It is called Unione Terre di Castelli (League of the Land of Castles) and it gathers eight villages in the province of Modena that are spread along a territory that goes up from the plain towards the hills and reaches the Apennines: Vignola, Spilamberto, Marano sul Panaro, Guiglia, Savignano sul Panaro, Castelnuovo Rangone, Castelvetro di Modena and Zocca are the eight gems set in an unspoilt natural charming landscape. It’s not by chance that the claim of Terre di Castelli is “Live, Discover, Sip”: if you visit these tiny treasure chests all your senses will be excited by the taste of history, the delicious delicacies, the lush vegetation which is perfect for your relaxing walks and your invigorating trekking surrounded by a landscape that winks the well-being and the low pace of the quality tourism. So let’s do a roundup of these eight villages (there’s a special focus on Vignola in the magazine) and sip them all!
Spilamberto: back to the Middle Ages
It was a stop for the wayfarers and the pilgrims along the ancient Romea route already before the year 1000 and it had also been a stronghold since the 13th century. Spilamberto has been keeping an untouched charm because of the Rocca Rangoni stronghold that owes its name to the feudal lords who ran it for centuries. The central part is embellished by a balcony dating back to the 16th century and it is also featured by the huge tower dating back to the 14th century that overlooks the village with its crenelated edge by showing the ruins of the ancient draw bridge that keeps the secrets of a dark past mainly when it was turned into a prison. By the way, you can’t miss a visit of Messer Filippo’s jail. He was an educated and clever prisoner who could write rhymed verses to tell his story while he was in jail, he used to write the graffiti on the jail’s walls by using his own blood and according to the legend his ghost is still wandering around the ancient walls! –. The narrow streets of Spilamberto keep other gems worth to be taken into account like the Governor’s palace, the Bargello Palace, the ancient spinning mill dating back to the 17th century were the silkworms that are bred in this area were worked, the Church of Beata Vergine del Carmine and the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Museum which is a top product together with the amaretti and the liquor from nuts.
Marano sul Panaro: where nature is the queen
A wavy landscape spotted with tiny settlements that must be slowly sipped. It’s the area of Marano sul Panaro whose history witnessed the competition between Modena and Bologna for this charming village and its castle dating back to 1100. Piazza Matteotti is the core of the village, it’s nearly an open book about the village’s stories, it’s overlooked by the Church of San Lorenzo that keeps the very revered Black Christ made from the olive tree wood and the ancient Montecuccoli Mill whose name comes from the Lordship that ran Marano in the late Middle Ages under which the canal that has the same name flows. After you have left the historical centre you must visit Denzano as well which is embellished by the high tower and the ruins of a parish church where a beautiful apse looks like the prototype of the Duomo of Modena, Villabianca that overlooks the valley and the calanques and Ospitaletto which is featured by a curious volcanic phenomenon called “delle salse” while from Festà to Casona you can have wonderful excursions along the Panaro river within the Parco dei Sassi (the park of stones) of Roccamalatina.
Guiglia: the balcony of Emilia
The view of the hills that you can enjoy from the village at 490 metres of altitude as well as the plain worth the visit but the surprises this tiny village can offer don’t finish with the view: the ancient castle and its spiring Torre del Pubblico tell about the entanglements, the wars between the factions, the fires and the dominations that left their signs in all the architectural changes of the building up to 1630 when the Marquis Montecuccoli started a restauration that turned the stronghold into a magnificent noble residence. The little Castle of the Ants (Castellino delle Formiche) whose name is the result of a mistaken Medieval translation from the Latin word formido, still keeps the feature of a castle that can be “intimidating”. It’s a little settlement overlooked by the tower dating back to the 15th century which is set on the top of a rocky edge that was turned into the church’s tower bell within the walls along the centuries. Another religious construction that deserves a visit in Guiglia is the parish church of Trebbio, in the heart of the Regional Park of the Stones of Roccamalatina: it’s featured by a beautiful front door, the very ancient capitals, the precious paintings and the wonderful sculptures.
Savignano sul Panaro: between the castles and the elephants
If we had any doubts about the ancient origins of Savignano, besides the findings of some pre-historical settlements, two important findings could make everything clear: the skeleton of a Mammuthus elephant dating back to the Pliocene was found here, you can see it at the local Museum of the Elephant. Moreover a little statue called the Venus of Savignano was found as well, it can be dated back to the Palaeolithic period while the Medieval castle with its beautiful tower made of stones still shows the ruins of some beautiful frescos. The castle went through different dominations among which Matilde di Canossa, one of the main protagonists during the “dark centuries” who maybe stayed in the castle, the legend goes that her house was in the village. For the wine lovers we must mention the 11 grape varieties that you can taste in one of the wineries that are spread in the surroundings while in Winter you can taste the sweet kaki from Savignano.
Castelnuovo Rangone: in the name of contemporary art
Gathering in Castelnuovo means going back in time, you start with the Archaeological Museum of Terramara di Montale that exhibits in the open air the reconstruction of an ancient fortified settlement dating back to the Bronze Age that was found there, the ruins of the ancient walls and the castle dating back to the 15th century. You can end your visit at the Crac Spazio Arte, the art gallery that was designed according to the idea that you can see the artworks all days at any time of the day thanks to the windows that are always lighted and visible from the outside. Besides walking back in time you can’t miss a stop at the “found” well and the bronze statue dedicated to the pork, the symbolic animal of the best production activity of the village which is the working of the pig-meat but you can also have a tour around the Hills of the Fairy tales to become children again among the shapes of the main characters that have been drawn by the famous art director Emanuele Luzzati.
Castelvetro di Modena, the home of Lambrusco
If you mention Castelvetro you will soon remind Grasparossa, the most precious type of Lambrusco that is cultivated in this area together with the Trebbiano wine that is afterwards used to make the traditional balsamic vinegar. The village of Castelvetro is surrounded by a relaxing landscape of vineyards and it’s overlooked by six amazing Medieval towers that surround Piazza Roma, also known as the square of “draughts” because of its white and black squared floor where you can see some important buildings like the Palazzo Comunale del Secondogenito (the City Hall of the Second-born) and the Rinaldi Palace which is featured by a Neo-Gothic Medieval style. You can’t miss a stop at the Castle of Levizzano in the same village which is featured by the ancient walls overlooked by the Matildica Tower. There are two more buildings that deserve to be mentioned: the Church of Puianello, with its straight front wall and the Baroque internal space and the beautiful chapel of San Michele Arcangelo, from where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the hills and the vineyards.
Zocca: the rock soul
If you love music Zocca has become a sort of place of pilgrimage since there are always plenty of tourists who wander around looking for Vasco Rossi, one of the most famous Italian rockers who was born here, maybe hoping to meet him in the village’s streets. Apart from that, Zocca deserves a visit in Summer to run away from the hot temperatures of the city and enjoy a truly charming landscape: the village is set at 759 metres of altitude and it’s surrounded by the chestnut trees and the thick forests, there’s a beautiful historical centre and many interesting places that you can see in the distance like the ancient fortress of Montalbano, featured by the steep narrow streets and the church dating back to the 18th century. The Castle of Montetortore and Montecorone also deserve a visit. By the way, the famous Italian rocker, the “National Vasco” isn’t the only celebrity who was born here, the astronaut Maurizio Cheli, the guitar player and singer Massimo Riva, the writers Giuliano Pasini and Mauro Santagata, the musician Giovanni Maria Bononcini and the painter and architect Antonio Tesi were born here as well.
Nature is the queen
The nature is the stage where the ancient villages show their beauty, they are like precious stones set on a green ridge that gets different shades as the territory changes, from the pale green of the vineyards in Autumn during the period of the foliage when the leaves become red and you can walk along the wonderful naturalistic routes to the bright green of the hills that you can discover by cycling around and the deep green of the forests where you can forget about your stress and worries and you can try the forest bathing, the last discovery in the field of the wellness experiences. Then there’s the regional Park of the Stones of Roccamalatina, 2.300 hectares of chestnut trees and beechwoods where the sandstone peaks stand out up to 70 metres of height while the underwood is spread with wonderful wild orchids, lilies, cyclamen, anemones, the heather and the tasty red berries that create the ideal habitat for the badgers, the porcupines, the foxes, the deer, the roes and the beech martens.
Food and wine: the taste is all around
Each village belonging to the Unione Terre di Castelli claims some traditional products whose fame goes beyond the production area as well as many varieties of food and many tasty dishes. If Vignola is famous for its cherries and the Barozzi cake, Spilamberto is the main area for the production of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar to which an entire museum is dedicated and it also claims the production of some tasty sweets called amaretti and a very good liquor made of nuts called Nocino. Kakis are the main products from Savignano that shares its stage with 11 different types of vines that produce some very good Doc wines. Castelnuovo Rangone is well known for the working of the pig-meat and there is also a museum dedicated to this activity that is called MuSa, the museum of salumeria. This production enabled this village to be entered into the World Guinness Records Book for its festival called Superzampone. And the meat perfectly matches Bacchus and one of the most famous type of wines that are produced in this area, the Lambrusco made in Castelvetro di Modena, mainly the special Grasparossa type to which the local Museo Rosso Graspa is also dedicated. Finally you can’t leave Guiglia without tasting the Borlengo, a thin soft puff pastry seasoned with a sauce of fat, rosemary and Parmigiano cheese while if you stop in Zocca in Autumn the chestnuts are the protagonists of the tables and you can also visit the dedicated museum.
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