The mid Secchia valley: the Toano area
- 0522 810430 IAT di Castelnovo ne' Monti
- 0522 812313
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Length of the route: 163 km Getting to the Toano area is easy and quick if you take the road running along the bottom of the Secchia valley (but drive carefully because the road is used by HGV's, especially during the week, on their way to and from the local ceramics companies). A good place to start out your unhurried exploration is Cerredolo, breached by the river Secchia (which starts to look decidedly prettier here compared to the lower stretches downstream and so much so that it is starting to become popular amongst anglers and those looking to spend a relaxing Sunday in the country). If you are interested in visiting the Debbia and San Cassiano area, turn off the main road at Lugo a few kilometres further down (this used to be the main road before they built the new one). There is plenty of old country buildings scattered around and there are some lovely views over the valley.
Back at Cerredolo, be careful to look out for the road signs: you need to take the road towards Toano (the SP8). There is a side trip to the church at Massa, sitting prettily atop the hill dominating the Dolo valley below and separating it from the Secchia valley. Massa church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, as are many churches in the Mountains. This custom may go back to the Longobards, as they were particularly devoted to this warrior Angel. The church is certainly very old. It is usually locked, but you can have a look around outside and admire its simple, gabled design that must be fairly close to what it originally looked like. The walls have been decorated over the centuries with architectural features and ornaments. The most curious of these is a remarkable low relief (although, strictly speaking, it is not actually a relief at all, as the figures were created by cutting their outlines out of the stone). It is thought to date back to the 8th century and is a very rough representation of God with outstretched arms, banishing Adam and Eve from the earthly paradise. There are also other primitive-looking sculptures, such as a wolf (?) that may be from the 11th century. The ruins of the tower close by are all what remains of a castle. You can still see two arrow slits once used by archers to defend the castle. 16th century Palazzo Gandini in the nearby village has a lovely, unusual portal. All in all, Massa is worth taking time out to visit.
Back on the main road, it is not far from Toano. The town comes to life in the summer thanks to the events organised by local clubs and associations, but is worth visiting at any time of year for its other great Romanesque building: the church called Santa Maria in Castello: one of the oldest in the Diocese of Reggio Emilia and mentioned in documents as far back as 980, namely in a diploma issued by Otto II. There is little trace of the original church building, as the roof and most of the walls were rebuilt at the start of the 13th century. The building has a simple gabled façade and probably once had a prothyrum (an entrance passageway) in front of it (you can make out the roughly chiselled doorposts). The Baroque portal opens out on the right, decorated with figures and friezes. The interior has a nave and two aisles. The grey sandstone capitals on the columns and semicolumns supporting the ceiling vaults, are all different to one another and are outstanding examples. They are carved with figures representing men, animals, ogres, flowers, fruit and episodes taken from the Bible. The bell tower stands on the base of what was once the keep of the old castle. If you want to be sure the building is open, it is a good idea to phone the town hall before you set out. One of the nicest roads starting out at Toano is the road to Manno (but it is not particularly easy to find, even if there is a road sign. Ask for directions in town). Be warned: the condition of the road surface is not particularly good so you need to have a certain predilection for minor roads to enjoy it: in any case, drive carefully. Those who don't like being jostled about in the car or don't want to get its paintwork scratched have been warned: go elsewhere. All the same, a trip to Manno is worthwhile. Before you reach the town, there is a shady spot for picnics or a rest that was provided by the Province of Reggio Emilia for those walking the Matilda Path, which also runs on this road. There is a table and two benches under a hazelnut tree, near a source of fresh drinking water. It is a lovely spot for a picnic. Manno village stands in ruins and is partly abandoned; it paints a sad and desolate picture but several of the buildings tell of its interesting past. There are two lovely portals with a trapezoidal arch; an architrave inside a courtyard carved with blacksmith's symbols; several arrow slits, used by soldiers wielding the harquebus, can be made out among the ruins of another building, and there is a stone carved with the date 1577. However, the most important buildings at Manno are the church dedicated to Saints Prosper and Paul and the so called "Corte dei Gherardini", built around a square, 16th century tower. The entrance to the courtyard has a lovely portal attributed to Domenico Ceccati. When you get back on the main road, the SP56, it will probably feel like you are on a motorway compared to the road before! Turn left towards Cavola (the road to the right will take you to Cerredolo: this is the quickest way back if you have run out of time). Before you reach Cavola, there is a short side trip to Corneto where you can have a look at the slender, 17th century bell tower designed by Antonio Ceccati (the local Ceccati family produced several generations of excellent artists, architects and wood carvers). Cavola is the next town and at first glance looks to be full of modern homes and gardens, a tangible sign of the income that the local industrial estate provides the local families. Nevertheless, it is still worth getting out of the car to look for some of the many signs of the past. The church is called Saint Michael's and has many carvings that were done during later renovation work. The entrance portal in carved sandstone has a scroll with the date of 1712. Other carvings bear the dates of 1420, 1628, 1700 and 1721. The rectory near the church has been altered a great deal but there are still elements that date it to the 16th century. There are several buildings in the town that are worth mentioning. These include a lovely house with a large, south facing portico and loggia and a flight of stone stairs leading up to the living quarters. At the bottom of the stairs there is a lovely pointed arched portal with sunray segments from the 15th century.
After Cavola, you can retrace your steps or take the main road to Cerredolo; otherwise, you can take a more scenic route with hairpin bends by turning off at Colombaia towards Carpineti and its castle.
Last update: April 11, 2022