How do two days fully devoted to the castles that still guard the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza sound?
You will feel as though you’re travelling through the past, discovering the glory of castles, fortresses, strongholds, palaces and manors, and letting your imagination run wild to a time when this part of Via Emilia was still very far from being driven on by motor vehicles.
Here are some tips to get your bearings!
Surrounded by wonderful French gardens, it reached the height of its splendour thanks to the beloved Maria Luigia of Austria, who made it her summer residence.
If you smell an inviting scent in the air it could be the garden flowers, but it more likely comes from the dishes cooked by the students of ALMA, the internatiol school of italian cuisine based here.
A few minutes from Colorno, in the Lower Parma Area, sits the Rocca Sanvitale di Fontanellato.
Surrounded by a moat that makes for a perfect fairy-tale setting, this fortress is enchanting at first glance, but the real treasures are kept inside.
One of these includes the small room painted by Parmigianino in 1524 portraying the myth of Diana and Actaeon, while the other is the only operating Optical Room in Italy, where a system of mirrors reflects the image of the square in front of the fortress on a screen.
The time has come to climb the Parma Apennines for an exceptional panorama of the peaks that surround the province of Parma. From here, your next stop is none other than the notorious Bardi Fortress: a fully immersive experience of life during the Middle Ages.
It was here that the world’s first thermal image was recorded, believed to be the ghost of Knight Moroello.
As a matter of fact, this fortress is where the love story between a young Soleste and Moroello took place. He was a troop commander, she was the daughter of the lord of the castle, betrothed to another man.
The rest is up to you to discover, if you dare.
As the first day of the Duchy castles, standing as loyal watchtowers, comes to an end, one final stop takes you just a few minutes from Bardi.
Compiano Castle, centre-point of one of the most evocative villages in Italy, sits among the peaks of the Parma Apennines. A visit to this ancestral residence brings to life the mysteries of the noble Landi, Grimaldi, and Farnese dynasties.
But that's not all: the International Masonic Museum, the only one in Italy exhibiting an unrivalled collection of Anglo-Saxon Masonry objects from the last 300 years, is housed here.
The second day of this time travel itinerary is dedicated to the castles in the nearby province of Piacenza. There is no better place to start than Gropparello Castle, which sits atop a green spur overlooking the river of the emerald Vezzeno Valley.
Besides being a magnificent example of fortified architecture, this castle is also known as the first "emotion-inspiring" park in Italy. You will just have to find out why!
The following stop among the Piacenza hills is an ever-lasting classic: the Rocca Viscontea of Castell’Arquato fortress, famous for its historical re-enactments of medieval battles and for being one of the sets for the film Ladyhawke.
Gourmet tip: A lunch break here is highly recommended, as it is easy to find a tavern where you can enjoy a selection of cold cuts and local dishes.
The last stop on this excitement-filled tour through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque and the Enlightenment is the fortified village of Vigoleno, a perfect example of what life was like in the Middle Ages.
Standing out are the imposing crenelated walls, as well as the size of the quadrangular tower with arrow slits, brackets and Ghibelline style merlons. All four floors are open to visitors.
As the 48-hour tour of the Duchy castles comes to an end, don't forget that someone who visits a castle guards it forever!