In the Reggio Emilia Apennines there are places not jet known by mass tourism: one of these is the Val Dolo, which for a long stretch forms the border between the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The ideal place to spend a day in nature, to have a trekking on the Via Matildica of Volto Santo, historic path that connects Mantua, Reggio Emilia and Lucca passing through the Po Valley and the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines.
A journey to discover the territories of Matilde of Canossa, with its cultural, historical, economic and religious aspects. 284 kilometers in 11 stages (with 3 variants).
Let’s go in the Municipality of Toano to find one of these stages at the "Balze of Malpasso", sandstone rocks engraved by water that created very recessed valleys. Taking advantage of the geology of the place, local people have recently made here a small via ferrata, a fixed rope route, and two characteristic suspended Tibetan bridges.
To complete the exploration, there are the Springs of Quara, on the course of the Dolo: thermal waters known since ancient Roman times. In an hour it is also possible reach the bridge of Cadignano, with the characteristic “donkey-backed” stone architecture, one of the oldest in the area.
The most convenient point to leave the car and reach the Balze of Malpasso is the small village of Castagnola, in the municipality of Toano (RE). Park near a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin and take the path, it is well marked by signs.
After about half a kilometer there is a junction: continue straight and shortly after leave the path CAI n.613, the Via Matildica of Volto Santo, and continue to descend. We are now in the area of Malpasso and here intersect a circuit of 4 different paths. At the bottom of the canyon there is the waterfall of Rio Malpasso, which can also be reached with a simple walk, without needing to do the ferrata or suspension bridges.
The via ferrata is short, with an height difference of less than 100 m; it consists of two paths equipped with metal cable and rungs, one simpler and one more difficult. Both allow to reach the peak of Pizzigolo Castle, where to enjoy a beautiful view of the Dolo valley.
The place takes its name from the castle that stood here in medieval times. In this archaeological site there are some remains of the ancient walls. There is a picnic area, with tables and grill, ideal place for a packed meal.
The two Tibetan bridges, of different lengths, are built with steel cables, belay cable and wooden boards, allowing to cross the small valley dug by Rio Malpasso, at different heights.
To cover both the ferrata and the suspension bridges it is essential to have the complete equipment: helmet, harness, cords and carabiners, as well as a pulley cable if you want to make even two descents on as many cables suspended in the void.
In the second part of the day it is also worth visiting the thermal springs of Quara, not far from the top of Castel Pizzigolo. Descend along a path that reaches in a few minutes the river Dolo and the springs, known by the ancient Romans, infact the village was called "Acquarium" from which derives the modern name of Quara. In the fifteenth century, there was a "factory" where sulphurous waters were used for the treatment of skin diseases. Today, unfortunately, the site is very small.
Going up the path as going back towards the car, leaving the Malpasso valley, there is a junction: on the right the path returns to the village of Castagnola, while turning on the left and following the Sentiero Matilde to the south (signed CAI 613), let’s reach first the village and then the beautiful bridge of Cadignano (about 40 minutes one way).
The path is mostly flat, flanked by dry stone walls in some sections and offers a beautiful view of the Val Dolo. Once in the village, turn left downhill until the bridge appears.
The unmistakable architecture, in stone, called “donkey-backed” with at the center a nineteenth-century majesty, takes the visitors back in time, together with the total absence of asphalt or modern structures.
Then, go back by the same way, up to Castagnola.