Day Tripper's Heaven
09.02.2013 - 09.02.2013 8 °C
We are loving our time in Bologna, but as we battle through this third month of a pretty long and cold winter, 'cabin fever' is setting in from time-to-time. We are therefore blessed to have so many options - almost right on our doorstep - to choose from to stretch our legs and minds, and renew our love affair with 'less-visited' Italy.
The region of Emilia-Romagna has a surfeit of beautifully preserved castles - especially in the northern provinces of Parma and Piacenza - so there is no shortage of choices for the curious. If you cross reference this long list with the shorter list from "I Borghi piu Belli d'Italia" (a guide that roughly translates as "the most beautiful villages of Italy"), you normally get a perfect match! The girls and I had already visited the awesome Castello di Torrechiara, and as a family we have also toured the enchanting towns of Dozza and Brisighella, so Castell'Arquato - helped by a recommendation from some Italian friends - got the nod last Saturday.
A pleasant enough regional train ride dropped us off at Fiorenzuola d'Arda - an unobtrusive town 25 minutes north of Parma - and after we tracked down the only taxi driver at the local bar (drinking espresso, not mojitos!), we were efficiently dispatched to Castell'Arquato ten minutes down the road. Like so many towns in Italy, the newer outskirts are entirely forgettable, but the ancient heart, higher up the hill, was beautifully preserved and memorable (and was apparently used in the filming of 'Ladyhawke' for those film buffs).
The town underwent many different rulers over the centuries until its annexion to Italy in 1860, and the highlight is the Rocca Viscontea - built between 1342 and 1349 by Luchino Visconti, a member of the ruling family at the time. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the well-reviewed Ristorante Stradivarius, including a typical plate of the local cured meats, and a glass of the very quaffable regional wine called Gutturnio, a slightly sparkling red wine made predominantly from Barbera grapes.
We had a jolly old time climbing the castle tower, then the kids amused themselves by pulling sheets of ice out of the nearby fountain. A leisurely stroll down the hill, a gander at the locals at play (some festa tied in with Carnevale we thought), followed by the obligatory gelati rounded out our visit. A snooze on the train home for some (Lisa came to the aid of some hapless German tourists who hadn't validated their tickets - go the parlo Italiano!), and we returned to chilly Bologna with renewed enthusiasm for the week ahead.