Ghosts, battles, romances and crimes. The villages and castles of Emilia represent an inexhaustible source of ancient stories, but also an excellent idea to spark the imagination of children and take them for a few hours into a distant and fascinating world.
So why not take the opportunity to organise a nice weekend away with the family? The child-friendly itinerary we propose leads you through the Parma and Piacenza area – famous for its numerous castles – to discover the legends that still hover among its medieval villages and fortresses.
We will then round off the trip with an immersion in prehistory by visiting a Neolithic village not far from Piacenza.
The first stop on our itinerary for children in Emilia takes us to a castle whose unmistakable profile stands out against the backdrop of the foothills of Parma. Located in the town of Langhirano, Torrechiara Castle has dominated the surrounding valley since 1448, when Count Pier Maria II de’ Rossi ordered its construction.
While the castle once served to defend the territory, today it represents one of the best-preserved examples of fortified buildings in Italy.
However, the Torrechiara Castle was not built solely for defensive purposes. The Count also conceived it as a private residence that was meant to shelter his secret love with Bianca Pellegrini. Their liaison is celebrated in every corner of the fortress, which still preserves magnificent frescos.
As you wander through the various rooms, you will discover vivid depictions of nature, fantastic animals and grotesques that will enchant the little ones. The highlight of the pictorial decoration, as well as the symbol of clandestine love, is to be found in the Camera d’Oro, the count’s bedroom frescoed by Benedetto Bembo, featuring the coats of arms of the two lovers.
Love is therefore the main theme of the visit to the castle. Yet, if you pay attention you will probably perceive a strange presence inside the fortress too. Indeed, legend has it that the ghost of Pier Maria II de’ Rossi still haunts these premises and wanders about in search of his beloved Bianca uttering the romantic motto ‘Nunc et semper’ (now and forever).
Torrechiara is not the only castle to be haunted buy ghostly presences. The Rivalta Castle also boasts its own ghost, who would give signals of his presence by alternately turning the lights in the rooms on and off.
We are in the town of Gazzola, surrounded by the Piacenza Trebbia Valley. Here stands a fully furnished stately residence, still today the home of the Zanardi Landi Counts, heirs of the noble Landi family that took possession of the castle in the 14th century.
The Rivalta estate includes not only the aforementioned castle – on which the so-called ‘torresino’ tower stands out – but also a charming medieval fortified village, whose buildings date back to the 13th to 17th century.
Although private, the castle is largely open to visitors. Along the tour you can admire the courtyard, the hall of honour, the bedrooms, the dungeons and the tower, among other things, as well as two small museums: the Military Costume Museum and the Museum of Sacred Art.
As for the ghost of Rivalta, little is known of his identity. He is said to be a cook named Giuseppe who was murdered by the butler in the 18th century for courting his wife.
Get ready to discover a fairytale village! For the third stage of our trip with children in Emilia we are taking you to the Nure Valley, more precisely to the Vigolzone, about 15 kilometres from Piacenza.
Here lies the village of Grazzano Visconti, a place with a very special history that includes not only the village but also a castle and its wonderful park. When speaking of Grazzano, one cannot help but mention the figure of Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone, an enlightened and eclectic duke to whom we owe the current appearance of the village.
Once he had inherited it from his father (who had reacquired it in the late 19th century), the duke decided to transform the hamlet and its castle radically. With the help of the architect Campanini, at the beginning of the 20th century Grazzano Visconti thus became a neo-medieval town, in which the comforts of the modern era merged with a strong focus on arts and crafts, typical of the medieval period.
A sort of time machine that allows young and old to experience the life of a small village frozen in time.
Like many other castles in Emilia, legend has it that the fortress of Grazzano also has its own ghost. In this case it would be Aloisa, who died of grief after being abandoned by her husband. Today, she is the protector of unrequited love.
Neolithic Village of Travo
Let us conclude our journey by heading into the Trebbia Valley, about twenty minutes’ drive from Grazzano, to visit the Travo Archaeological Park.
Brought to light in the 1990s and opened in 2006, the Neolithic Village of Travo is one of the most important Neolithic settlements in northern Italy. It consists of a group of dwellings and buildings dating back some 6000 years, where numerous objects and tools were found that are currently housed in the Travo Archaeological Museum.
The archaeological park also includes three full-scale reconstructed Neolithic huts that help create a more immersive experience for families. Upon entering them, it is possible to discover the daily life of the community that inhabited them.
Finally, don’t forget to contact the park before you set off to book one of the activities organised for children, including workshops and experimental archaeology days.
An eternal dreamer, but I try to stay grounded. I was raised in the countryside but I love big cities. I’m always ready for a trip, as long as it’s sustainable.
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