The Route of Matilde di Canossa

The Route of Matilde di Canossa

The Sentiero di Matilde: the ancient Parma-Lucam road

The State of the Countess covered most of the northern and central peninsula. This territory was strategically convenient as it fell within the stretch of land fortified by the Castles of Canossa, Rossena, San Polo d’Enza and Bianello-Quattro Castella.

The area can be visited by car or by taking the so-called “Sentiero Matilde” which follows the route of the ancient transappenine road known as the “Parma- Lucam”, the eastern alternative to the Via Francigena, which today is ideal for trekking. The itinerary in the land of countess Matilde starts in Montecchio Emilia with its important castle, and home of some of the most famous brands of Lambrusco Reggiano.

Southwards beyond Bibbiano, “cradle of Parmigiano Reggiano”, we arrive in the town of Quattro Castella, an important historical town. Here it is worth seeing the bronze statue of Matilde and the famous Castle of Bianello which had a decisive role in the political strategies of the countess. On the last Sunday in May, the historical Matildic procession takes place in Quattro Castella with traditional costumes and music.

The outskirts of Quattro Castella also have many beautiful and fascinating sights to offer such as the Parco di Roncolo and the Oasi Naturalistica di Bianello, natural habitat for over 130 species of birds and numerous mammals.

The symbol site of the lands of Matilde is Ciano d’Enza, which was also the name of the municipality until 1990, when it was changed into Canossa, after a referendum. The ancient town of Ciano d’Enza is situated on the right bank of the Enza River and from here derives the name “Cilianum”. Ciano d’Enza is known for the bakeries in the old town centre. Leaving Ciano the route goes to the Castello di Rossena, which dates back to around the year 1000, and opposite the 12th-13th century Torre di Rossenella. Nearby there is the famous rock of Canossa with the ruins of the Castello di Matilde.  In Votigno, a beautifully restored village, we encounter an important Buddhist spiritual centre.

Along the road that from Canossa goes to Casina, there is the Castello di Sarzano, which was one of the strategic centres of the government of Matilde. In August, Casina, said to be the home of the best Parmesan, is the setting for the Feast of the Parmigiano Reggiano.

Castelnovo, the ancient “Castrum Novum”, is located at the foot of three hills covered in coniferous trees, which owe their name, Monte Castello, to the remains of a tower. We suggest a trip to the imposing “natural” castle of the Pietra di Bismantova. The various legends about the history of this rock all relate to the veneration of the Madonna della Pietra (The Stone Madonna), to which a small church built into the mountain is dedicated. The Eremo di Bismantova, inhabited by the Benedictines, dates back to the 15th century, and is still a destination of pilgrimage.

Even Dante mentions the area in the IV Canto of Purgatory (vv.25-27):

“One climbs Sanleo and descends in Noli,
And mounts the summit of Bismantova,
With feet alone; but here one needs must fly”.

Southbound, the route reaches Cavola, the local truffle capital, where in autumn this delicious tuber is celebrated with various gastronomic events.

Having crossed the river Pietra Grossa, the route touches another major point of reference along the Matildic road: Toano. The ancient village stands in a sunny position on the top of the mountain that leads to a Matildic Pieve. After leaving the Parish the route joins the Provincial Toano-Quara road, to Gova, famous for the “Maggi”, a typical medieval folkloric representation of the Apennines set in medieval times and inspired by Carolingian legends, which takes place every summer. The route then leaves the province of Reggio Emilia and enters the province of Modena.


To go to Montecchio Emilia, take the A1 motorway and exit at Reggio Emilia, then take either the SP28 road towards Cavriago-Montecchio or the SP23 road towards Rivalta-Montecavolo-Quattro Castella.
Reggio Emilia is 65 Km from Bologna, 149 Km from Milan, and 427 Km from Roma.
For trekking lovers Ciano d'Enza can also be reached by train from the station of Reggio Emilia.

The Sentiero Matilde in the province of  Modena

The Sentiero Matilde continues into the territory of Modena to the Radici Pass where it meets a pre-existing network of trails which lead the excursionist to Lucca. The Modena stretch is very easy and is almost entirely flat.

The path is marked throughout with red and white signposts, and is suitable for mountain biking as far as Ponte di Cadigliano-Fontanaluccia. The road from Fontanaluccia to passo delle Radici is only advisable to the skilled cyclist. In the province of Modena the Sentiero Matilde starts from Ponte di Cadigliano. Following the right side of the Dolo stream, the route crosses a landscape characterised by typical riverbank vegetation and then continues through woods of ashes, beeches and oaks to the village of Cerreto.

Not far from this medieval village there is Romanoro, known to the ancients as “Armanorium”, a name thought to be of derivation indicating that it was a village of Longobars soldiers. Once past the group of medieval villages and the nearby village of Panigale, the path climbs slightly to reach the Strada del Tracciolino road. From here, a 25 minute walk, across the Rio Grande and Rio Muschioso streams, takes us to a junction which to the left connects the Sentiero Matilde with the Rovolo-Frassinoro road which links it to the Via Bibulca. From the Strada del Tracciolino the diversion takes to Rovolo, a village of great architectural interest. The route then reaches Frassinoro. Here we suggest a visit to the Abbey, a famous Benedictine monastery founded in 1071 by the mother of Matilde di Canossa. The modern day Chiesa di Santa Maria e San Claudio was built in the 15th century, following a landslide which destroyed the Abbey.

Returning to the Strada del Tracciolino road there is the lake of Gazzano. The tarmac road from Gazzano leads to the village of Le Pere Storte. The route continues through the woods as far as Rio di Mezzo. On the other side of the ditch, the muletrack leads to Case Farioli, a village not far from Fontanaluccia. The route then crosses the Provinciale 35 road and reaches the Chiesa di Fontanaluccia, dedicated to Santa Lucia, built at the beginning of the 19th century.

The next stretch crosses thick woods and chestnut groves and reaches the buttress of Mount Roncadello and Rio Grande del Fossore. Here begins the climb up Mount Roncadello, which features typical beech woods, to the village of Roncadello, were the route enters the Parco del Frignano.

On the other side of the Provincial road, a muletrack leads to the Colle del Morto, crossroads of the Via Bibulca and the road which links Piandelagotti and San Geminiano. After the Radici Pass the paved road leads to San Pellegrino in Alpe, in the province of Lucca, Tuscany.


Take the A1 motorway and exit at Modena. Modena is 39 Km from Bologna, 130 Km from Florence, 170 Km from Milan, and 404 Km from Rome.

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