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.

  1. Nure Valley Tour - 190 km
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.).

Towns Along the Tour - 230 km
  1. Rivergaro
  2. Travo
  3. Bobbi
  4. Col
  5. Marsaglia
  6. Cerignale
  7. Ottone
  8. Zerba
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: "Humback Bridge" - "Ponte Gobbo" - Bobbio


Trebbia Valley - Valtrebbia

From Piacenza we head South to take highway S. S. 45 which basically follows the river Trebbia and then continues all the way to Genova.

Beside visiting the famous and historic town of Bobbio, there are various castles, old churches and charming hamlets with superb vistas. And not to be missed are the local fairs and festivals organized by the various "Pro loco" associations.

The upper valley is covered by extensive and beautiful woods and pastures which in the spring are covered by a variety of wild flowers.

One should also remember that in this valley, in the vicinity of Tuna (map of battle) , Hannibal defeated the Roman army in 218 B. C. in the famous "Battle of Trebbia" ; but the precise location of the battle is still a bone of contention amongst scholars.

Archeological excavations in the valley have uncovered many artifacts that points to the long establishment of humans in this valley.


Green area depicts Trebbia Valley's itinerary
1

Rivergaro (140 m. asl)

We leave Piacenza southbound and take highway S.S. 45. At about 7.5 Km. we turn right through Quarto and Bardinezza (XIV c. castle) towards Gossolengo where we find an interesting castle surrounded by two courtyards and an adjacent church with XIV and XV c. frescoes.

From Gossolengo we follow the road southward for about 8 Km. and turn left towards Niviano where there is a medieval castle built with an orientation based on the cardinal points and boasting four well preserved towers at each angle. Presently the castle is used as farm dwellings. In 1877, in the vicinity of the nearby hamlet of Settima, a farmer, while plowing a field, found the now world-wide famous Etruscan Liver.

Before reaching Rivergaro we deviate to the right towards Pieve Dugliara where we can admire the majestic Gasparini Palace (1600) now used as a retirement home; also in this hamlet we find the interesting parish church built in the 1600.

Rivergaro, 18.5 Km. from Piacenza, is situated on the foothills on the right bank of the Trebbia river. Worth mentioning, but not open to the public, is Villa Anguissola Scotti built on the ruins of an ancient fortification by the renowned architect Lotario Tomba of Piacenza in 1778 in the Neo-classic style .

In the historic center of the town we find the parish church, built by Antonio Tomba (1813) and dedicated to Saint Agata, exhibiting a painting (The Martyrdom of Saint Margaret) attributed to Sebastiano Galeotti and also two paintings of the Flemish artist De Longe (XVII c.) Nearby there is also the Oratory of Saint Rocco built at the beginning of the 1600 and modified in the XIX c.; in the chapel on the right we find the painting "Madonna with the Baby between Saint Lucy and Saint Biagio" attributed to Giacomo Ceruti, called Pitocchetto, dated about 1737/1739.

On the hill-top overlooking the main piazza stands the Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Castle, so called because it was built on the ruins of an ancient castle, whose walls on the right incorporate roman brickwork . From this hill-top one can enjoy a very fine panoramic view of the Trebbia and the surrounding mountains.

Also worth mentioning in the vicinity are the castles of Montechiaro and Ancarano. The Montechiaro castle was built in a unique fashion (origins late XII c.): a square tower stands in the middle of the hexagonal court-yard with high walls and the whole is surrounded by yet another irregular set of walls.

The medieval castle of Ancarano was modified during the Renaissance period to which the style of its windows belongs.

Montechiaro Castel
2

Travo (171 m. asl)

Before proceeding to Travo we make a detour.
About 1.5 Km. after leaving Rivergaro southbound we turn right onto a bridge and after crossing the Trebbia turn right again going northward towards Statto and Rivalta Trebbia. In Statto we find a rather charming and compact castle (first mentioned in 1296) fortified with four circular towers at each angle and displaying large windows adorned with brickwork ornaments attesting to the evolution from a fortification to an aristocratic dwelling.

From here we can divert to Scrivellano (castle) and to Pigazzano (462 m. a.s.l.) where, from the churchyard, we can enjoy one of the best views over the Padana valley all the way to the Alps (even better at night, with the flickering lights below and in the distance). We now proceed towards Rivalta where the castle stands on a low hill overlooking the Trebbia river.

The castle of Rivalta , presently well looked after by the family Count Zanardi Landi, presents different style of construction; in the oldest medieval part a massive square tower (36 m. high) built with bricks and stones stands at the entrance of the village; of the same period there is a pointed arch and a semi-circular tower. In the 1400 the building was extended with luxurious additions around a charming courtyard with renaissance style porticos and galleries. The characteristic massive pointed circular tower was built in the 1700.

From Rivalta Trebbia we proceed South following the road, at times with fine panoramic views, on the left bank of the Trebbia reaching Travo in about 20 Km.
Before reaching the town we notice the Oratory of Saint Mary recently restored, but whose origins go back to the middle of the XI c. and partly visible in the two small apses; in the interior there are frescoes of the XV c.

A legend has conveyed to us that in Travo, in 303 A. D., the legionnaire Antonino suffered martyrdom after refusing to make offerings to the Roman goddess Minerva. It is believed that the most important temple in Northern Italy dedicate to Minerva Medica Cabardiacense once stood here in Travo or in nearby Caverzago; in fact many inscribed fragments of the temple have been found in the area and some can be seen incorporated in the walls of the rectory of the church in nearby Caverzago, just South of Travo.

In the circular tower of the Anguissola castle there is a laboratory of the National Archeological Museum of Parma where artifacts of recent and mainly Neolithic excavations in this valley are displayed.

From Travo we should proceed to Bobbiano for a very interesting excursion to the picturesque Oratory of Perducca and from the nearby Vei ascend, in 30 minutes by foot, on top of Pietra Parcellara.

PARCO ARCHEOLOGICO - VILLAGGIO NEOLITICO

Pietra Parcellara
3

Bobbio (272 m. asl)

From Travo we go back on S.S. 45 which panoramically continues to follow the river southward. In Perino, small hamlet at the head of the Perino Valley , we could take a detour up the valley to a group of houses called Aglio where there is still a charming old grist mill standing.

We finally arrive in Bobbio, the main economic and tourist center of the valley. Here, in 612 A. D., the Irish monk Saint Columban (or St. Columbanus) established a monastery which became, in the IX and XII c. famous throughout Europe for the established schools, the scriptorium and its renowned library, whose content, alas, has since been widely dispersed.

For a long period, Bobbio, was the bishopric seat of the surrounding area, but recently the Dioceses of Piacenza has taken over jurisdiction; now it is called the Dioceses of Piacenza - Bobbio.

Visiting the town, to be done on foot, takes us first to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Help whose construction, started in 1621 and continuing for the next 30 years, was based on the plan of Andrea del Lago di Como (The façade was built in 1929; the bell tower was built in 1611).

Then the Abbey of Saint Columban in the nearby Saint Fara square. At the apses side of the church, XV c., there is a long portico with columns, planned in 1570 by Ambrogio Primi, with at the end, still visible, the remains of the original cloister, through which the Abbey's Museum is accessible.
The façade of the Basilica is embellished by a prostyle portico which was added in the XVI c. The interior is divided in three naves by pilasters of various styles and exhibits decorations by Bernardino Lanzani (1526). In the first chapel on the left there is a baptismal font in Longobard style, decorated with osier motifs, dated from the IX c., and a wooden gable from the XVII c.

In the main chapel, decorated with frescoes of the XVII c., we find a splendid inlaid wooden choir created by Domenico da Piacenza (1488). On either side of the main chapel, two set of stairs lead into the crypt (XV c.) Here in 1910, at the depth of 2.4 meters, a mosaic floor was discovered dating to the beginning of the XII c. with one section representing the months of the year with zodiacal emblems and the other the Maccabees story.

On the right side of the crypt there is a rare and beautiful wrought iron gate built in the XII c.
In the middle stands the marble sarcophagus of Saint Columban, who died here in 615 A. D., created by Giovanni dei Petrarchi da Milano in 1480.

From the Basilica we now proceed to the Cathedral built around 1075 and subsequently altered from the XIII c. onward; the present façade was built in 1463. The interior , divided in three naves, was decorated in a Neo-gothic style by Aristide Secchi from Lodi (1896), also includes decorations from the 1400 and 1500.

A feature of Bobbio is the Hunched-back bridge over the Trebbia river, and whose construction, some say, could be dated back to 1440. Overlooking the town stands the Castle, originally built in 1315 by Malaspina and consequently taken over by Pietro Dal Verme in 1440, still boasting the massive dungeon, now utilized as a museum.

An interesting excursion from Bobbio is the drive up to the Penice Pass (1149 m.) 16 Km. away, from where one can proceed all the way up to the Sanctuary (XVII c.) standing at the top of the mountain Penice (1460 m.) where in the antiquity once stood a temple for the cult of the mountain peaks. From here one can enjoy a very fine view all around.

From the pass we can descend into the Tidone Valley.

The elegant Renaissance Loggias of the Basilica in Bobbio
4

Coli (639 m. asl)

Nine kilometers South of Bobbio, after crossing the Trebbia, we take the road to the left going by the thermal springs, known and used by the Romans, and drive up to Coli on a rather panoramic road.

Coli is gracefully placed in a dell at the foot of Saint Augustin mountain (1125 m.) and is surrounded by the horrid precipices of the Curiasca torrent.
Laid in the churchyard is the Crux Michaelica, an inscribed memorial stone dated from the X c.

In the vicinity we find the interesting ruins of Magrini castle standing vertically over a ravine.

HIKING: The trip Bobbio - Coli could also be done on foot in about 1.5 hr. (plus 1.5 hr. for the return trip); another very interesting hiking trip is the Curiasca Loop for a total of 5 hrs.; along the trail we find the ruins of a grist mill that was still in use in the 1970's and hamlets with the typical stone dwellings and ovens.

5

Marsaglia (350 m. asl)

From Coli we proceed down to S. S. 45 which now is almost like a balcony overlooking the tortuous Trebbia.

The town hall of the municipality called Corte Brugnatella is in Marsaglia where various torrents and their valleys join the Trebbia; the most important one is Aveto valley where we find the peaceful hamlet of Salsominore (390 m. asl) named after a natural salty spring.

A worthy side trip is the drive up, in two kilometers, to Brugnello (464 m. asl) perhaps the most suggestive hamlets in all of the valley, due to its stone-built dwellings and charming white church nesting precariously on a rocky abutment.

From Marsaglia we can drive up a narrow but often scenic road to the Mercatello pass (1050 m. a.s.l.) and eventually reach Ferriere in the Nure valley.

Village of Brugnello
6

Cerignale (725 m. asl)

We reach Cerignale, 67 Km. from Piacenza, by taking a very panoramic road on the left that eventually loops back onto S.S. 45 in Ottone (see below).

Due to its elevation and open position on the side of the mountain, Cerignale offers a tranquil and healthy environment. The parish church was rebuilt in the XVII c.

HIKING: Interesting trails will take you to Monte delle Tane (Mountain of the caves) at 1198 m. asl ; and to the chestnut-grove, pine-grove and pastures of Fontana Baia, where many natural springs can be found.

Village of Cerignale
7

Ottone (492 m. asl)

From Cerignale we follow the narrow but panoramic road through Cariseto (with ruins of a castle and where some houses date from the 1600) and slowly descend to Ottone, 74 Km. from Piacenza.

The parish church, built between 1690 and 1705 contains decorations in plaster and Baroque style altars.

To the North of the town (1.3 Km.) on the way to the cemetery there is the grist mill of the "Prince" boasting the rare structure of two wheels one on top of the other, and further still the church of Saint Bartholomew (XVII c.) with the Romanesque bell tower and a bell dated 1365.

HIKING: To Alfeo mountain (1650 m. asl) in about 3 hrs. through extensive pastures and a rewarding great panorama at the top.

Mt. Alfeo
8

Zerba (775 m. asl)

From Ottone we begin our return North towards Piacenza but not before having visited Zerba, the highest and least populated municipality of the province. Due to its location on the southern slopes of mount Lesima (1724 m. asl) this hamlet enjoys relatively mild temperatures even during the winter months; in fact during those winters with very little snow one could admire violets blooming in the month of February.

Of the old castle there are a few ruins left with the main tower still standing.
A legend tell us that the army of Hannibal took refuge in this valley after the great battle of the Trebbia against the Roman near Piacenza.

Also in the vicinity, in val Boreca, and worth visiting is the small hamlet of Tartago (708 m. asl) with its traditional stone-built houses.

From here Piacenza is 77 Km. away.


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.