The Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is filled with cheese, prosciutto Parma Ham, medieval castles and lovely people. During my recent discovery of this region, we visited the Lugagnano Val d’arda, Parma, Fontanellato and Castell’Arquato. We enjoyed meeting these hard-working, fun-loving Italians who laugh boldly, eat heartily and enjoy life.
Lugagnano Val d’Ardab
Lugagnano Val d’Arda is a little wine (Lambrusco) town just outside of Parma. We chose it because it is centrally located between Parma and Pincenza, which allowed us to travel through this beautiful part of Italy which was both rural and metropolitan.
On our way to our hilltop B&B Ai Banani, we took a slight detour (an “umleitung”) and ended up at a magnificent locally owned restaurant in the tiny town of Rustigazzo. We took a break from our misguided journey to “stop and smell the roses” at Ristorante Stella. We were welcomed overwhelmingly by chef and owner Armando who beamed with pride to share his handmade menu of the day.
We were delighted by artichokes in olive oil, Pancetta and Parma Ham, Tortolli with basil, cheeses and olive oil, red wine, Limoncello, Amaretti Gand then ended with espresso. A word of advice: if you eat your way through Italy, pack comfy clothes. Stretchy pants would have been perfect for me. One of the best meals we had on our trip, I am confident it was well over my daily calorie count.
Medieval Mansions and Fortresses
The ancient region of Emilia-Romagna is dotted with medieval and Roman castles that appear to be on every hillside. It is important to check the websites and even the information centers before visiting the museums for correct opening hours. They were not always consistent with the brochures or even the website. This one was the most reliable sites we found.
Still have a back-up plan. Luckily most of the castles or ruins we saw were within range to visit one that might be open.
Rocca Sanvitale of Fontanellato
To me Rocca Sanvitale is one of the prettiest of the castles. It is in the Italian mannerism style and is surrounded by a medieval moat built in 1124. Day tour hours are divided into morning and afternoon hours. We missed the inside tour and found out that you need to call ahead for an English tour. Still there is plenty to see and we were able to enjoy an afternoon espresso and ice cream in Fontanellato square. It’s definitely worth a stop!
This medieval castle and town of the same name are notably one of Italy’s best small towns to visit. As soon as you drive over the little bridge that appears to have been a draw-bridge at one time, you feel like you’ve stepped into “small-town” Italy. The castle (also a hotel) is the big draw with an unforgettable terror torture museum that would have challenged even the strongest of minds.
One of the key notes is the 1985 film “LadyHawke” with Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick and Rutger Hauer was filmed here. A movie set in 12th century Europe, this castle was a perfect set for a torturous prison film.
The Soragna tourism center was very helpful. Soragna is home to the Parmigiano-Reggiano Museum. It is definitely important to check the hours for this museum as well.
The Soragna Castle is also a very pretty castle we visited, but we found the staff to be less than friendly. They seemed annoyed by our visit and there were no other tourists visiting on this “super hot” day. They had only a small paper in English that we could not keep as well as they didn’t seem receptive to any questions. Taken photos inside the castle was not permitted as this gorgeous castle still has been the home to regional royalty for many centuries.
Vigoleno, a privately owned and operated castle, is a resort community. Walking the cobblestone streets of this once very vibrant walled city, we could smell the ancient Italian cooking permeating the air. With breathtaking views of the Italian wine valley, it would make an excellent place to stay. The narrow streets, the hills and rough cobblestones do require a good pair of shoes.
We found the charming city of Parma busy with students, art and architecture. It was easy to travel in and out of Parma. There are parking garages centrally located to all the center sites. We went to the National Gallery Museum and Teatro (Theatre) Farnese where we saw stunning paintings and sculptures well worth the €6 entrance fee.
Because it’s in one of our favorite movies called “Ever After” and starred Drew Barrymore, Parma was one of my favorite places to visit.
Notes About Driving in Italy
Vignettes: If you are traveling to Italy from Germany and driving through Austria or Switzerland (or both), you will need to purchase “vignettes” or face a BIG fine. A vignette is a self-adhesive sticker that is placed inside of the front windshield. They can be purchased at an ADAC, Customs Office or right before you drive into Austria. Each country has separate prices for their vignette depending on your length of stay. They may be purchased for short-term or annual. Here is an article with detailed information.
Driving note: When traveling in unfamiliar countries, it’s always a good idea to have a current “old fashion” paper map of the country with you. Navigational Systems (GPS) do not always have the little roads you will be traveling on. We heard way too many times, “continue off-road.” This can be a bit scary on narrow Italian roads where hills have no shoulders.
Tolls: There are several major toll roadways around Parma that make traveling a little easier and can range between €3-€8, depending how far you go. It’s wise to have coins with you for easy access.
How to Get There
The drive to Emilia-Romagna, Italy region is approximately 8 hours and 20 minutes southeast of Kaiserslautern, 8 hours and 26 minutes southeast of Wiesbaden and 7 hours and 25 minutes southeast of Stuttgart.
Click here on DB Bahn for train information.
Author’s Profile: Wendy Payne is a military spouse and lives with her family in Stuttgart, Germany. She is a freelance writer, blogger and photographer. She also enjoys gardening, hiking, yoga and sharing Europe with people.
Featured Image Photo Credit: © Wendy Payne