The Valley of the Knights: the approach to the Lagastrello Pass
- 0522 810430 IAT di Castelnovo ne' Monti
- 0522 812313
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To get to Ramiseto from Castelnovo, you need to take the main Cerreto road as far as Sparavalle and then turn off to the right onto the SP15. On the right, you can see what remains of the redoubt built by the Este family; further ahead is the Parco della Flora area, owned by the Province of Reggio Emilia. This is a natural mountain environment housing a variety of species of flora. The picnic site and network of paths for walkers tempt many visitors to stop here and stretch their legs. The rambling town of Ramiseto stretches out along the roads from Castelnovo and Vetto. It still has a compact old centre at the western edge of the town. There is a historically interesting building here with the date of 1495 carved on its architrave. There are also other buildings that still keep some of their original features. If you're not interested in local architecture or history, it is still worth stopping at Ramiseto – for the local restaurants if nothing else.
Your next decision is whether to take the road up to Ventasso Lake and the ski slopes or to carry on to Castagneto and Pieve San Vincenzo through the Upper Enza valley, towards the Lagastrello Pass.
Both itineraries can be completed in a single day, provided you keep up the pace of course. If you have time to spend a couple of days in the Ramiseto area, you will be able to explore it calmly and not just see it from inside a car, as you will have time to explore some of the paths.
The road up to Mount Ventasso passes through the village of Montemiscoso and winds its way under the beech trees up to the car park and the ski resort without any particular difficulty. The resort was planned with slightly more eco-friendly criteria and respect for the lake and the local environment than Cerreto so it is not surrounded by buildings, as the hotels and apartments are all lower down. You will find restaurants and cafeterias here and along the roadside before you arrive. There are two campsites.Parking the car and taking a 20-minute stroll up to the lake is basically a must. Otherwise, why bother come here? The lake, formed in the Ice Age, is very pretty, set in a hollow beneath the summit of Mount Ventasso. If you have a fishing licence, you can try your luck at catching a trout or a tench, but it's not an easy place for anglers mainly because the lake sides are covered in plants and foliage, so there is no guarantee you'll be taking a fish home. Legend used to say that it was a bottomless lake, but this was proven wrong by the great scientist from Scandiano, Lazzaro Spallanzani, who decided to disperse the prejudices of the locals in the 18th century by dropping a weighted line into the water. Nevertheless, the lake is still quite deep and the water is extremely cold, making it a hazardous place to go for a dip. Not a recommended pastime.
The other itinerary in the Ramiseto area is another classic. It goes up to the Lagastrello Pass going out on Reggio's side of the river Enza and coming back on Parma's side in a loop with the pass at its southernmost point and Selvanizza bridge at the north that links the two banks of the river and brings you back into Reggio Emilia's territory.
After leaving Ramiseto, take the main SP15 towards Castagneto, a small village that has been altered considerably in recent times but still has some original architraves decorated with medieval symbols. They were probably part of an old house that fell down because of a landslide. The village of Castagneto was rebuilt a long time ago, and the old architraves were used on top of the new doorways. This explains their presence now.
After Castagneto you come to Pieve San Vincenzo, known in the Middle Ages for the authority of the church that custom says was founded by Countess Matilda of Canossa. In 1920, a huge earthquake affected all of the Apennines and caused such a lot of damage here that the church had to be knocked down. The Neo-Gothic style building now standing was built quite recently but still has the baptismal font and part of a capital from the earlier church. Pieve San Vincenzo is one of the most important historic centres in the so-called Valle dei Cavalieri, the valley of the knights, namely the Upper Enza valley. Apparently, it got its name either from the horse breeders who made good use of the pastures here (there is still a specific breed of horses called the "Ventasso", horses which have adapted to life in the mountains over the centuries) or from the local rich families who used to supply cavalry troops to the countess Matilda and the leaders that ruled over the area after her. In any case, they are two sides of the same coin.
The next village is Cecciola, on the confluence of the Liocca and the Enza, which has been sympathetically renovated in a programme implemented by what was formerly the Gigante Regional Park. The Centre for Rural Tourism and the park's Visitor Centre are now up and running, housed in old perfectly restored buildings. An example of how to give a new lease of life to the old abandoned buildings in the Apennines. A distinctive feature of the village are the many sacred images carved in marble from between the 17th and 19th centuries.
The penultimate leg in the itinerary before reaching the pass is Succiso. This ancient village has suffered the torment of many landslides in the past and was actually completely rebuilt nearby and given the new name of Varvilla. The old, abandoned church is the most obvious symbol of this geological catastrophe. Consequently, there are fewer characteristic old buildings here than in other villages, although there are some icons made out of Tuscan marble similar to those at Cecciola. Succiso has a Park Visitor Centre and is the starting point for trips on foot or horseback along the slopes of Alpe di Succiso, one of the prettiest and highest mountains in the area.
The last country village before the pass is Miscoso, traditionally a stopover for tradesmen going to the markets in the Lunigiana area. The custom of religious images is alive here too, so this could be a theme for this itinerary if it is a topic you find interesting. On a similar note, the decoration around the old village fountain is also remarkable. Although the village has been completely renovated, it still has some of the magical signs of its past in the art and decorative architecture from centuries gone by.
At the southernmost reaches of this route, you will come to a lovely blue stretch of water called Paduli lake. It is actually a reservoir and conceals the source of the river Enza (you are already in Tuscany now, but not for long). You have also arrived at the Lagastrello Pass (or the Linari Pass, as it was called in the past), where there was a network of mule tracks that once came up from both the Parma and Reggio sides of the valley. The area felt the cultural and religious influence of the famed abbey of San Salvatore at Linari but was also known as a less respectable trading place for striking deals not always completely above board, as it was easy to move contraband around using the many lesser-known paths.
The route back to Ramiseto can take Parma's side of the valley on the road passing Valcieca, Nirone, Vairo, Vaestano and Selvanizza, where you cross back over the river Enza.
Last update: April 11, 2022