A slow tour along the Po river. With 10 must-sees stops from Piacenza to Reggio Emilia.
Have you ever happened to come back home from a vacation and…felt more exhausted than you were before you left?
The answer to that burn-out tourism can be a slow-tour along the Po river.
Precisely on the Emilia Romagna right bank, where the landscape is so peaceful and relaxing.
Po is the longest river in Italy.
You can discover this natural waterway over a “no hurry-no fuss” week-end.
You will be traveling in the placid Emilian countryside, among rows of poplar groves, bell towers of little churches, the geometric line of the main banks, charming old villages, friendly people.
The journey has 10 must-sees stops (among the very many, to say the truth ).
You can travel by car (at low gears, enjoying the landscape outside the window), go by bike, or even on foot (if you have some more time available).
What will you see? From Piacenza to Reggio Emilia, there is succession of river villages, hidden white beaches, romantic castles, protected natural areas. And plenty of options for splitting up your ride.
Piacenza | The ford of Sigerico
In the little town of Calendasco you can see the place where the ancient European pilgrims ferried to cross the river Po and continue the journey towards Rome. This place used to be the only river crossing along the medieval route Via Francigena.
The ford is located in the hamlet of Soprarivo. Once here, you can’t help to take a selfie next to the stele (a small stone column) that recalls when Sigerico, the bishop of Canterbury, waded the Po in the year 990.
Would you believe that even today you can live the same experience? In Soprarivo there is a ferry boat service from one side of the Po to the other.
Caorso (PC) | Protected Natural area Isola de Pinedo
27 km from previous stage
Keep going along the Piacenza bank of the river until you come across Isola de Pinedo.
It is a hidden place, like a sort of jewel. To get there, you can start from the hamlet of Zerbio in the municipality of Caorso (13 km from Piacenza).
Drive for a while, then you must park because the final stretch can be covered only on foot.
So you arrive in this silent protected area. Isola de Pinedo is located in an abandoned branch of the river.
Over time, a natural wetland area has grown up and today the sight is absolutely captivating: willows, reeds, age-old oaks, freshwater mirrors, herons and gazettes. The kingdom of bird watching.
18 km from previous stage
Everyone has probably heard of Busseto, because Busseto is the native town of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), the most famous opera composer in the world.
Therefore, no surprise: everything in the city speaks of the Maestro: from the bronze statue that stands in the square, to the historical theater, to the Casa Barezzi Museum.
The mansion where little Giuseppe was born, still exists and can be visited: it is in the hamlet of Roncole.
In any case, Busseto is a charming historical little town, worth a stop.
Suffice it to say that it was awarded with the Orange Flag from the Italian Touring Club. (the Orange Flag is a tourism quality mark, given to small towns in the hinterland that stand out for their excellent offer and quality hospitality).
Polesine Parmense (PR)
6.3 km from previous stage
A fortified castle (1320), between the water and the trees on the bank of the Po river, is something you don’t see every day. This is why Polesine Parmense is worth while a stop, for a special view of the river countryside.
This is the world of the starred chef Massimo Spigaroli and his Antica Corte Pallavicina restaurant (1 Michelin star). Here you can learn how to make pasta and also salumi.
Take a guided tour of the castle and the farm. Smell the salumi scents in the Culatello Museum.
Outside, peacocks walk in the garden, while ancient breeds, like the black pigs, graze nearby.
Roccabianca Castle (PR)
11 km from previous stage
Your journey along the river will now take you at another castle: Roccabianca. And since – as you know – each castle can tell a romantic story, Roccabianca has a special one.
The manor was built in the mid 1400s by the nobleman Pier Maria Rossi: it was a gift for his beautiful and beloved noblewoman Bianca Pellegrini. This explains the name Roccabianca.
Theirs was truly a appassionate love, it lasted a lifetime. Actually the lovestory was parallel to the official wedding (stipulated for political reasons) of him with Antonia Torelli.
Loyalty, love, spirit of dedication, patience are the virtues painted in the cycles frescoed inside the building. Roccabianca was called the Castle of lovers.
This is also the place of rare liqueurs, spirits, balsamic vinegar: they are on display in the Distillery Museum in the ancient cellars.
Just 10 kilometers inland, there is another manor that was owned by the same Rossi family: the Renaissance Castle of San Secondo.
18 km from previous stage
There is a reason why Royal Palace of Colorno (early eighteenth century) – just outside Parma – is called “The Little Versailles”. If you are wondering which one might be, just get there and you will understand it in a second.
It was the superb Duke Palace of Maria Luigia from Austria (ex-wife of Napoleon), Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla.
Baroque style, over 400 rooms, frescoes, courtyards, stairways and fountains.
It also hosts the Alma haute cuisine school.
16 km from previous stage
The village of Brescello is the set of the popular movies Peppone and Don Camillo, the much loved characters, by the Italian writer Giovannino Guareschi.
The plot is about a pugnacious village priest whose confrontation with his adversary, the local communist mayor Peppone, create humorous short stories.
The writer Giovannino Guareschi used to say that Brescello is a small world of down-to-heart people, good food and river landscapes.
The Don Camillo and Peppone Museum have many curiosities on display.
4.7 km from previous stage
A nice fluvial harbour is the next stage of your tour. The village is Boretto: its port has been very important since Roman times. Cruises, boats and motorboats (such as Padus and Stradivari) start from here.
You can take your bike on board, get off at Guastalla village and then return to Boretto along the cycle path that runs along the river surrounded by water, woods and reeds (11 km long). In Boretto you can rent bikes and MTB.
7.1 km from previous stage
Gualtieri is another noble village on the coast. You can walk among rows of poplar groves, the smell of fried dumplings and of soft cured meats.
The most amazing sight is given by Piazza Bentivoglio, embraced by a row of arcades.
Go to the Museum dedicated to the naive painter Antonio Ligabue with his colorful paintings, populated by fantastic animals.
Some 5 km away, in the hamlet of Santa Vittoria there is a curious building: the XVII century Palazzo Greppi. It has a 145-meter long facade stretching along the road.
3.5 km from previous stage
The glorious past of little town of Guastalla is still alive, among its buildings, churches, porticoes. Guastalla used to be the seat of the Gonzaga dynasty between 1575 and 1630.
In the square the protagonists are the statue of Ferrante Gonzaga and the sixteenth-century cathedral recently illuminated by a new sophisticated lighting system.
In the summer, people chill out in Lido Po, the beach by the river.
From Guastalla you can take the cycle path and arrive effortlessly (2 km flat) to Luzzara, the town of the scenographer, writer, poet and painter Cesare Zavattini (1902-1989).
Here there is the National Museum of the Naives Arts, housed in the 15th century Convent of the Augustinians monks.
What can foodies taste on this trip?
Don’t get back home without tasting “Pisarei and Faso”. Pisarei e Faso literally means dumplings with beans. Few other ingredients are added: tomato sauce, onion or garlic for the soffritto and lard, or pancetta. It is served very hot. If you want to eat like a local, ask for “Stracott”, a stew of horse meat or beef. You will also taste many labelled cured meats, of the highest quality, Coppa, Pancetta and Salami. Along Po river there are small restaurants that cook river fish: smoked eel, stricc ‘in carpion, fried amolina, catfish and frogs.
The flavors of the villages along the Po river are those of ancient traditions, soups, good meat, excellent recipes and many cold cuts, also quite rare, such as the Strolghino or the Spalla of San Secondo, besides Culatello and Parma Ham . The fried cake is not a dessert, but the Parma version of fried dumplings. In Busseto a real masterpiece is the nougat tart: shortcrust pastry with almonds and chocolate.
In Reggio Emilia
Cappelletti or Caplét are the festive dish of every family. In Guastalla area you can enjoy a special delicacy: risotto al Lambrusco ( rice cooked in Lambrusco wine). Erbazzone is a pastry, stuffed with herbs and cheese, it is in all shops. Cold cuts are soft and tasty, people enjoy them with hot fried dumpling. Try Parmigiano Reggiano cheese together with a few drops of precious traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia Dop, aged for 20, 30 or even 50 years in wooden barrels. The wine? Lambrusco.
Journalist and mum.
Traveller. I adore happy endings.
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