A Christmas Carol in the Upper Via Emilia

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year” Charles Dickens

Thus wrote Charles Dickens in ‘A Christmas Carol’, an extraordinary work that has inspired us to dream, charming and enchanting us with its dialogue and characters. A masterpiece of literature that we re-read or watch once again every year before Christmas, as if wanting to stop time and go back to our childhoods to relive the excitement and sensations of when we were little. This wondrous story accompanies us in this new chapter, dedicated to the Christmas markets of Via Emilia, where past, present and future fill the streets of old city centres and small villages in the hinterland. Our story begins in the upper part of Emilia, in the area of Piacenza, marked by the flow of the big river and where hilly landscapes alternate with vast plains.

A few kilometres from the Emilian city we find a small village with immense touristic appeal, the village of Grazzano Visconti. A place that fills young and old alike with wonder. It is a reconstruction of a medieval town that has brought the traditions of its past into the twenty-first century. It is not by chance that it is known as an ‘unreal village that truly exists’ and is the strongest tourist draw in the province of Piacenza. In this village, people still work word and iron and produce pottery according to the teachings of unwritten culture and learning, passed down, or better still, whispered from father to son. Here, the love for creative artisanship still reigns supreme, while the village is protected from the ravages of time, with style and passion, by the current owners, the descendants of Duke Giuseppe Visconti of Modrone.

Grazzano4Photo credit: Natale a Grazzano website

In this little corner of Emilia, one finds a Christmas market that attracts visitors from all over Italy and beyond. The stands present the artisanship and know-how of creatives and artists who proudly display their wares, created to celebrate Christmas. The atmosphere is surreal and the village is wrapped up in the scents of Christmas and winter. Grazzano Visconti in all its beauty. A picturesque setting enriched by the musical notes of Christmas songs played throughout the village, which is surrounded by a park filled with a vast variety of vegetation, offering a stunning natural spectacle at the changing of the seasons.

The market of Grazzano Visconti is open from 6 December to 6 January. Games, manger scenes and Christmas decorations are the heart of the event, which is now in its second year. Admission is free!

Now we will head down the main road leading to Fidenza, in the heart of the Terre Verdiane. This town is located halfway between Piacenza and Parma, and is proudly home to a masterpiece of Romanesque-Po architecture, the cathedral, which dates to the late 11th/early 12th century and is considered a pilgrim temple par excellence. Every year, the roads of the town’s old centre host a Christmas market featuring the arts and trades, where artisanship reigns.

And from Fidenza, we head to the city of music and good food par excellence: Parma. Its elegance, historical monuments and sumptuous palazzos welcome us to the city centre and open up the path to workshops from times gone by, alternating with stunning, fine boutiques. Parma is a dynamic, welcoming city, and its Christmas market in Piazza Ghiaia is a tradition not to be missed!

A symbolic site in the city, in the past as much as in the present, the heart of commerce and exchange, it was recently modernised with major urban renewal work resulting in the new architecture in Piazza Ghiaia between 2010 and 2012.

Photo credit: IAT Parma

At the end November and for the month of December, the site hosts more than sixty exhibitors, offering their masterpieces of artistic craftsmanship, objects and antique furniture and tasty seasonal delights, like roasted chestnuts, aromatic brittles and traditional treats, all to be enjoyed while wandering among the colourful, festively decorated stands. Admission to the event is free and it is open from 9 am to 7 pm (6, 7, 8 and 13 December). For the feast of Saint Lucy, on 13 December, the programme will be expanded to include a charming village of old and rural trades. An opportunity to see the work of expert hands, showing how butter used to be made, how people used to wash laundry with cinders and how the ‘rezdore’ (ladies of the house) in their traditional clothing prepare typical Christmas dishes, like savoury stuffed Cappelletti pasta and sweet stuffed Tortél Dóls di Colorno pasta, for the delight of food lovers.

An event that presents Parma filled with Christmas joy, offering a magical, unforgettable experience.

Translation by Blue.

Around Emilia, Home Italian Living

Rural charm

In our wanderings in search of places, people and traditions to share, we discovered a farm just past the Emilia border, in splendid Tuscany. More specifically, in the Siena countryside, where you will find landscapes so celebrated and famous that they even appear in foreign films set in Italy. Tuscany, a land of generous, gentle hills, where rows of majestically elegant cypresses reign.

A landscape that when seen in person will fill you with an infinity of emotions, bewitching your eyes with its sublime beauty. And in this corner of Tuscany, we also found a little bit of Emilia. During our trip, we discovered that a studio of young architects based in Bologna, Ciclostile, gave new life to an old cottage in the countryside, right here in the heart of the Crete Senesi. The cottage is called Podere Navigliano and we are eager to tell you about it.

Podere Navigliano is an antique tuscan farmhouse in the heart of Sienese Clays where nature and history are the undisputed protagonists. This project is the evolution of thought Smallness which characterized all previous projects of the office.
In this case especially the materials but also the attention to the historical context and the environment are at the heart of the project; the reinterpretation of traditional elements has allowed to find a new language, a new aesthetic inseparably linked to the tradition.
Smallness in this context means the ability to find, edit and innovate materials, construction techniques and technologies specific of the site. The design effort was aimed at the definition of a project that can interact with the environment and the tradition but at the same time able to surprise showing a new beauty, rediscovered in the elements of tradition itself.

Particular attention was paid to the choice of materials and in particular the floors are the key element of the intervention. The choice of floors and their positioning reflects the philosophy of the intervention.
On the ground floor, intended for local service, was selected the resin that is adopting the previous clay pavement and well suited to the new features. In the living area on the first floor had originally brick floors of low quality, following the demolition of all interior floors for structural reasons, it was decided to revive the brick; our research has led to the choice of different stock of brick recovery of the same size mixed in a new pattern to obtain a more appearance.

On the first floor and the second floor, in the bedroom, we have tried to reinterpret the tradition of woodworking proposing a cross and a diamond design recreated with the same logic of the brick floor, by assembling elements from wooden planks recovery of different essences, thus obtaining a pattern varied and uneven.

All the walls are finished with natural lime lying in traditional way in an irregular manner; to emphasize the beauty of the material has been chosen was decided not to paint the walls but to let the natural colour of lime.

All external facades have been treated and restored with the same lime and reproduce the aesthetics of its place except the facade of the main entrance that for structural reasons, it was rebuilt, in this case it was decided to change the system facade by inserting the element of jealousy used to illuminate the stairwell behind.

The project involves the renovation of a farm of 600 sqm spread over three levels: a ground floor that was used as a stable and service areas for agriculture, a first floor that housed two apartments and a second floor, consisting of two turrets, at the service of the apartments. Through a new arrangement of the interior was recreated a single dwelling trying to respect the essential characteristics of the traditional type, which is why in the ground floor have been localized service spaces (tavern, laundry, SPA, garage), in the first floor the living area that overlooks the valley to the south and two suites that overlook the most intimate private garden, in the two towers were located the most valuable suites.

Photo Credit Fabio Mantovani.
Around Emilia, Heritage and Landscape

A Taste of Fall in Emilia

Italy, a country well-known for its beauty, hides undiscovered neighborhoods far from the typical touristic routes. In Emilia, the region surrounded by Lombardy, Veneto and Tuscany, there are places that are so surreal and beautiful that when you first see them, you think they must be from a children’s fairytale. Yet, the tiny village of Levizzano Rangone, just a few kilometres from the city of Modena and home to Ferrari’s Maranello Racetrack, may look like it has popped out of a storybook with its enchanting landscape of vineyard lined hills. When we entered Levizzano, we were welcomed by the ancient fortress with its blend of elegance and mystery that reminds us of the past, of brave knights and ladies in extravagant clothing. The Castle displays all of its splendor within its old brick walls, together with its Matildic Tower. The manor is located in the heart of the Lambrusco countryside, and dominates the beautiful landscape of hills which surround it. The building dates back to the XII century, and reveals the feudal architecture of the time.
A wonderful place that we decided to reach on two wheels, riding our beloved Harley Davidson with our faces caressed by the cool breeze, while the scent of the fall leaves accompanied us on our journey.

Castello Levizzano
The colors of fall attract leaf-peepers from near and far who come to marvel at the beauty and appreciate this magical time of the year. The perfume of just picked red grapes in the air announces the grape harvest!

Grappoli d'uva
The historical heritage of Levizzano Rangone is represented by its feudal castle and its watchtower which welcome visitors to the village. It is possible to take a tour of the castle throughout the year, and stop for lunch in one of the several “Trattorie”, where home-made traditional food is served in a rural, family atmosphere. We had Gnocco Fritto with Prosciutto di Parma and Mortadella and as first course we chose Tortelloni with ricotta and spinach and Tortellini. A yummy lunch combined with a glass of Lambrusco Grasparossa, from a native country farm.
Upon arrival in this little piece of land, our attention was captured by the silence of the countryside, interrupted only by the sound of tweeting birds. The atmosphere invited us to close our eyes and enjoy the smell of burning wood coming from the fireplaces, of the small houses around the castle beneath the soft rays of the afternoon fall sun.


Around Emilia, Home Italian Living

A house, a city, a friendship

There is special city standing at the entrance to Emilia: Piacenza. A city that Leonardo da Vinci described as a “land of passage”, nestled among gentle hills, between the banks of the great Po River and the Apennines. In this post, we want to tell you the story of a singular residence found in the heart of the city of Piacenza, in Piazza Duomo, with its privileged view of the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.

Piazza Duomo, Piacenza. PHTagini

Piazza Duomo, Piacenza. PHTagini

A flat that roused our curiosity for its simple, clean style and attention to detail. Giovanna Cavalli is the architect, the creator of the restoration who so expertly and successfully responded to the artistic character of the flat’s owners: Mauro Sargiani, writer and creator of artisanal furniture, and Claudia Losi, an internationally recognised artist.

Casa Emilia – Ph. Daniele Signaroldi

A name, Casa Emilia. A city, Piacenza. A place, Piazza Duomo. These were the three clues that led us to the discovery of this delightful flat on the first floor of a historical building in the old centre of the Emilian city, at the corner of Via Chiapponi. The first time we saw Casa Emilia, it was on a famous website dedicated to architecture and furnishings and, curious, we wanted to discover its story. From the very first moment, our attention was captured by the light-filled spaces and large windows standing out in all their beauty, thanks in part to the wrought iron grilles in Art Nouveau style.

Casa Emilia – Ph. Daniele Signaroldi

Casa Emilia presents itself in all of its uniqueness; its rooms are graced with furniture designed specially by the owner, and even the pivoting doors are the fruit of his genius. The spaces are made to seem especially spacious through the decision to maintain a minimalist taste for the furnishings. It is an elegance that brings to mind modern design collecting.

Casa Emilia – Ph. Daniele Signaroldi

The walls are white and wood is the preferred material, in harmony with the floors covered in colourful ceramic and “cementine” tiles that Giovanna was able to masterfully salvage, as with the old ceiling vaults. The kitchen is the queen of the house, a site of conviviality and where Mauro and Claudia host the cooking lessons given by their friend Sara. This large spacious room has become a stage for a small theatre of the culinary arts, where each evening the curtains are drawn to reveal the delights that Sara, founder of the Circolo della Cucina, so passionately prepares, explaining to participants the secrets of exquisite dishes made from scratch, according to tradition.

Casa Emilia – Ph. Daniele Signaroldi

As we deepened our discovery of Casa Emilia, we realised that this residence is much more than a simple tastefully and elegantly restored flat.
It is a home tells the story of a deep friendship that binds Giovanna, Mauro, Claudia and Sara overlooking the heart of Piacenza.

Small curiosities.

Mauro and Claudia are artists and the owners of Casa Emilia. Mauro studied Literature, Philosophy and History of Arts at the universities of Bologna and Parma.
He worked with artists and intellectuals including the well-known writer and translator Gianni Celati, who was a meaningful teacher for Mauro.
In 1994 he decided to create the first table conversation and with this artwork the adventure of Elefante Rosso Produzioni has begun.

Claudia studied in the Academy of Art in Bologna and in the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures. She took part in workshops and periods of studies in Italy and abroad. Her research is focused on the relation of the man and the sorrounding environment and on relations between the individual and the community.
She exhibited her works in Italy and abroad.

Giovanna is architect and works in Piacenza. She graduated at the Politecnico of Milano she renovated Casa Emilia. Giovanna has also collaborated with the ONLUS Associazione Architetti Senza Frontiere Italia ONLUS  where she still works.

Sara is a foodblogger.
Born and raised in Piacenza, she studied Art Graphics at the Accademia di Belle Arti and she works in the industry of communication. She loves cooking and sharing her homemade recipes with friends. From this passion the idea of a food blog has come out: “Il Circolo della Cucina”.

Casa Emilia and the food courses


Food & Drink

Artisanal gelato tradition and innovation

Our exploration of Emilia is next leading us to Anzola Emilia, a little town just outside Bologna, on Via Emilia, where you can find Carpigiani, the company that wrote the history of artisanal gelato with its gelato-making machines. Founded in 1946 by Poerio Carlo Carpigiani, who was born in Reggio Emilia and earned a degree from the University of Bologna in Economics and Business, Carpigiani is an industry leader in the manufacture of machines for making artisanal gelato and soft ice cream.

Photo Carpigiani Gelato Museum

Good Italian gelato, traditional gelato, the one we love so much, is a sweet delight celebrated in all of its forms and enjoyed well beyond the summer months. If you love gelato, too, and want to find out about its origins, we recommend a trip to the Museo del Gelato (the gelato museum), which was founded in 2012 by Carpigiani. Visiting the museum is a little bit like becoming children again, full of curiosity about how gelato was made once upon a time.

The Museo del Gelato will guide you through the evolution of gelato-making technology exploring three themes: the evolution of gelato, the history of gelato-making technology and ways of enjoying gelato. In the exhibition space, which spreads out over more than 1,000 square metres, you can admire twenty original machines and ten thousand photographs and documents that tell the story of one of best-loved treats in the world: artisanal gelato.

Photo Carpigiani Gelato Museum

But the surprises do not end there … if you want to transform your passion for gelato into a real profession, or even just spend a few hours exploring the theme through a course, check out the Carpigiani Gelato University. The school teaches gelato culture and its aim is to spread the passion for enjoying an artisanal food with the power to inspire strong emotions.

Carpigiani Gelato University Graduation Ceremony

How many memories revolve around a cone topped with chocolate gelato and whipped cream … or strawberry and lemon … indelible sensations that come back every time we have the chance to enjoy good artisanal gelato.
It is impossible to forget the muggy, hot days of summer, spent playing in the street with childhood friends and the uncontainable joy of sitting on a bench with a cone in hand topped with two scoops of colourful gelato; it seemed to be the best we’d ever had. Such a simple pleasure, that leaves us so content and full of happiness.

Long live gelato!


Translation by Blue

Around Emilia, Culture, Leisure

The Via Emilia of gardens to discover

In early May, in the Sunday supplement of the The Sun, ‘Sun on Sunday’, an article was published that listed Via Emilia among the top twenty best roads in the world for road trips.
In the article, reporter Lisa Minot talks about the reasons that inspired her to include Via Emilia on a global list of ‘dream roads’, with the famed ‘Route 66’, which crosses the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast, in the number one spot.

This is a recognition that we hope will increase the visibility of Emilia, a region filled with treasures and an artistic and cultural heritage worthy of promotion throughout Italy and abroad. Talking about Via Emilia, we want to linger awhile and tell you about the wondrous gardens overlooking it from Piacenza to Bologna.

Admiring, appreciating and experiencing the wonder hidden at every site, at different times of day, in different seasons, means discovering their colours, fragrances and light. These are the emotions that gardens awaken in the hearts of those who admire them, since they reveal the extraordinary beauty of nature.

Translation by Blue

The Garden of the Castle of Grazzano Visconti – Piacenza

The Garden of the Castle of Grazzano Visconti  was created between the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century by the Duke Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone. The garden is characterised by a great variety of arboreous species, and on the 150,000 square metre park, a number of specimens more than one hundred years old stand out impressively, including a maple-shaped plane-tree more than 150 years old, an 80-year-old lime-tree and a splendid group of lebanon citron-trees. The park also hosts owls, woodpeckers, red foxes, badgers, squirrels, nuthatches, jackdaws and other animals that make with their presence the visit to the park, an experience even more memorable.

Castle and Park of Grazzano Visconti

Inside the park there is a special area called Butterfly Heaven. This special area is characterised by old fruit trees and aromatic essences dedicated to butterflies and to those who love these creatures. The plants chosen to attract butterflies and ladybirds include buddleia, lavender, aster, veronica and verbena. At the entrance of the garden there is the XIV century Castle. The show is truly spectacular at the back of the castle, where a masonry exedra, with columns alternating with statues and urns, bounds a Baroque basin with a multi-layer design.

Garden of Grazzano Visconti

The Park of Grazzano Visconti is an eclectic garden, where different inspirations live together in harmony: the rational lines of the Italian garden and paths, which seem to direct one’s view coexist with the romantic atmosphere created by the wooded areas and the sinuous paths that advance in the play of light and shade among the trees. The park is part of the circuit Grandi Giardini Italiani.

Opening hours: Paid admission only with guided tours. For further details see the official website of the park.

Source: Castello di Grazzano Visconti and Grandi Giardini Italiani

Around Emilia, Culture, Leisure

The green rooms of Emilia

Walking among Emilia’s green rooms, gardens to be discovered, admired and photographed. Lingering to enjoy their beauty, their perfumes and their colours. Flourishing gardens that reflect the harmony between humankind and nature, an art form with a simple beauty that fills us with joy. Gardens enchant us and transform into ever changing worlds with the passage of the seasons. This page is dedicated to the green rooms of our beloved Emilia, where the gardens take the stage. Worlds in miniature that follow their own rules, gardens that have enchanted writers, poets, artists and illustrious figures. With the sky above our heads, we stop to admire the beauty of nature, the mirror of an authentic landscape.
A new wonder is about to be unveiled, a garden unique in all the world for its architectural labyrinth. The biggest in the world. A garden found in the little town of Fontanellato in the Province of Parma … a singular garden with a fascinating story.

Translation by Blue

The Labyrinth of Franco Maria Ricci, Fontanellato (PR)

The publisher Franco Maria Ricci, a passionate art collector and bibliophile, has devoted the past decade to create, on his property in Fontanellato (Parma), a brilliant visionary project: a monumental green labyrinth. The star-shaped maze, which will open in June 2015, covers seven hectares.

The labyrinth from the Belvedere – Photo credit Mauro Davoli

This masterpiece represents the largest labyrinth in the world. It is entirely made up of bamboo plants (about 200,000 altogether), whose height ranges from 30 cm up to 15 metres. The path is more than 3 km long. It is a path to venture down and get lost in, in which to let your mind wander and reflec.

Inner view of the labyrinth – Photo credit Massimo Listri

Why a labyrinth. From The Labyrinth of Franco Maria Ricci

Labyrinths have always fascinated me. Along with gardens, they are among humanity’s
most ancient inventions. I first envisaged building a labyrinth twenty years ago, at a period in time when I frequently had one guest in particular staying at my house in the
countryside near Parma –a friend, not to mention a hugely important contributor to the publishing house I had recently founded: the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. It is widely known that the labyrinth has always been one of his favourite topics; the trajectories traced by his hesitant blind man’s steps reminded me of the uncertainties faced by those who, during their life’s journey, negotiate enigma and forks in the road.
I believe that it was watching him and talking to him about the strange routes men follow that sparked the initial idea for my project. As you know, when Minos had his Labyrinth built –as a prison– he had dark and cruel intentions in mind; I imagined a benevolent version, that would also be a garden, where people could walk in safety, perhaps getting lost every once in a while. My passion for bamboo –that elegant plant,
so rarely used in the West, especially in Italy– gave me the material for the project.
From then on, and over the last few years in particular, the undertaking has absorbed much of my time.

Photo credit Mauro Davoli

This awesome garden is part of the project  Grandi Giardini Italiani “100 Gardens for EXPO 2015”. Useful Information. If you want to visit and spend a day at the Labyrinth, have a look at the opening hours and admission fees:

From June 1, 2015
Every day from 10:30am to 7pm
Tuesday: closing day

Single ticket (Permanent Collection + temporary exhibition + labyrinth) 18,00 €
Groups (+ 15 pers.) 15,00 €

Culture, Food & Drink, Traditional products

The Land of Lambrusco

The travel has started. Itineraries aimed at the discovery of the land of Lambrusco. Emilia is a place full of farms that are related to the production of this red sparkling wine, the Lambrusco. It represents for us coming from Emilia “The Wine” that cannot miss on Sundays and in celebrations. Many shades of red, many types of fragrances that are mixed with traditions.

The production area of ​​Lambrusco is quite big and it goes  for hundreds of kilometers, and every time we sit down for having our meal with homemade food prepared by the hands of the “razdore”, a bottle of Lambrusco can not miss. Lambrusco wine tells the stories of farmers and families devoted to the production of this sparkling sweet or dry red wine.

With this article we start the travel among the farms that with their work, can transform juicy grapes into the nectar of Lambrusco.

Culture, Food & Drink, Homemade recipe, Traditional products

The Emilia food tradition

Emilia is famous for its culinary tradition and its typical products such as the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Parmigiano Reggiano, Tortellini (the name changes depending on the city where we are, but the recipe almost stays the same), Lambrusco and the Parma ham, Salame Felino, just to name a few. A land rich in food traditions that make us proud to live here and enjoy this heritage. We love to reinvent the tradition paying great attention to quality. Emilia, the land of conviviality and respect for high quality food and wine culture that has made this lands with its products famous worldwide.