A stroll amongst old buildings and hamlets

Pieve di Campiliola

Old Town – photo © reggioemiliaturismo.provincia.re.it

Bismantova Theatre – photo © teatrobismantova.it

The Madonna di Bismantova shrine – photo © reggioemiliaturismo.provincia.re.it

Casale, village – photo from lapietraelabismantova.it

Castelnovo ne’ Monti sits at the foot of three conifer-clad hills: Mount Castello (where the oldest part of the town was sited), Mount Forco and Mount Bagnolo, and has preserved its original character.

A short, squat tower, the remains of defensive walls and other ruins dominate the top of Mount Castello, named after the ruins of the building still standing on hits summit today. La Pieve di Campiliola, one of the most important churches in the Diocese of Reggio Emilia and one of the most prestigious buildings in the area, is just a short distance from the original town centre, on a hill overlooking the hamlet. Known since 980, it received many bequeaths from the Eleventh Century making it extremely wealthy. The building originally dates back to Roman times but it was altered in the Seventeenth Century and adapted to please contemporary tastes; the characteristic traits of the style can still be seen today.

As you enter the town on your journey from Reggio Emilia, you pass through a neighbourhood called Bagnolo with is interesting Palazzo Ducale built by Francesco IV d’Este between 1820 and 1830. Today, various services operate out of this building and the Bagnolo area. The new exhibition rooms, a municipal library with 35 thousand volumes (linked by internet to the other libraries in the province), the Reggio Emilia & Castelnovo ne’ Monti secondary education institute for musical studies “Peri – Merulo”, and the hospital dedicated to Saint Anne which was opened 1931 and is still the only hospital in the Apennine Mountains of Reggio Emilia today, a veritable benchmark in the Provincial Health Service.

As you continue alon Via Roma, you enter Piazza Peretti. This once represented the gate into the town centre and the ancient nucleus of the original hamlet whose narrow streets opening out onto silent squares and courtyards (Piazza Unità d’Italia, Piazza delle Armi and Piazza della Luna). Numerous events are organized in the town’s squares throughout the season, turning them into veritable “hotspots” and bringing the town to life. Just a short distance away stands the Bismantova Theatre (but still used as a cinema), the only theatre in the local mountains to organize an important cultural program and a rich bill of events.

 

The Madonna di Bismantova shrine is set between the rocky walls of the Pietra di Bismantova (which can be reached on foot or by car) and has been visited by pilgrims since 1617. The first reports on the Hermitage, situated 947 metres above sea level, date back to 1411. It was renovated and extended in 1957. As you leave the town, you pass through several historically and architecturally interesting villages and hamlets that mainly come to life in the summer with music and cultural events, putting their ancient splendor back in the spotlight. As you drive up to the town from Reggio Emilia you pass Felina, the second largest town in the municipality. This popular residential and market town is famous for its ancient tower affectionately known as the “salami”. The tower is the last remaining part of a castle that once stood on top of the hill: with the surrounding forest and the trail winding up the hillock, it is the valley’s most distinctive landmark creating a marvelous panorama that also takes in the silhouette of the Pietra di Bismantova in the background.
When visiting Felina, don’t forget to stop at Magonfia, the oldest part of the town, to admire its Seventeenth – Eighteenth Century courtyard house and the rest of the recently restored hamlet. Fonti della Fratta park is just a few minutes away from Magonfia. The small village of Roncroffio is also a short ride away from Felina. Its ancient buildings have been restored and form a beautiful backdrop for San Lorenzo church (now an oratory), the oldest building in the village. Gombio with its tower houses built between the 15th and 16th Centuries is just a little further on. In the south western corner of the village, it is still possible to see what is left of the ancient castle. The church of Saint Mary’s is just a little further on. Gatta is another village with a rich heritage. It has two architectural gems: the old (16th century) and the new (17th Century) Gatti family home, a local family of high standing that had an oratory dedicated to Saint Anthony from Padua built in 1616 that then became the parish church in 1669. Casale, just a short distance away from the main town along the periplus of the Pietra di Bismantova, has some noteworthy buildings, such as oratory dedicated to the Guardian Angels, with its simple design and gabled façade. The charming hamlet of Ginepreto, with its Saint Apollinare Church, whose edification dates back to a period earlier than 1229, is located on the slopes of Bismantova, as well. Frascaro is also not far from Castelnovo ne’ Monti on the road that starts out at the “Madonnina della Tosse” oratory and passes through the hamlets of Vognano and Burano before reaching Virola lake. Maillo is one of the oldest places in the area. The woods above the hamlet conceal the remains of an ancient castle. The hamlet was built on the banks of Maillo brook where there are still some interesting watermills to see, although they are sadly no longer in working order. Pietradura, to the north east of Castelnovo, is an interesting example of rural architecture from the 17th – 18th Century that has reached our century intact. The centre of the village has two characteristic tower houses. Pietradura is also famous for its scenery. After leaving the main town, the old stone church a few kilometres uphill at Costa de’ Grassi is worth stopping to admire along with the overlooking square and the road that used to cross through the hamlet. These were recently restored with painstaking care and attention to preserve their attractive and typical local stone.