What’s a Cool Retreat?
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Our five Italian properties are located around our small vineyard in the peaceful borgo of Villa Bonicelli, in the beautiful countryside of Emilia Romagna. The properties have wonderful views of the Tuscan-Emilian Appennini mountains and the River Dolo. L’Antico Palazzo was once the seat of the Conte Di Bonicelli
Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy is an interesting and diverse region that receives less publicity than its neighbour Tuscany (and is, some might say, less ‘spoiled’ for that!). Not only is it a centre for culture, food and luxury cars; it also has breathtaking mountain scenery.
Whether you’re a foodie, an adventurer, a culture vulture or a sun worshipper, we think you’ll find what you’re looking for in Emilia Romagna, and our homes offer the perfect base!
If you want to kick back and relax by the swimming pool with a good book and a glass of wine, the tranquil setting and mountain air are just what the doctor ordered.
If you’re planning a holiday of outdoor pursuits, you won’t have to look much further than your front door – this mountainous area is very popular with walkers, climbers, hikers, cyclists and bikers.
Are you a keen foodie? Emilia Romagna is an ideal destination for you. Among other things, it is home to fresh filled pasta (tortellini, tortelloni…), ragù sauce, Parma ham, Parmesan cheese and traditional balsamic vinegar.
For keen sight-seers who are willing to travel a little further afield, Villa Bonicelli is well placed to visit a number of historic and beautiful towns.
And, of course, for car lovers a visit to Motor Valley (La Terra dei Motori) to see the museums, factories and private collections of (among others) Ferrari and Lamborghini is a must!
Please click on the headings to below to find out more information about your stay in this beautiful region.
The full address
Via Bonzeti, 6 (La Stalla)
Via Bonzeti, 8 (L’Antico Palazzo)
Via Bonzeti, 36 (Casa Vigneto)
If you are flying to get here, the nearest airports are Bologna and Parma, which are both around 90 minutes’ drive from the house.
Ryanair flies to Bologna from London Stansted, Edinburgh, Manchester, Dublin, Paris Beauvais, Dusseldorf Weeze and Barcelona El Prat, among others.
Easyjet flies to Bologna from London Gatwick and Paris Charles de Gaulle.
British Airways/Iberia flies to Bologna from London Heathrow, Valencia, Madrid and Bilbao.
Ryanair flies to Parma from London Stansted.
For further flight options from many European and international cities, other airports to consider are the Milan airports, Pisa and Genoa. Milan Malpensa is about 3 hours from Villa Bonicelli, as is Genoa. Milan Linate and Pisa are around 2.5hrs. Milan Bergamo (Ryanair) is 3 hours away.
When your booking is confirmed, we will email you directions to your chosen house. Our property manager will be there to welcome you on your arrival and to answer any questions you might have about the house and the area. We will also provide you with lots of information about the area, so you can really make the most of your stay.
The tiled and lit swimming pool is in a sheltered spot looking out over the lush green mountains, within easy reach of all three of our rental properties. There is a terrace on one side of the pool with sun loungers and a large parasol (available on a first come, first served basis).
The pool is 3m x 9m and is 1.2m deep throughout – an ideal size and depth for all ages. Serious swimmers can get a few lengths in, children will love splashing around in it, and those who just need to cool off after a day in the Italian sun will feel instantly refreshed!
Quara is the nearest village (3km). Here you will find a café, restaurant, butcher, bakery and mini market.
Toano (7km) is a nice little town with shops, bars, a hotel, an ice-cream parlour and banks (cashpoints) as well as one of the best preserved Roman churches in the Apennines. It also has a lovely outdoor swimming pool, which is open during the school holidays (early June to early September).
Farneta (7km) also has a selection of shops and a very good restaurant.
Cavola is a nice village (about 15 min drive) with a couple of bars (and even a disco!), a bank/cashpoint, and a Sunday market. There’s also a nice playground for young children.
Montefiorino (12km) was the seat of the partisan republic in 1944 and was the focus of some intense wartime resistance activity. It is a pleasant village with a 12th century fortress (La Rocca), which has been totally restored in recent years. It is now the seat of the council, and it also houses a library, and a (very small) museum, the Museo della Repubblica Partigiana. If you can get access to the top of the tower, the views alone make it worth the visit! Montefiorino also has an outdoor pool, open June-Aug, a good restaurant and pizzeria etc.
Cerredolo (16km) has a nice bakery and butcher, a supermarket and a Saturday morning market. It also has a great wine shop, which also holds tastings, food & wine evenings etc.
Felina (35 min) has a nice Conad supermarket with a very good meat counter.
Castelnovo ne’ Monti (40 min) is a relatively big town. It’s not particularly beautiful in itself but it has decent shops, a couple of nice restaurants and a particularly nice gelateria! There’s a market held in the main car park on a Monday, which is very well attended by locals. It’s a useful stop-off before or after walking up Bismantova if you need sustenance or ice cream!
Sassuolo (50 min) is a big industrial town (ceramics). The outskirts leave little to be desired but it does have a historic centre with a market (Tues and Fri) and some lovely shops and cafés. The Baroque Ducal Palace of Sassuolo is known for its highly decorated internal frescoes; open Fri-Sun.
Walking in any direction is a rewarding experience in the Appennini mountains! Some lovely walks can be enjoyed straight from your doorstep – from a 10-minute stroll to a whole day (or even longer!) of trekking. Kids will love walking down to the river Dolo, just a few minutes away; there are a few areas by the river where you can sit and sunbathe, have a picnic or cool off – and plenty of rocks to climb over. The nearby Fonti di Quara are sulphur springs that were known as far back as Roman times. There are several marked walks that can be picked up from Villa Bonicelli itself; alternatively, walk or drive to nearby Castagnola, where the routes officially start. One of them includes a Via Ferrata with two slightly scary rope bridges! (Climbing ropes required).
Another lovely place for short trails etc suitable for all ages is the Fonti di Poiano (Poiano springs), about 25 minutes away. There’s something for everyone – a nice restaurant, an open expanse of flat grass that’s perfect for ball games etc, some short forest trails with shady picnic tables, and the river just opposite, where there are always bathers during the summer months. Well worth a visit, especially with younger children.
About 30 minutes away, in Castelnovo ne’ Monti, is La Pietra di Bismantova, a huge rock with a flat top. It is a famous landmark in the area and was even mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The walk to the top only takes 30 minutes and is manageable for most ages, or you can do a 2hr tour round it. There is another Via Ferrata here; it is also possible to arrange climbing lessons, with Guide La Pietra, a company that also organises guided treks and canyoning.
For something a little more strenuous, there are plenty of walking routes around the various rifugi (mountain hostels/inns) dotted around the Appennini, for example Rifugio Battisti (near Civago), which is at 1761m and has absolutely gorgeous views of Mount Cusna and Mount Prado; Rifugio Monte Orsaro (near Febbio), at 1300m; Rifugio Zamboni (also near Febbio); and Il Rifugio dell’Aquila (in Ligonchio). They’re good (and very popular) stop-off points for a hearty lunch; and, for those planning longer treks, you can even book a bunk in the dormitory-style accommodation (or, in the case of Il Rifugio dell’Aquila, a ‘chalet’ or a hotel room). The Rifugio Battisti holds outdoor musical events during the summer, which include concerts at both dusk and dawn. See the individual websites for more information and itineraries.
For serious walkers, there is plenty of choice. We are located in the heart of the Terre di Matilde di Canossa (the Matildic lands) and the Sentiero Matilde is 80km of designated footpaths split into several stages. They are (we have been told!) not overly strenuous (the shortest stage is about 4.5 hours, the longest 8 hours). Stage 3 is 6 hours in total and starts in Toano, through Frale and Castagnola and down to the Fonti di Quara and the bridge at Cadignano and then onwards to Gazzano. Click here for information about walking routes and itineraries.
The Parco Nazionale Appennino Tosco-Emiliano, also known as the Parco del Gigante, one of the largest National Parks in Emilia, is great for walking and horse-riding. There’s a good choice of walking itineraries for all abilities here and also here.
For other walking/hiking ideas, see our ‘Ski Resorts in Summer’ section.
This area really is fantastic for cycling; there are plenty of challenges for experienced and less expert cyclists alike. Cycling itineraries can be found here and here, but every route you take locally will offer hills, descents and breathtaking vistas!
Alternatively, just drive in pretty much any direction and enjoy the wonderful views. You can find itineraries for motorists here, here and here (the last link includes drives from Bismantova to Garfagnana via the Cerreto pass – spectacular).
Carpineti: The Castello delle Carpinete is a medieval hilltop castle (now in ruins) just over 30 minutes’ drive away, once owned by Countess Matilde di Canossa, a key historical figure in this area. There are short guided tours of the castle on certain days but it’s worth going up purely for the amazing views. There is also a good restaurant there (see the ‘Restaurants’ section). If you’re staying in February, you will want to head up there for Mongolfiere Innamorate, an annual week-long hot-air balloon festival held to coincide with Valentine’s Day (weather allowing)!
Canossa: The Castello di Canossa, built in 940 and rebuilt in the 13th century, is now largely in ruins but it does house a small museum with archaelogical finds from excavations carried out in the 19th century. The views are, again, wonderful – visit on a clear day and you can see the Alps. Every year on the first Sunday in September there is a historical re-enactment of Canossa; in the streets and piazzas, with actors and actresses dressed in costume.
Rossena, nr Canossa: The 11th century Castello di Rossena has panoramic views over the Valle D’Enza and the surrounding hills. It now offers hostel-style accommodation and holds themed evenings with medieval-style dinners. Weekend guided tours can be booked.
Casina: The Castello di Sarzano is a picturesque fortress, built in 958 to defend the road from Reggio Emilia to Tuscany. The current building dates back to the 15th century. It is now mainly used as a convention centre but it is possible to sleep and eat there.
These castles are all within easy reach of one another; more than one can be visited in a day.
Vignola: As well as being famous for its cherries, Vignola (about 1hr 15 min away) has an impressive castle – La Rocca di Vignola. There are two splendid halls used for conventions and concerts, reception rooms used for exhibitions, a frescoed chapel, and parapet walks that connect its three towers. Almost the whole castle can be visited – 1-2 hours is enough to see it all.
If castles are your thing and you’re happy to go a little further afield (but still within the Emilia Romagna region) to visit them, there is a plentiful supply of medieval and Renaissance castles well within reach, especially around Parma and Piacenza.
The Emilia Romagna region is full of wonderful medieval and Renaissance cities with beautiful cathedrals, ducal palaces and narrow, winding streets. You’ll be spoilt for choice – the only problem is, you won’t be able to see them all!
Bologna (100km), the region’s capital city, is a real delight, with its characteristic red-brick buildings and over 40km of covered porticos (useful in bad weather). It is also home to the oldest university in Europe, founded in 1088, earning it one of its nicknames, La Dotta (The Learned). Also known as La Grassa (The Fat), Bologna takes its food very seriously; in fact, it is considered by many to be the food capital of Italy.
Modena (60km) is a thriving city whose Duomo is considered one of the greatest examples of European Romanesque architecture and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Parma is 70km away and is an affluent town rich in art, culture and history. It has a lovely Romanesque duomo (and is of course home to Parma ham).
Reggio Emilia (50km) is a small but smart and well-to-do town with an attractive historic centre and some good restaurants.
Ferrara (150km, 2hr), another World Heritage city, was an artistic and intellectual centre during the 15th and 16th centuries. Unesco describes it as an ‘outstanding planned Renaissance city which has retained its urban fabric virtually intact’. It is surrounded by 6 miles of 15th and 16th century walls. Along with those of Lucca (below), they are the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy.
Ravenna (180km, 2hr 20) is home to many of the most beautiful and opulent mosaics in Italy, some of which date back to the 6th and 7th centuries. Dante lived and is buried there.
Just over the border in Tuscany, Lucca (98km) is about 2 hours away. Although less famous (and less touristy) than its neighbours, Lucca is a beautiful old city with a rich history. The centre, still enclosed within Renaissance walls, boasts lovely churches and great restaurants. Well worth a visit.
If you take the mountain route to Lucca you will pass by two beautiful medieval walled towns, both worth checking out: Castiglione di Garfagnana, which is officially ‘One of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy’ and the larger Castelnuovo di Gargagnana, both around 1.5hrs from home.
Mantova (about 2 hrs) and Verona (half an hour or so further on from Mantova) are also realistic day trip candidates.
If you get an early start and are prepared for a long day, trips to Florence, Pisa and Venice (all around the 3hr mark) are also manageable.
Known as the ‘Food Kitchen’ of the North, Emilia Romagna is the ideal holiday destination for food lovers. Bologna, “La Grassa” (the fat, the plentiful), is the capital of Emilia-Romagna and is thought by many to be the food capital of Italy. Many of the foods produced in this region are considered to be at the heart of Italian cuisine. As well as a huge array of pasta dishes such as tortelli and tortellini stuffed with meat, cheese, vegetables and herbs, the region is also renowned for cured Langhirano and Parma ham, mortadella, Parmigiano Reggiano (genuine Parmesan), traditional balsamic vinegar and Lambrusco wine.
Most of the restaurants in the area provide simple fare. Often they don’t even have a menu – they just tell you verbally what is available that day, so if you don’t speak Italian there may be some degree of pot-luck! You will be offered an array of pasta choices as your ‘primo’– different shapes and types with various sauces: butter and sage (burro e salvia) is typical of the region, but also often on offer are mushrooms (funghi) or wild mushrooms (porcini) when in season, ragu’ (like Bolognese sauce) or cream (panna). After that, if you are still hungry you can have a ‘secondo’ – some simply cooked meat with a side order of chips/spinach/salad or similar. Pizza is usually only available on Fri-Sun evenings.
The wine of the region is Lambrusco. It’s red, fizzy, light and very drinkable, but if you really don’t fancy it, make sure you ask for vino rosso fermo (still red wine), or choose from the wine list, as the house red will almost always be the fizzy stuff.
There are several gastronomy museums in the area, so if food is your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
This site has information about food museums around Parma – the Parmigiano-Reggiano museum in Soragna, the Prosciutto museum in Langhirano and the Salami museum in Felino. There’s also a tomato museum in Collecchio, near Parma!
In Spilamberto, in the province of Modena, there’s a balsamic vinegar museum, open Tues-Sun.
For a heartfelt ode to Emilian cuisine, read this article on forbes.com.
If eating out is your passion, we have plenty of suggestions! The local restaurants, pizzerie and trattorie cover pretty much every palate and every pocket, from the cheap and cheerful to the more refined. Before your stay we will provide you with a comprehensive list of options – there are many to choose from within a half-hour drive, with the closest just 5 minutes away in Quara.
Please note that restaurants are generally closed on either a Monday or a Wednesday. In low season it is worth ringing to check opening times – some of the local restaurants don’t open unless they have a booking, or might only open over the weekend.
If fresh air, mountain walks, Renaissance cities, medieval castles and great food aren’t enough to please the little ones, here are a few more suggestions.
Great fun for all the family is Parco Avventura Cerwood, just under an hour away in Cervarezza. This is an outdoor adventure park in the National Park, with obstacle courses to suit all abilities (think rope bridges, swinging from trees etc – like Go Ape in the UK). The main routes are for children (and adults!) over 1.4m in height but there are also a few routes for smaller children (1m-1.4m) and a play area for tots with a sandpit, pedal cars, bouncy castle and little climbing wall. Ccheck the website for opening times and prices.
Parco Matildico Montalto, a nature park just south of Reggio Emilia (1hr), is great for a family day out. It has woods, meadows and natural ponds where you can go canoeing. There’s also an adventure park with bridges, zipwires etc (like the one at Cerwood but on a smaller scale), a petting farm and a botany trail.
For additional swimming options, there is a lovely outdoor pool in Toano, which is open during the school holidays (early June to early September). It has a main pool, shallow children’s pool, bar and trampoline.
A little further afield, there are two other outdoor swimming pools that have zoom tubes, Jacuzzi pool and a shallow children’s pool with slides: Piscine l’Azzurra in Scandiano, around an hour from Villa Bonicelli, and Piscina Lido Dei Calanchi, in Baiso, 50 min away. Both of these pools are a similar price to the one in Toano but have more to offer if you’re prepared to do the extra driving. Please note, though, that like most outdoor pools they are always packed at the weekends, so best go during the week or get there early to secure your spot.
A little further still, Aquatico is a waterpark in the town of Reggio Emilia, about 1.5 hrs away.
There are nice local playgrounds suitable for young children in Gova (behind the church), Cavola and Montefiorino. See also the ‘restaurants’ section for the best places to eat (with playgrounds) if you have young children.
The ski resorts near Villa Bonicelli are also well worth a visit in the summer. For example, Cerreto Laghi becomes a popular destination for walking, horseriding and mountain-biking activities. There are also many walking trails for all abilities.
Febbio is also active in the summer, with walking and trekking facilities available, as well as a riding school. Or just head up for the fresh air and wonderful views – the first ski lift (1500m) should be open in time for summer 2014. Just above Febbio is a rifugio, a kind of hostel. It’s called Rifugio Peschiera Zamboni (or La Peschiera). It’s open every day in the summer – here you can catch trout and they will cook it for you in the restaurant, or you can bring it home to cook. Book to avoid disappointment, especially at weekends (348 4061578; 0522 800104). It’s very popular in the summer as people escape from the heat and head up into the cooler mountains!
There is another rifugio 6km from Febbio, Rifugio Monte Orsaro, open every day from 1 July to end Aug (and at weekends throughout the rest of the year). The restaurant serves local cuisine, and it’s also a good starting/end point for walks etc.
(See the Walking and Cycling section for further information).
If you are visiting in the winter and enjoy skiing, take advantage of the several ski resorts that can be reached from Villa Bonicelli. Febbio is just 30 minutes away; the others can be reached in under 1.5hrs, depending of course on weather conditions. Half-day, whole day and 2-day passes are available as well as 1-week passes, so your whole holiday doesn’t have to be about skiing!
Febbio is our small local ski resort, just 25-30 minutes away. After a period of closure, it has got back on its feet and is open at weekends. Also a great spot for sledging. This is a small and very convenient resort that is particularly well suited to families, learners and less experienced skiers. Open only Fri-Sun.
Cerreto Laghi, which surrounds a glacial lake at the foot of Mount Nuda, is in the heart of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines in the beautiful Parco Nazionale. It is a small, very popular family resort. It is well equipped, with 25 km of downhill skiing, four chairlifts and a ski lift. There are also a number of cross-country trails and a large indoor ice rink (weekends). There is a ski school for children and beginners, and a good selection of restaurants and shops.
Cimone (Sestola) is the biggest winter resort in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, with 50km of interconnected slopes and 22 lift systems. Again, it is excellent for families, with courses and specifically designed routes for young skiers. There is also a Snow Park that has hosted national competitions.
The Abetone Pass, with an altitude of 1388m, is on the border between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany and hosts one of the most important ski resorts in the Apennines. The resort is made up of four interconnected valleys with a total of 54 lifts, giving access to an extensive network of mixed-ability pistes. The highest point, Monte Gomito, is 1940m.
If you would like to spend a day playing golf in beautiful surroundings, there are several courses about an hour from Villa Bonicelli:
San Valentino Golf Club
Via Telarolo, 12 – 42014 Castellarano (RE)
Tel (+39) 0522 371295
Matilde di Canossa Golf Club
Casinazzo 1 – 42100 San Bartolomeo (RE)
Tel (+39) 0522 371295
When I enquired they said that visitors had to be members of the Federazione Italiana Golf, or the equivalent in your country.
The green fee is E45 on weekdays and E60 at weekends.
Fattoria del Golf (9-hole pitch and putt)
Monterampino, 6 – Canali (RE)
Tel (+39) 0522 599342
Modena Golf & Country Club
Via Castelnuovo Rangone, 4 – 41050 Colombaro di Formigine (MO )
Tel (+39) 059 553482
Tel Restaurant (+39) 059 470017
The green fee is E55 during the week and E75 at weekends.
A day at the seaside can be enjoyed at La Spezia or Lerici, about two hours away – and don’t miss the Cinque Terre, five beautiful cliff-top villages dotted along the rugged Ligurian coastline that can only be reached by foot or by train. They’re charming and surprisingly unspoilt, thanks to their UNESCO status. Alternatively, head to the Adriatic coast to one of the nine lidos of Ravenna or the legendary resort of Rimini, with its 15km of sandy beaches (2.5hrs approx).
Emilia Romagna is a car and motorbike enthusiast’s dream come true. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati all have their factories and museums in the area, which is known as ‘Motor Valley’. Find out more at the following websites:
The Ferrari museum (and factory and racetrack) is in Maranello, just south of Modena. Tickets can be bought in advance on the website.
There is also the Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari in Modena. This museum focuses on Enzo Ferrari himself and the history of racing cars. Part of the museum complex is the house in which Enzo was born, but alongside it is a beautiful futuristic eco-friendly exhibition gallery with a yellow roof that resembles a Ferrari bonnet. Again, tickets can be purchased online.
The Lamborghini Museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese (between Bologna and Modena) is open Monday – Friday. Factory visits must be booked at least five days in advance.
There is also the Ferruccio Lamborghini museum in Dosso, nr Ferrara, which is opened only on request (+39 051 86 26 28).
Details on the Ducati Museum (near Bologna) can be found at (again, museum and factory tours need to be booked in advance).
There are also two amazing private collections of historic and classic cars that can be visited (once again, they need to be contacted in advance):
The Stanguellini Museum in Modena, open Mon-Fri 2pm-6pm by appointment only.
The Panini Museum in Cittanova, nr Modena, is open by appointment only, March – October, but closed in August! It includes one of the finest collections of Maseratis (23) and is situated on a farm that also sells fantastic organic Parmesan.
A good place to buy wine is Enoteca Il Cantinone in Cerredolo. They also hold wine tasting evenings – check out the website for more information.
Le Strade del Vino e dei Sapori is the collective name for the routes throughout Italy that lead to and through leading food and wine production areas. All the routes across Emilia Romagna are detailed here. Those in Reggio Emilia can be found here and here.
A wine producer that we have visited is Venturini Baldini, near Parma. It’s a small organic producer based on a beautiful estate with woodland, open meadows and a lake. They also produce traditional balsamic vinegar. Tours are possible but must be booked in advance (especially if you wish to find someone who speaks English!)
A balsamic vinegar producer that is Acetaia Dei Bago in Vignola (also famed for its cherries). It is a small, family-run company. Visit to buy direct and learn about the process – be aware, though, that REAL balsamic vinegar – aceto balsamic tradizionale – is extremely prized and expensive! Contact them in advance for a tour, but an English-speaking person will not always be available.
To avoid language issues, the best option is to book via a tour company such as Parma Golosa (obviously you will pay more for this). They organise customised tours of culatello, Prosciutto di Parma and balsamic vinegar producers in the Parma/Modena area, which can be conducted in various languages including English, French and German. Prices start at around €20 per person (1 product, 8 people per group).
They also do Parmesan tours but we would recommend keeping it local – there is a Parmesan producer just outside Quara. If you would like to watch the artisans at work, you’ll have to get up relatively early – they have finished making the day’s cheese by lunchtime. There’s no obligation to buy Parmesan at the end of it but it would be a shame not to!
Cooking courses are available in Modena and Bologna, but we propose something very similar that is a lot closer to home and offers much better value for money.
We can arrange tailor-made cooking courses at local restaurant Al Ciocco in Farneta (10 min drive), with chef Gabriella, who speaks excellent English. A typical course might involve making two types of fresh pasta, two pasta sauces and a dessert (or two). You can then eat what you have made, and more, in the restaurant, and take home anything that’s left. In season, the course can include a trip to the local market in Farneta to buy some of the ingredients you will then cook with. If you would like to book a day’s course, please let us know as soon as possible – Gabriella runs a busy restaurant so can only offer this course on certain days. We would highly recommend it as a ‘different’ and fun activity – guests who have done it have said it was one of the highlights of their holiday.