From Via Francigena to Via Matildica, the paths for backpacking across EMILIA
For centuries, the roads and paths of Emilia have guided ancient pilgrims and then trekking and walking enthusiasts. Whether it is spiritual motivation, a sporting challenge or the need to regain contact with nature and with the propulsive factor of one’s legs driving them, hikers find a network of itineraries in the area between Piacenza, Parma and Reggio Emilia, maintained and surrounded by the beautiful landscapes of the plain or of the Apennines that rise and fall, pointing northwards or to an outlet on the sea.
Over the more than one thousand kilometres that – between the Passo del Gran San Bernardo and Rome – make up the Italian stretch, Via Francigena also crosses the provinces of Piacenza and Parma. Declared a Cultural Route of the Council of Europe in 1994, the path enters Piacenza territory with the Guado di Sigerico and, after a short journey on the bank of the Po and various straight stretches on provincial roads, it reaches the gates of the city, where the route encounters Piazzale delle Crociate and Piazza Cavalli and then exits onto Via Emilia. It then goes up the Nure stream and cuts through woods and fields greeting the Castle of Paderna, the Cistercian Abbey of Chiaravalle della Colomba and the Cathedral of Fidenza, symbol of the encroachment in the Parma area. An obligatory stop for pilgrims heading to Rome, the Cathedral dedicated to San Donnino is an opportunity to catch your breath and feast your eyes, before carrying on towards Cabriolo and its parish church, the remains of the fortress of Noceto, Felegara and Fornovo, where the statue of the pilgrim on the façade of the Church of Santa Maria indicates the direction. Always in the Parma area, you reach Bardone and Cassio – characterized by a paved stone road – then you gradually arrive in Berceto and leave Emilia across the Passo della Cisa.
For information: European Association of the Vie Francigene - www.viefrancigene.org
Via degli Abati
Known also as the mountain Francigena, Via degli Abati is an ancient high-medieval route followed by the monks of the monastery of San Colombano di Bobbio to get to Rome, crossing part of the provincial territory of Pavia and the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines in the provinces of Piacenza, Parma and Massa Carrara. The total 190 km of the demanding route are divided into mule tracks, carriageways and paths that are only asphalted in small sections. Since May 2008, “The Abbots Way”, one of the most important ultra-marathons surrounded by nature has been organized along the route (with just around 10% along asphalt sections).
For information: Associazione Via degli Abati - www.viadegliabati.com
Sentiero del Tidone
Crossing Emilia Romagna and Lombardy, the Sentiero del Tidone is practically entirely a dirt and gravel path over a distance of 69 km; it follows the Po and goes up the Tidone stream up to the Molato dam and Lake Trebecco, to then go towards the spring through woods and botanical gardens. Wooden signs and boards provide precise indications on the progression and information on the characteristics of the route, while a series of picnic areas gives you the opportunity to take a relatively comfortable break.
For information: Associazione Sentiero del Tidone - www.sentierodeltidone.it/
Via Matildica del Volto Santo
The network of paths along the ancient medieval routes that constitute the heart of the Via Matildica del Volto Santo is an opportunity to get not just your feet moving, but also your imagination and relive the atmosphere of the fief of Matilde di Canossa, reaching the base of the castles of the Great Countess, crossing villages and trampling the same venerable land travelled by pilgrims on their religious itineraries. From Mantova to Lucca, that is, from the blood of Christ of the Church of Sant’Andrea up to the Volto Santo, passing through Reggio Emilia, the path is a slow walk through the historical events of a woman who was perhaps the authentic female protagonist of the Middle Ages, but there is also the chance to decide to deviate towards the Tuscan-Emilian Apennine National Park and its Mab-Unesco area. The horizontal and vertical signs along the route provide precise and useful information on the stages and destinations, in a changing landscape that goes from the cliff of Canossa to the San Pellegrino in Alpe Hospital, with its view over the Garfagnana.
For information: Via Matildica del Volto Santo - www.viamatildica.it
Devil's Stones - Mount Moria Park
The ruins of the ancient Roman town called “Roman Veleia” in the Apennines near Piacenza, are the starting point for a three-hour walk in the woods of chestnut and beech trees, background of obscure legends. At the end of the Chero valley - among the fields and vineyards of the hills - one of the most important Roman archaeological sites of Emilia is the place where the woods turn into a shady path, that preserves one of its most evocative location near the so called Devil's Stones, namely a rocky and vaguely disturbing gateway to an abandoned path. The stones recall a legend concerning the decadence of the Roman town of Veleia: angered by the conversion of the inhabitants to the Christian religion, the Devil, who used to live on the top of the mountain violently shook the earth, causing a landslide, but lost its balance and ended up impressing its goat imprints on the two rocks. This is a transit point for the pilgrims headed to the sanctuary of “Madonna del Monte”, which can be reached - currently - crossing Prato delle Lame at the foot of Mount Moria and then trough a thick forest. Also appreciated by birdwatchers – who get to the top of the huge chestnut trees to admire specimens of titmouse, nuthatch, mountain biking and collared nanny - this loop route brings the visitor, finally, to a highly recommended visit to the ruins of the Roman colony of Veleia: here one can admire the bases of the baths, some residential areas and the forecourt of the Roman forum.
For information: Parco Monte Moria - www.parcomontemoria.it
Davil's Jumps "Salti del Diavolo" - Stonemasons' Way
According to a medieval legend, also the rocky spiers and sandstone rocks called "Devil's Jumps" - whose origin dates back to 80 million years ago – seem actually to be the Devil's footsteps: he used to live in the Val Baganza, near Calestano (PR), when an a hermit make him escape . The composite and aligned rock is about 5 km long, it is complitely different from the surrounding landscape and constitutes one of the most curious featurs of the Stonemasons' Way, so called because of the assiduous presence of craftsmen, who came here to supply themselves with sandstone, the best material for sculptures and architectural elements such as portals, fountains and chimneys of the houses of the valley and of the Romanesque parish churches of the Via Francigena.
It could therefore be said that, in these locations between Cassio and Chiastre, the sacred and the profane spirit really can meet, as if the Devil had not completely accepted to leave.
Via dei Linari
With a length of 135 kilometers, included 110 kilometers in Emilia Romagna, the Via di Linari was finally crossed, over the centuries, by the pilgrims who used to follow this path as an alternative route to the Via Francigena: theese routes met near the town of Fidenza (PR), and then reached Tuscany through the Lagastrello Pass, meeting also the "Via Matildica del Volto Santo" (path of Holy Face Matilde di Canossa).
In 2019, the official signage will be placed and the route will be even more "recognizable", even from Torrechiara (PR), which also marks the point where the road creeps into the UNESCO MAB Reserve. Among the stages along the route, we find the Chapel of Moragnano and the ruinsof the chapel of Roncarola, like a prelude towards the Valley of the Knights. The fortified houses recall ad age that is immortalized inside the Romanesque stone blocks of Caneto, Zibana and Palanzano, while an imagine of a faithful wayfarer (pilgrim) is imprinted in the ashlar, in the chapel of Rimagna.
For information: Cammini Emilia Romagna - camminiemiliaromagna.it/it/via_di_linari