Post di Viaggio

A two-days break in Castell’Arquato

Last year in mid september we chose to go to one of the most beautiful villages in Italy: Castell’Arquato in the province of Piacenza, north of Italy.

Castell’Arquato has two centers: the lower part (Borghetto and Monteguzzo) and the upper part (the medieval part of the village.

We left the highway at Fiorenzuola and took the road toward Castell’Arquato; even from a distance we could see the Viscontea Tower standing tall. On a sunny day like that you could see the tower in all its glory, and the village become even more fascinating and surprising for its untouched beauty.

Once we arrived, even though it was already 11:30, we didn’t want to waste any time. We started our visit. We parked the car in Piazza San Carlo and started the climb up to the top of the town, going up via Coalzio and arriving in Piazza Del Municipio or Piazza Alta. The Piazza del Municipio is the civic center where the markets and politics take place and where the important buildings are: the Roman Collegiate Church [consecrated in 1222, replacing the previous one, which was destroyed by the 1117 earthquake], the Palazzo Pretorio and the Viscontea Stronghold [construction began in 1342 and ended in 1347 thanks to Luchino Visconti’s initiative].
We stopped over for a lunch at Ristorante del Borgo where they served platters of ham accompanied by chisolini a.k.a. torta fritta [fried leavened bread], swiss chard panzotti [big, triangular ravioli] and strawberries… and to drink a good Bonarda wine.
In the afternoon we reached the Podere Palazzo Illica where we were staying overnight. After freshening up and having a quick rest, we continued our tour towards Chiaravalle della Colomba Abbey, which, alas, was closed when we arrived.

So, since we couln’t visit the Abbey, we looked for somewhere else. We always love to visit historic places; we enjoy the atmosphere surrounding them. But in this case we immediately found an alternative: walking through the vineyards of the hills of Piacenza.

Our detour took us to the courtyard of the viticulture business CĂ  Rossa in Alseno. We immediately liked Mrs. Gregori, so we had a tasting with the owner, Roberto; we compared wines and production methods; we spent over two delicious hours enjoying the perfect Gutturnio wine and enjoying the kindness and courtesy of our hosts.

However, time flew by so we headed to Trattoria del Voltone where we had a reservation for dinner. It truly was a family-run restaurant with mother and father in the kitchen and the children waiting tables.

We were heartly welcomed and chatted and chatted as if we were…relatives! No, I’m kidding, but we were practically acquaintances because we discovered having friends in common.

We tasted a few typical local dishes such as pisarei fasò [gnocchi with green beans and tomato sauce], stracotto [pot roast] and riccola all’Ortrugo [amberjack in an Ortrugo wine sauce], but we were too full to have dessert 🙁

The second day started with a good breakfast: fresh fruit, jams and homemade cakes made by the owner of Podere Palazzo Illica was a good way to start the day!
We needed energy because that was the day we wanted to visit Castell’Arquato in a good way.

We got back on the reoad that took us to Piazza del Municipio and we visited the Roman Collegiate Church dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The first surprise was that there are fossilized shells in some of the stones in the facade wall. The front facade faces out onto a small piazza surrounded by beautiful, old houses; the interior is divided into three naves by sandstone columns with 16 capital decorations; what’s more, there are also pieces of art to contemplate: the old baptistry with the monolithic font for immersive baptism survived the 1117 earthquake, as did the wood crucifix, which is 3 mt [10 ft] tall and more thatn 2 m [6 ft] wide.

The history of the church is looked after by the Collegiata Church Museum [which is located in the same square]. I was struck by the painting The Adoration of the Shepherds by Cristoforo Caselli: the view from the village is exactly the same as it is now in every direction.

On the northern side of the Piazza del Municipio stands the Palazzo del PodestĂ  with its rectangular tower [built in 1292]. The Loggetta dei Notari [which now holds art exhibitions] was added to the civic center more recently.

In front of the Palazzo del PodestĂ  is the Viscontea Stronghold, which is a tall, imposing defensive structure located in a strategic point where the views extend across the entire surrounding Val d’Arda territory.

Once we crossed the gate we met back up with Paolo. Yesterday we’d been fascinated by his quick explanation that made us come back to visit it in a good way.

He tells us about the contrusction of the stronghold, about its defensive aim, about the accomodation and the legend of Sergio and Laura, but… I’m not going to tell you, that way you will be curious enough to want to visit Castell’Arquato yourself! The Stronghold and the Medieval Life Museum are inside the tower.

More little gems that you can discover in the alleyways and in the streets, making it so pleasant to wander around, include: the Luigi Illica Museum and House [a poet born in Castell’Arquato, librettist for Puccini and Mascagni], the Giuseppe Cortesi Geological Museum [where you can see a blue whale skeleton], Palazzo Stradivari, Palazzo del Duca [Pope Paolo III Farnese’s residence in 1543] and the Doge’s Fountain.

Our second day came to an end and we had to head back home. We managed to leave just as various public events were happening. They are organized here every year, for example “Re-live in the Middle Age” takes place in the middle of September…who want to come with us this year?

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