When wheels were made of wood and the engine was still an invention belonging to the future, almost seen as a sorcery, the best way to move between one castle and another was, without any doubt, horse-riding.
Today, for those who venture into the discovery of the Castles of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, with detours towards Reggio Emilia manor houses, the solution that allows you to preserve that same sense of freedom, without sacrificing the comfort achieved over the centuries, is called a camper.
Historical residence, designed as a defensive outpost of the Canossa family, the Bianello Castle (RE) preserves all the splendor and medieval grandeur that welcomed two emperors, guests of Countess Matilde, still venerated nowadays for her charm and charisma that last over the centuries.
She actually inspires the “great end” of this open air tour, which cannot but include the ruins of the Canossa Castle (RE) - location of the legendary humiliation of Henry IV in front of Pope Gregory VII - the almost unchanged structure of the Castello di Rossena (RE) - with its Weapon-Room and the Rossenella Tower - and what remains of the Castle of Carpineti (RE), which offers an amazing view from the top of the keep (mastio).
An area for campers in Vico di Canossa, at the foot of the castle, and another in the village of Carpineti, both setted along the Via Matildica “Holy Face” route, are particularly appreciated by campers, looking for a place to take a break and relax.
The itinerary continues in the province of Parma to Torrechiara Castle: built from 1448 to 1460 with three walls, it is one of the best examples of castle architecture in Italy.
Beautifully preserved, its interior contains numerous frescoed rooms including the famous Camera d'Oro attributed to Benedetto Bembo. The room depicts Pier Maria Rossi's possessions in the Parma area, some 50 castles, and Bianca Maria Pellegrini, his beloved.
The whole manor and its decorations refer to Pier Maria's love for Bianca.
Along the Parma stream Pier Maria built the small abbey of Santa Maria della Neve, which can also be visited.
Camper vans can be parked in the car park at the foot of the castle, with a playground and water supply.
Art lovers cannot miss the opportunity to knock on the drawbridge of the Rocca Sanvitale in Fontanellato (PR), famous for hosting the hall with the myth of Diana and Actaeon, painted in 1524 by Parmigianino. Among its premises, the castle also boasts the little theater of Maria Luigia of Austria's grandchildren, and an extraordinary optical chamber that reflects the external square through a system of mirrors.
For camper vans, Fontanellato has a large equipped area for a fee, Vagabond Camper, less than a kilometre from Rocca Sanvitale.
Three parking areas and an authorized parking in Soragna (PR), are located on the road to Rocca Meli Lupi of Soragna (PR), a luxurious residence that preserves fresco decorations and pictorial cycles of great value, and also an odd and disturbing mystery: it seems, actually, that the ghost of Donna Cenerina (Cassandra Marinoni) has appeared in the house.
The woman was barbarously stabbed to death by Count Guido Anguissola.
When the pangs of hunger begin to be felt, the right stop is the Antica Corte Pallavicina of Polesine Parmense (PR), the “gastrofluvial kingdom” of the brothers Luciano and Massimo Spigaroli, who wanted to preserve the rural spirit of the building, turning it, at the same time, into a flag of the Emilian cuisine, where the symbol is the cured meat called Culatello.
A museum is even dedicated to the king of cured meats - which here ages in the venerable cellars.
Taking advantage of the rest area in via Don Mezzadri in Monticelli d'Ongina (PC), head straight for the Castle of San Pietro in Cerro (PC), a fifteenth-century manor on the border of the provinces of Parma and Cremona, which - in addition to 30 richly furnished halls - also boasts a dynamic and contemporary art collection: MIM Museum in Motion.
It houses five hundred unique pieces in the Museum of Arms and a permanent art installation: 40 copies of the terracotta warriors of the Xi'an Army.
The itinerary continues into the province of Piacenza, with the Parco dello Stirone and Piacenziano to act as an extraordinary green frame or as a sort of bridge to Vigoleno (PC), where the area parking for campers called “Rio delle Noci car park”, free and equipped with services, can be an opportunity to get into the crenellated walls and the panoramic walkway of the village, dominated by the keep (mastio) and the castle that, between 1921 and 1935, the Duchess Maria Ruspoli de Gramont transformed into an extraordinary cultural salon, also frequented by Gabriele D'Annunzio and Max Ernst.
Further on, Castell'Arquato is a must for a panoramic stop to admire the Rocca Viscontea, located in the upper part of the town next to the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, a splendid Romanesque structure with Gothic and Renaissance parts, and the Palazzo del Podestà.
A renowned film set for some scenes of "Ladyhawke", Castell'Arquato is classified as a "Wine City" and is one of the 100 most beautiful villages in Italy.
The next stop is Gropparello Castle, an ideal destination for all dreamers and especially families who want to offer their children the unique experience of the Park of Tales, the first emotional park for children in Italy, where the Middle Ages are staged every day.
Adjacent to the Castle there is also the Museo della Rosa Nascente (Museum of the Dawning Rose) with 108 varieties of roses for a total of 1350 plants and the Taverna Medievale (Medieval Tavern), a restaurant that combines typical local cuisine with DOC wines from the Colli piacentini in the charming garden in bloom.
Moving further west, it is worth extending your trip to the Malaspina Dal Verme Castle in Bobbio, a fortified structure that welcomes visitors with its Sala delle Marine and Salone delle feste.
Strolling through the village, recognised in 2006 as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy and in 2009 as Borgo dei Borghi (Village of Villages) by the TV programme Kilimangiaro, don't miss a visit to the former Monastic Complex of San Colombano and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
Continuing along the SS45 Val Trebbia road, in the direction of Piacenza, you arrive in the city where the rest area in Via Sant'Ambrogio 22 is strategically located right near the splendid complex of Palazzo Farnese and the unfinished Visconti citadel, today home to the Civic Museums and its collections: Medieval Frescoes, Archaeological, Arms, Art Gallery, Sculptures, Glass and Ceramics.