Emilia Romagna is one of those regions of Italy that are often overlooked. And in a way, that’s even understandable, I mean how can you beat the beauty of Tuscany’s landscapes, the magic of Rome’s history, or the incredible coastal cities of Southern Italy? And yet. With its incredible medieval towns and its tasty cuisine (yes, Emilia Romagna is probably the best region of the world when it comes to food!) this is a hidden gem to discover. Let’s dive into the best towns in Emilia Romagna, that you should explore during your stay.
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Table Of Contents
- The Best Towns in Emilia Romagna
- How to move around
- The best places to stay in Emilia Romagna
- In conclusion: why you shouldn’t overlook Emilia Romagna
The Best Towns in Emilia Romagna
This list is based on the choice made by the Italian national club i Borghi più belli d’Italia, with the addition of my personal favorites. To help you sort your itinerary, the list follows a geographical order. Starting from the North West, the area nearby Piacenza, and ends with the South East, nearby Rimini. It will also allow you to skip directly to the areas you would like to visit, and for that don’t hesitate to use the table of content.
At the end of the blog post, you will find some useful information, to help you plan your vacation.
Bobbio is one of the most ancient towns in Emilia Romagna. The Romans founded it in 14 B.C.. As a heritage of Roman’s passage, we still can see the magnificent Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) that runs on 280 meters. A masterpiece of engineering that is supported by 11 irregular arches. Around 614 the Irish monk Colombano founded a Monastery that is nowadays one of the main attractions. San Colombano Monastery hosts a museum that collects finds, some of them are pre-Romans, from the surroundings.
Symbol of Renaissance Emilia’s architecture, the Duomo features many interesting frescoes. And how not to mention the massive medieval Malaspina Castle? A key location during the medieval wars between Guelfi and Ghibellini.
Bobbio takes its name from the river, a well-known spot, where the locals seek freshness during Summer’s heat. At this time of the year, due to the drought, the water uncovers some small beaches. Bobbio’s beautiful river gorges offer also one of the funniest activities to try: canoeing! Test your abilities along the river rapids, if you’ve never tried this it’s really fun! Check RockandRivers.com for schedules and events. Unfortunately, their website is in Italian only, if you are interested, call them directly.
Accommodations in Bobbio are for the majority B&B and the prices may be a little higher than in other locations nearby. If you are only visiting the town without doing extra activities in the countryside, the best solution is to sleep in Piacenza (more on that at the end of the post) or nearby.
Grazzano Visconti (Piacenza)
Unlike the other locations in this list, Grazzano Visconti is not an ancient village. Let me explain this better. The fortress is medieval indeed. But the village’s construction dates back to the beginning of the XX century when Giuseppe Visconti financed the reconstruction of a modern medieval-looking town attached to the fortress and the ancient Church of Saint Anna.
Grazzano Visconti was born. An exquisite mix of Neo-Gothic and Renaissance architecture that let us forget the fact that it’s only a hundred years old. The village regularly hosts events in costume every year that will let you feel how life was in the Renaissance. If you are interested in attending one of those events you can check the official calendar.
Fun fact: the founder of the town, Giuseppe Visconti was the father of one of the most famous Italian directors, Luchino Visconti.
Giuseppe Visconti was ahead of his time, and with the renovation works he commissioned an inn inside the village that looks like the ancient medieval inns (of course, it is equipped with all comforts). If you want to try something different the Locanda of Grazzano Visconti is the perfect solution for you! For a more budget-friendly option, search for accommodations in Piacenza instead.
I’m not a romantic movie person, but growing up I always loved the movie “Ladyhawke” (if you haven’t watched it yet you should!). And guess what? One of the locations was Castell’Arquato and more specifically Rocca Viscontea. This ancient fortress dominates the view over the village and had originally 4 defensive towers. Only one survived to us and today hosts a small museum about the history of the village. The fortress is worth visiting also because of the view of the village and valley.
In addition to the majestic fortress, the village is absolutely worth visiting. Its narrow cobblestone alleys preserved the charm of ancient times and the whole village has a lost-in-time aura. Once you reached the main square admire il Palazzo del Podestà which rises in front of the fortress.
Castell’Arquato is a very small village and you will have more chances of finding accommodations nearby. Just like Bobbio, they are less than an hour from Piacenza, so my recommendation is to book your hotel there.
Vigoleno is a scenic fortified village on top of a hill a few kilometers outside Piacenza. The name comes from Latin: Vicus Lyaeo (Baccus Village), and it refers to the exquisite wine production of the surrounding hills. Even though the first settling was Roman, the fortress dates to the Middle Ages. When visiting the village get lost in the labyrinth of narrow alleys inside the fortress walls.
I’m repeating myself, but walking in this town will bring you back in time. Vigoleno and (almost) all the villages from the list, have passed the test of centuries incredibly well and are among the most beautiful towns to visit in Italy. The icing on the cake? As the Romans stated, by dedicating the village to the God of pleasure, if you are a food and wine lover, this is THE place for you!
One of the most exciting things to do is spend the night inside the castle. The prices are less expensive than what you may expect. And the rooms are very elegant and will put you in a romantic mood.
On a road trip, you can easily explore Bobbio, Castell’Arquato, and Vigoleno on the same day. Spend the night in Vigoleno and then continue your trip to Grazzano Visconti and Piacenza.
The name of this town derives from the Italian words Monte Chiaro (White Mountain), which indicates the fact that the top of the mountain was deforested to build the houses. Montechiarugolo is a hidden gem a few kilometers outside Parma.
It’s a must-visit when you are in the area because of its Renaissance architecture. And among the buildings, you have to visit the Montechiarugolo Castle. Inside you will find many original objects, including tapestries, frescoes, and mobilia. The castle is open from March to November. In case you are traveling during another period, you will have to contact the castle owners at email@example.com.
Montechiarugolo is litterally a few minutes from Parma. That’s why I’d recommend staying in Parma to explore it, it’s absolutely worth it. And spend a few hours in the town on your way to the South.
Gualtieri (Reggio Emilia)
Let’s now change location. Gualtieri is nearby Reggio Emilia on Italy’s longest river, the Po, on the border between Emilia Romagna and Lombardy. The name of this town comes from Gualtiero, a commander of the Lombard King Agilulfo sent to conquer Mantua. Gualtiero created an encampment there that gradually expanded through the years to become a small city.
Gualtieri had an important urban development during the Renaissance. From this period we have some incredible buildings like Piazza and Palazzo Bentivoglio, Santa Maria della Neve Church, and the beautiful Civic Tower. The whole city looks straight out of a Raffaello’s painting. It’s very different from the Middle Ages villages mentioned above but in any way less interesting.
Castelvetro di Modena (Modena)
Even though in Italian Castelvetro means Glass Castle, the original name comes from Latin and translates as Old Castle (Castrum Vetus). And Castelvetro is old indeed! The first Roman encampment dates back to the 1st century B.C.
So what makes this castle unique and worth being on our list? Castelvetro is the towers’ village. There are 6 of them all around, which contributes to create a unique atmosphere in the town. The main square and most important location is Piazza Roma. Besides having an incredible view of Modena’s hills, the square also has a chessboard in the middle.
On even years in September, Castelvetro hosts human chess. A game to remember the time when Torquato Tasso, one of the most famous Italian poets, sought refuge in the town. While on odd years, always in September, Piazza Roma is the location of a fabulous Renaissance banquet. Even if you don’t dress in Renaissance costumes you still can assist to the festivals and enjoy the festivities around the village. For more information about the exact dates, check Castelvetro Tourism Board Website.
Fiumalbo means White River, in reference to the foaming waters of the two rivers that surround the town. Unlike many other villages on the list, Fiumalbo isn’t on top of a panoramic hill. Instead, it spread over the valley and embrace the lush nature. If you like trekking in nature, there are many different trails around the area.
But what can you see inside the city on a day trip? First, you have to stop by the impressive Devil’s Bridge (yes another one!) also known as Ponte di Fola Alto. This bridge is very high and it surprises visitors as it’s supported by only two arches (it’s not the one in the photo below). One of the most surprising sights you will find in Fiumalbo is the “Celtic Village”. It consists of an ensemble of a few constructions, that most likely dates back to the 4th century B.C. when the Celts invaded Italy.
But I couldn’t end this list without mentioning the feast of the patron Saint Bartholomeus, the 23rd of August. For the occasion the town is enlightened by the light of thousands candles, including in the river. Fiumalbo becomes magical!
You may think you have ended in an open modern art gallery. You are not wrong because Dozza is one of the most surprising ancient/modern villages in Italy. A mix between the Dixit’s board games illustrations and more classical paintings, there are more than a hundred murals scattered throughout the city. The hunting is exciting!
But if you are more into historical discoveries you should head to the Sforzesca Fortress. Following renovation works, the fortress now hosts an interesting museum. Inside you will also find a giant sleeping dragon. Don’t worry, he wakes up only during the Fantastika Festival of fantasy, which take place every two years. You can check more information about the next on Fantastika’s website.
Brisighella is one of the most beautiful towns in Emilia Romagna. What makes it unique? The three rocky peaks that surround the valley. On top of each, stands a historical building. The Manfredian fortress, built in the 14th century, is the oldest. The Monticino sanctuary (18th century) and the Clock Tower, which was built in the second half of the 19th century.
When exploring the village you can walk in the “Donkey’s road” (via degli asini). This covered alley is very ancient and originally it had a defensive purpose. Through the years the basement of the road was carved from the rock to create stables and shops. For this reason, the alley is nowadays integrated inside a series of buildings.
In June, the town gets enlightened by a thousand torches at night. It’s simply magical if you have the chance to visit during this time of the year. Otherwise, as you can judge for yourself the views are breathtaking also during Winter when the town gets covered by snow.
Would you like to visit Venice without tourists? Well, Venice is absolutely unique. But Comacchio also known as Little Venice, reminds the floating city because of its many channels that cross it. You will even see some small boats reminding the gondola. They call them batane and they are used by the locals to move around the 13 different islands on which Comacchio is founded.
If you are lucky enough to find one of the locals willing to accompany you, you can even enjoy a small cruise along the water alleys. Note: they do this service for free usually, but feel free to give them a generous tip.
Otherwise, a walk between the alleys is an exciting experience as well. The colored house facades are a joy for the eyes! While you are wandering, don’t forget to visit Ponte Pallotta, also known as Trepponti (Three Bridges). This particular bridge connects four channels and 5 alleys and over the years it has become a symbol of Comacchio.
San Leo (Rimini)
When arriving in San Leo the question arise spontaneously: how did they get to build a medieval fortress on top of that rocky peak? And while you will soon spot the slope where the village is settled, San Leo’s fortress still fascinates for it majestic beauty.
You can visit the fortress every day from 10.30 AM to 6.30 PM. But if you are planning to go, you should contact them to be sure they are open. Send the email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After you visited the fortress, stop by the lovely village. Among the ancient stone houses and buildings, you should visit also the Duomo, which is set into the mountain, to the point that it only have to facades. The Duomo is known for its perfect acoustic. Through the years famous artists like Ennio Morricone, have performed inside the walls of the sacred building.
Montefiore Conca (Rimini)
Montefiore which literally means Flower Mountain is an impressive fortress that rises nearby the coast. The name Conca derives from the river that flows over the valley. Its strategic position nearby the most famous beaches of Rimini, makes it a nice addition to your Italian East Coast itinerary.
Montefiore Fortress is a must-see. Not only for its incredible history, you can learn when visiting on a guided tour, but also for the incredible views you can admire while visiting. Moreover, the fortress is famous for the legend of Costanza Malatesta. Daughter of one of the most beloved lords of Rimini, Ungaro Malatesta, Costanza became a widow at a very young age. When her father died she found herself with a lot of power and money.
Her libertine lifestyle caught the attention of her uncle who was worried about the family’s heritage. For this reason, when she fell in love with a German soldier her uncle commanded their assassination in 1378. Since then, Costanza’s ghost haunts the castle, seeking peace for her soul.
In the same fashion as these phenomenons, every year on the first weekend of September Montefiore hosts the Arckana Mystery Night. A festival where holistic and spiritual disciplines are introduced to the great public.
Montefiore is a rather small village, but it’s very close to other interesting touristy locations, like San Marino and Rimini. When looking for places to stay don’t hesitate to choose one of these two locations to stay at.
How to move around
Exploring Italy is a lifetime experience and there are indeed many ways to move around. But when it comes to exploring villages and towns there are no doubts, a road trip is the best solution. It could be either by renting a car or why not, with a van/camping car.
So where should you pick up your car?
It depends on where you are heading. If you want to start from the North West, Milan Linate International Airport is the ideal starting point. It is a few kilometers from Piacenza, about 50 minutes drive on the highway. And Piacenza as I showed above, is very close to 4 incredibly beautiful villages and towns: Grazzano Visconti, Bobbio, Castell’Arquato, and Vigoleno.
Instead, if you are planning to don’t visit Emilia, and explore only the East area you may consider descending from Venice’s Marco Polo Airport.
The best places to stay in Emilia Romagna
While exploring the best towns in Emilia Romagna is an exciting experience, you shouldn’t overlook the larger cities. I’m thinking of Piacenza, Parma, Bologna, Ravenna and Ferrara. These cities are hidden treasures mostly unknown to foreign tourists. Don’t hesitate to spend a few days exploring, while having day trips to the neighboring towns.
Also one of the main benefits of being based in larger towns is that you will find more budget-friendly options. Even though I would invest in a one-night stay at one of the beautiful castles mentioned above.
In conclusion: why you shouldn’t overlook Emilia Romagna
Thanks to a rich history, beautiful natural landscapes, and one of the best cuisines in the world, Emilia Romagna is one of the most beautiful regions to visit in Italy. And it’s in the center also! That makes it easy to add on a larger itinerary from the North to the South.
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