Seen from the point of view of a child, Piacenza Area can become an adventure.
In order to get to the Carriages Museum, it's necessary to descend into the belly of a huge palace, and there the trip begins among vehicles, stagecoaches, sports coaches, firemen's carts and elegant chairs.
Within the city walls a family-friendly historic center is enclosed: along the ancient walls there are spaces for children's entertainment. The former municipal slaughterhouse now houses “Museo di Storia Naturale” (the Museum of Natural History). Inside, visitors are taken on a tour of the province's natural environments, among coloured stones, prized herbariums and representations of animals that fly, walk and swim through the environments recreated in the museum rooms.
The adventure then continues in search of the Castello e Parco delle Fiabe of Gropparello (Castle and Fairy Tale Park), a castle surrounded by woods, where you can let yourself be carried back into the past by entertainment and actors in costumes.
The last suggested landing place is among the rolling hills, where you can take a dive into the past in the village of Castell'Arquato. In this magic village among the lanes populated by low buildings, the stones of the houses host fossil shells. The final surprise is to find the sea, to be discovered in the Museo Geologico Cortesi (Cortesi Geological Museum) which houses fossils of dolphins, crabs and even whales.
The starting point for our itinerary is Palazzo Farnese, home to the Civic Museums, which also houses, among other collections, a vast and assorted collection of carriages: royal, noble and sporting, as well as a Sicilian cart, a fireman's wagon and some sedan chairs.
For the most curious, among the other collections of the Museums it is possible to find arms and armors, the “Tondo” attributed to none other than Botticelli, paintings that celebrate the Farnese family and an archaeological collection (currently being enlarged), the protagonist of which is the Etruscan Liver.
Strolling through the historic center, among the narrow streets still based on the ancient Roman grid, it's possible to discover ancient churches and prestigious palaces, and not to be missed is a tasty break in a traditional trattoria or a faster batarò, a typical “crushed” sandwich, which, accompanied by Piacenza’s cold cuts, can give great satisfaction for all palates.
The afternoon is dedicated to a visit to the Natural History Museum, which tells the history and characteristics of the fertile Piacenza valleys.
Housed in the former Municipal Slaughterhouse, the museum represents the natural environments of the flat, hilly and mountainous areas of Piacenza and displays more than 1100 minerals, herbariums and stuffed specimens of the bird species, that populate the territory.
At the end of the day, we suggest a walk along the ancient walls in the Facsal area, where you can take a break to relax and let the children give vent to their energy in the dedicated play area.
The following morning we leave Piacenza behind, along the Strada Farnesiana, in order to reach the countryside, headed towards Carpaneto Piacentino.
Just before entering the city, it is necessary to turn right to begin the climb up the hill, accompanied by gentle slopes: after about 10 minutes you begin to recognize the silhouette of Gropparello Castle; it is possible to visit the rooms of the main floor, the keep and the walkway.
The collection of musical instruments is also worth a visit.
After opening the castle doors, in the park you enter a world of fairy tales and warriors waiting for visitors and involving them through paths in the woods, but... beware of ghosts! In fact, it is said that the spirit of a young girl imprisoned and died in the dungeons of the castle still calls for help on windy nights!
Let's go on to the last stop of this trip: the medieval village of Castell'Arquato, in Val D'Arda. On a slope of the lowest of Piacenza's hills stands this village. Mentioned among the most beautiful villages in Italy, it preserves winding streets and lanes that evoke the medieval foundation. In the main square stands the tower of the Rocca Viscontea, a 14th century military bulwark.
For those who still need to have lunch, here we recommend chisolini (a mixture of water, flour, lard and yeast which is cut into rectangular shapes and fried) which can be tasted stuffed with local cold cuts; “anolini alla valdardese” (pasta filled with Grana Padano cheese and breadcrumbs, to be eaten in broth) and Vigolo's cake (pastry with a special and secret chocolate layer), accompanied - for adults - by one of the many local wines.
Castell'Arquato is in fact surrounded by hills where some of the most famous local wines are produced, such as Monterosso Val D'Arda, Gutturnio, Malvasia and Ortrugo.
Walking through the historical area of the village, among stones and bricks, the typical warm color of calcarenite emerges and some Pliocene fossils appear; this stone also covers the facade of the Collegiate Church, that is the ancient parish of Castell'Arquato.
From the Piazza del Municipio we suggest taking Via Sforza Caolzio until the Ospedale di Santo Spirito, today the house of the “Museo Geologico Giuseppe Cortesi”, also known as the Wales Museum.
Here are displayed some remarkable fossils of the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods found in the eastern sector of the province of Piacenza and along the Po river. The collection includes huge skeletons belonging to cetaceans and smaller dolphins that lived in this area millions of years ago, when the sea occupied the Po area.
Before leaving, we suggest a walk along the Arda torrent which, on rainy days, still returns small fossil remains.