 8 Km. in Groppallo, 950 m. asl. The parish church, built in the XV c., is situated on the rocky "rump" of the mountain from where we have an extensive view of the valley and the mountains all around.
From the nearby Roncolo came the family of Stefano Bruzzi described in "The Masterpieces of Italian Art Illustrated" in the early 1900 as a "painter of landscape, with animal and figures. His pictures often have an idyllic character: they are truthful, and are animated by a graceful sentiment."
Some of his paintings can be admired at the GALLERIA RICCI ODDI DI PIACENZA.

Cogno San Savino
6

Ferriere (626 m. asl)

We leave Farini Southward on the fine panoramic road that takes us to Ferriere.
At about 5 Km. from Farini we turn left on the road to Montereggio reached in another 7 Km. The hamlet, surrounded by the rocky peaks of Mt. Burrasca, Mt. Groppo and the Cinque Dita (Five fingers) group, has many of its dwellings still displaying their 1700 architecture style. Interesting visit to the church of the Castle dated 1000 A. D.
Recently, several coins and remains of bricks from Roman times have been found in the area.

We backtrack, turn left at the intersection, cross the Nure river and proceed to Ferriere.
Due to its elevation, relative temperate climate and the almost total absence of winds, Ferriere is an ideal location for the vacationer.
The area was already known and exploited by the Romans for its deposit of copper and iron as attested by iron utensils found in Romans tombs in the vicinity. Throughout history the mines were in use at irregular intervals.
In the modern church there is an interesting painting "The Nativity of St. John the Baptist", dated from the XVII c.

The grandfather of the great physicist Henry Fermi was from Ferriere.

Ferriere is an excellent starting point for beautiful excursions in the surrounding mountains.

From Ferriere there is a road that connects to the Trebbia Valley via the Mercatello Pass (1050 m. asl) at Corte Brugnatella; in addition, proceeding South, via the Zovallo Pass (1408 m. asl) we arrive in the Aveto Valley and eventually to the Ligurian coast at Chiavari.


7

San Giorgio Piacentino (103 m. asl)

Having reached the end of the Nure Valley we make our way back to the lowlands. After 6 Km past Bettola we cross the Nure river onto the left bank at the road sign indicating Spettine where, with a short walk, will take us to the castle.

Here we observe some dwellings built in the XV and XVI c.; the central section of the castle, with the keep reinforced by a buttress, still in good condition; inside there is a large room with an ancient fireplace and its original wooden paneled ceiling.

Across the yard, there are two dwellings one called the "women's prison" and the other the "men's prison"; also still visible are the ruins of the church, believed to be the oldest of the province, built on the Latin cross plan with the main altar facing East.

Backtracking on the main road, once in Pontedellolio, instead of crossing the bridge and proceed towards Piacenza, we keep to the right along via Monte Grappa and the secondary road (SP 36) that takes us to San Giorgio, 13 Km. away.

The castle of San Giorgio, believed to have been built before the year 1000 A. D., was once the residence of the Anguissola family, but now houses the town hall.
The Baroque parish church was built, in the middle of the 1600, on the same spot of an ancient church whose Romanesque style bell tower is still standing. The interior is divided in three aisles and crowned by a beaming cupola.

Close by, in the middle of a park, proudly stands Villa Gazzola also called "La Rocca" (The Fortress), built in 1610 and displaying a well balanced architecture the design of which is attributed to the great Vignola; the upper portion of the building was altered by Lotario Tomba at the end of the 1700.


Spettine Castle (Foto di Simone Segalini)
8

Pontenure (64 m. asl)

We leave San Giorgio on the way to Pontenure in an Eastern direction on the road to Montanaro, but just before entering the hamlet we turn left towards Paderna. Here stands the antique and well kept castle which was rebuilt in 1453. The massive building is still surrounded by a moat with a mighty keep at the main entrance, and a quadrangular tower erected in 1280.
Within the walls the little church of St. Mary was built at the beginning of the XI c. on an interesting quadrangular plan and divided in nine bays; the visible architectural elements supporting the arches are from the Roman Imperial Period, and were probably found in the area.
For visits to the castle please call first at: 0523 51645.

Continuing North we arrive in Valconasso where we can admire an Oratory built in the XV c. with Gothic style forms and adorned with votive frescoes by a variety of artists at the request of Giovanna Scotti in 1505.

We now proceed in a Northern direction and, in 4 Km., arrive in Pontenure.
Around 1830, several Roman mosaic floors had been discovered East of the town, and in the Nure river, still visible, are the ruins of pylons from a Roman bridge attesting to the old origin of Pontenure.

Of interest is a visit to the parish church where, in the interior, we find two paintings by Bartolomeo Schedoni, one representing St. Peter and the other a Madonna, dated 1642; in addition there is a wooden Crucifix of the 1500. The adjacent XI c. bell tower, once belonged to a fortress.

Piacenza is 8 Km. away.

Paderna Castle

The description used for these tours was gleaned from the following publications:
  1. Emilia Romagna (Guida d'Italia , Touring Club Italiano - 1991)
  2. Guida della Provincia di Piacenza ( T.E.P. Gallarati Editore - 1974)
  3. Guida Amministrativa e Turistica Piacenza (Azienda Promozione Turistica e Automobile Club Piacenza - 1992)
  4. Guida Antologica a cura della Camera di Commercio di Piacenza - No. 3 e 4 Valdarda e Valchero, G. Franco Scognamilio e Gino Macellari (1975).
NOTE: Please be advised that the appearance of buildings and visual arts may appear differently from when described in the original guides.