Emilia-Romagna is characterized by a broad alluvial plain that stretches across the region in a northwest-southeast axis. Home to the greatest cities in the region such as Bologna, Modena and Parma, this plain is also an important agricultural area that produces world-famous products such as Parmigiano Reggiano.
At the western and southern edges of the plain lie the foothills of the Apennine range. Less densely-populated than the plain, the hills are a treasure trove of medieval towns, vineyards, thick forests and glistening lakes.
The hill towns, with their picturesque locations, quiet streets and diverse heritage attractions, make for a wonderful, off-the-beaten-path diversion from the bustling cities. Visitors can enjoy artistic sights, historic monuments, local cuisine as well as the lush natural surroundings at a slower pace.
Here are eight gorgeous hill towns in Emilia-Romagna that offer a wonderful mix of culture, history, terrific food and dreamy views.
Perched atop a hill and commanding a view of the Parma Valley, Torrechiara is one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Italy. Completed in the 15th century, the castle is open to visitors and has various halls with beautiful frescoes.
Just outside the castle but within the fortress walls is a small village which has a handful of eateries and a small hotel.
Castelvetro di Modena
Castelvetro di Modena is an ancient village in the hills 15 kilometers south of Modena.
This medieval village is absolutely worth a visit for its old world ambiance and beautiful views of the rolling landscapes. Surrounded by extensive vineyards, Castelvetro di Modena is home to Grasparossa, the most exquisite of Lambrusco varieties, and Trebbiano vines, which are used to create the world famous Balsamico di Modena.
Explore the medieval village by starting your walk at the Piazza della Dama, with its two medieval towers, castle, and chessboard square. Around the village, you’ll find numerous wineries and rustic agriturismos.
This hilltop village, considered “one of the most beautiful towns in Italy”, lies east of Bologna. It’s best known for its annual Wine Festival and Biennial Exhibition of the Painted Wall (Muro Dipinto).
Every two years in September, artists from Italy and around the world are invited to decorate the village’s walls with colourful murals for the Muro Dipinto. The murals are one of the village’s main attractions.
Other attractions include Rocca Sforzesca, an impressive 15th century fortress, and the Enoteca Regionale dell’Emilia Romagna. Housed in the cellars of the fortress, the enoteca is a repository of wines from Emilia-Romagna.
Another town that enjoys the recognition of being “one of the most beautiful towns in Italy”, Brisighella is situated in the hilly countryside south of Faenza.
Overlooking the village are three prominent sights: the 13th century Rocca or the Rock of Brisighella (a castle with cylindrical towers), the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower built in the 19th century) and the nearby 18th century Santuario del Monticino.
A historic highlight in the village itself is the Via del Borgo or Via degli Asini (“Donkeys’ Road”), an elevated road used in medieval times to transport goods.
The highlight of Brisighella is arguably its amazing views. Climb to the clock tower for breathtaking views of the village and the valley below. In addition, there are other hiking paths that start in the village and continue around the hills.
For nature lovers, visit the nearby Parco Regionale della Vena del Gesso Romagnola for longer hikes to see its gypsum cliffs, forests and ruins.
A 30-minute drive from Forlì, Bertinoro is called the ‘Balcony of Romagna’ for its panoramic views of the Romagna landscapes. This medieval citadel, perched atop a steep hill, is absolutely worth a visit. The main square, Piazza della Libertà, offers lovely views that stretch to the sea, but stroll around the village and you’ll discover more splendid views.
Longiano is situated in the hills southeast of Cesena. The drive there through the Romagna hills and vineyards, is absolutely beautiful.
As you approach Longiano, you’ll soon see the imposing 13th century Castello Malatestiano, that sits high above the village. Other places of interest include the 19th century Teatro Petrella and the Rifugio, a tunnel through the hill that formed a refuge for the village people during WWII.
Santarcangelo di Romagna
Not far from Longiano, on the Via Emilia, lies another charming medieval town: Santarcangelo di Romagna. The town is composed of a flat section and a hillside section that’s characterised by charming cobblestone streets and colourful houses. The old town is a delight to explore! Look out for the nostalgia-inducing cafés and shops.
Enter the town through the iconic 17th century Triumphal Arch at the Ganganelli Square and continue through the old town’s gorgeous streets as you slowly ascend the hillside. Places to stop at along the way include the Button Museum, the Porta Cervese (Cervese Gate) and the Church of St. Michael.
A noteworthy aspect of Santarcangelo di Romagna is its underground network of tunnels and caves. Built centuries ago (possibly by the Romans) for storage, living and defense purposes, some of these underground passages are open to the public such as the Ipogei scavati nell’arenaria.
This rustic village in the southeastern corner of Romagna is about 20 kilometers from Rimini.
Saludecio sits atop a hill and offers gorgeous views that extend all the way to the Adriatic Sea. This village, though small, was an important regional centre in the 16th century. Remnants of this importance can still be seen today in its stately monuments and impressive mansions.
Start your walk at the impressive 14th century Porta Marina (Marina gate) and adjacent San Biagio Parish Church. From here, two streets run the length of the village, where beautiful houses and grand mansions stand side by side. As you stroll along these quaint streets with their staircases, portals, and side alleys, you’ll soon spot the more than 40 murals that adorn the walls.
Keith is the Founder and Publisher of the Velvet Escape luxury travel blog. Based in Amsterdam, Keith left his ten-year investment banking career to travel the world and carve out a new career as a travel blogger and social media advocate. He has visited more than 80 countries across six continents. In addition to being a travel blogger, Keith often speaks at travel and social media conferences. He is also the co-founder of the Global Bloggers Network, a community of more than 3,000 travel bloggers.
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