The Navile Cycle Route is a beautiful route to be followed on foot or by bicycle that, following the canal of the same name, connects the city of Bologna to Bentivoglio and from there to Malalbergo.
A flat but varied route, which alternates bicycle paths, dirt roads and stretches on secondary roadways, ideal for spending a day in the outdoors.
During the ride, you will encounter the historical and natural beauties along one of the canals that in the past, thanks to its length (40km), served as an extraordinary communication and goods transportation route between Bologna and the Po Valley, particularly for the silk trade.
Our itinerary can start from Casalecchio di Reno, connected to Bologna by a bike/pedestrian route that runs along the Reno Canal, actually the origin and southern extension of the Canale Navile.
In Casalecchio di Reno we can see the Chiusa di Casalecchio [the Sluice], the oldest hydraulic work in Europe still in function and in continuous use: for eight hundred years it has "governed" the waters of the Reno River and, through the system of canals, has supplied the city of Bologna and the Bolognese plain.
The Chiusa was built by the Municipality of Bologna in 1208 in order to provide power to the factories and mills of the city, as well as to feed waterways, so as to open commercial channels for Bolognese products.
Currently, it is not possible for visitors to access the structure, but visits and events are often organized by the Reno and Savena Canals Consortium.
Cycling along the Reno Canal, we reach Bologna.
At the Sostegno della Bova we take the Navile bike route, and then continue north through the Bolognese plain, among parks and ancient hydraulic structures.
When you reach Castello di Castel Maggiore, you can see the remains of the ancient Sostegno di Castagnolo Maggiore, built by Ercole Bentivoglio in 1497.
From the 19th century this place became an important center of manufacturing activities developed thanks to the initiative of the Pizzardi family.
From Castel Maggiore we continue for about ten kilometers and we reach the municipality of Bentivoglio.
Making a small detour along Via di Saliceto, taking the secondary road Canali e Crociali, we reach San Marino di Bentivoglio, where there is the fascinating Villa Smeraldi which hosts the Museo della civiltà contadina [Museum of Rural Life].
The museum, a precious testimony to the life of the countryside and rural work between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is unique for the richness of its documentation and exhibitions. Its several sections tell the story of sharecropping, among which the one dedicated to hemp is the most important in Italy.
Continuing along via S.Marina and following a stretch of the Emiliano-Romagnolo Canal, we reach the center of Bentivoglio on secondary roads.
The history of this town is strongly connected to the Navile Canal: since the 12th century, in fact, the canal brought the water of the Reno from the Chiusa di Casalecchio [the Sluice] to this place. Even in 1930, the rice from the paddies of Bentivoglio arrived in Bologna on boats that traveled along the canals.
The symbol of the municipality is the Castle, the holiday residence of the Renaissance Bentivoglio family. Overlooking the Navile Canal, there is another important palace: Palazzo Rosso, today the home of the Library, with the marvelous decorations by Augusto Sezanne representing typical settings of the local marshland. Inside, there is also one of the best expressions of the Æmilia Ars in the Sala dello Zodiaco.
Continuing along the bike route, another unmissable stop in the Bentivoglio municipality is the Oasi ex risaia "La Rizza", a natural area affected, in the recent past, by the cultivation of rice.
The area is characterized by a large central island plus other smaller islands and bumps emerging from the water. Both adults and children can admire in this area numerous plant and animal species, in particular fish and birds. After centuries, the white stork has returned to nest here, a real surprise of nature on the plain.
The route of the visit is made up of many small roads and on the bank of the flooded area there are two special structures for the watching: the first one, in the area called Punta Degli Olmi, is a little tower with a raised floor; the second one is a little tower with a ground floor and a raised floor, located in the area called Punta Canale.
Inside the oasis there is also a Visitor Center composed of two separate buildings: one that has a restaurant, exhibition halls and various services; the other one has a Hostel with eight rooms where it is possible to stay overnight.
From the La Rizza oasis, it is possible to follow the Navile canal as far as Malalbergo, or take a detour on secondary roads to the naturalistic area Casone del Partigiano [Partisan’s house], a stop outside the Ciclovia, but easily reachable and just a few kilometers away.
The Casone del Partigiano [Partisan’s house] is an old building used first as a refuge for the guardian of the valley and the hunters, and then as a gathering point for the partisans. Today it is possible to take part in educational and learning activities linked to the historical memory and to the naturalistic elements found here. In fact, the whole area surrounding the Casone is an area of ecological rebalancing, thanks to the introduction of autochthonous tree and shrub species.
This is the end of our itinerary along the Navile Cycle Route. From San Pietro in Casale, one can return along the bike/pedestrian path cycling back to Bologna. Or, after a long day, load the bike onto the train at the San Pietro in Casale station and get off at Bologna Centrale station.