One thing I like about Italy is that no matter how famous and touristy it can be, it is very easy to find your way out of the beaten path and explore authentic places you’d never thought you could visit.
Part of the activities I wanted to do during my week in Bologna with BlogVille, was to do some real outdoor activities. One thing I’ve come to learn is that Italy has many great hiking and biking trails, and after doing a few of them in Lombardia, I was willing to try other trails in the Emilia-Romagna region.
I took the train from Bologna to the small town of Vignola, located in Modena. There, my buddy Peter Parkorr (@PeterParkorr) and I met with our hiking and biking guide for the next two days. Truth is you don’t need a hiking guide in Italy since the official hiking trails are well marked, but he was there more to give us the historical background or the area and to show us interesting things along the way.
From here, we made our way to the Apennine Mountains, taking a route that would take us past Roman churches, castles, small traditional villages, and the wonderful Regional Park Sassi di Roccamalatina. This region has so much unspoiled countryside with trails that lead to beautiful sceneries, food and wine trails, as well as cultural trails with important historical sites. You can see some of them here.
We started with the latter, where we introduced ourselves to the landscape through its extraordinary rock formations and breathtaking views. The weather did not cooperate much with us, but that didn’t take away from the beauty of the place and the enjoyment of hiking in the park.
Beyond the unique natural views (as you can see in the image above), one of the things that caught my attention, and imagination, were the watch posts or houses built all through the park. They were built to protect the small villages in the area from any type of foreign attack, but what’s interesting is that some of them had visual contact with each other – almost like the “light up the beacons” scene in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Yeah, that’s what came to my mind.
Anyways, when in the park, make sure you go up all the way to the to of the rock with the cross. From there you’ll have one of the best views of the entire park, including the iconic rock formations.
From there, we continued our journey for approximately 13 to 14 kilometers, passing through a few interesting villages. Some of them looked completely isolated from the modern world, in a visual sense that is, depicting scenes that could easily fit from the 15th to the 18th century.
Among them, my favorites were Il Borgo Antico di Samone, which was first recorded in a document of 1048 and still to this day it conserves its walled village characteristics; and the Castellino Delle Formiche, with its peculiar tower, which looks like it grew out of the rock.
They were so peaceful and such beautiful sights surrounded by nothing but nature and hills.
A few kilometers further, we ended our hike at the Antica Locanda La Canonica. Ok seriously, this has been one of my favorite accommodations in a while. With only four rooms in an old rectory from the ancient village of Montalbano di Zocca, the Canonica (rectory) is a very romantic place to stay in the heart of the Apennine Mountains. I highly recommend you to stay there because the environment is just too sweet! Their owners are expert cooks, lovers of good eating, wine, and conviviality.
Did I say they are expert cooks? There, I had a superbly delicious Passatelli con pancetta as first plate, Cinghiale in umido con tigelle as main course, and Parmigiano reggiano di Bianca Modenese con Aceto Balsamico aged for 12 years. That was too good! (Even if you don’t stay there for the night, go there to eat at their restaurant. You will love their traditional food!)
After a good night sleep, the next day instead of hiking, we biked. We headed to the Rocca di Montese, where we saw part of the history of the area in the museum inside the castle (especially their WWII history), as well as the impressive view from the top of the tower. From there, we grabbed our bikes, thanks to Trekking Emilia Romagna, and made our way to Zocca, 21km away.
The day was beautiful and for most of the part it was a breeze to bike the easy uphills and downhill of the landscape. Have you seen those Mercedes Benz commercials where they show the car driving through some picturesque roads winding up and down the mountain? Well, that’s how I felt, except that I was biking. Though, I wish I had the chance to do the same route with the few Ducati bikes that swooshed past me at lightning speed.
After an hour and half of biking, we reached Zocca, but the day was not done yet. From there we headed a bit further to Esploraria, an adventure park on the outside of Zocca where we spent a couple hours doing their obstacle courses and zip-lining between the trees.
They might not be the longest or fastest zip lines I’ve done, but they were different in the sense that some of them ended high up on the tree (and not on a platform), and once you reached the end, you would climb down the line through a military-type net. Pretty cool!
In the end, how did I feel after two days of hiking, biking, and obstacle courses?! This image will say it all…