This is a post for the ‘curious traveler’; for those who enjoy going off the beaten track. It talks about places that even many locals don’t know about. I discovered them recently during one of my hikes in the Bolognese Apennines, the mountains south of Bologna. These mountains were once much more populated than they are today; few historic villages still survive, many almost stuck in time. You can reach them by car from Bologna in about an hour and a half, and, once you’re in the area, I suggest exploring on foot, enjoying the peacefulness of the woods and the surprise of seeing appear, right among the trees, an ancient sanctuary or a tiny, charming hamlet.
The following destinations can be hiked to in a day, and both start and end points can be reached by public transportation (details at the end of the post).
Monteacuto delle Alpi
Strategically positioned on top of a mountain, Monteacuto delle Alpi was strengthened, in the Middle Ages, with the construction of a fortress, which was meant to control the important trade route that connected Emilia with Tuscany through the Passo di Porta Franca (Porta Franca Pass; the Apennines form the border between the regions of Emilia and Tuscany). There are no remains of the ‘rocca’, but the village has preserved its medieval structure and the typical aspects of a mountain borgo, with its cobblestone streets, stone houses, sandstone-framed doors and windows, and fountains.
Only a handful of residents live permanently in Monteacuto delle Alpi, but the village gets quite the influx of visitors during the many festivals and sagre (food fairs) organized throughout the year and during the summer season.
Monteacuto delle Alpi is a good departure point for many hikes: to the nearby Regional Park of Corno alle Scale, to other mountain villages (I recommend the hike from Monteacuto to Castelluccio via Tresana), to historic and religious sites, such as Madonna dell’Acero and Madonna del Faggio, which are made all the more fascinating by the backdrop of woods covered with chestnut and beech trees.
Madonna del Faggio
Madonna del Faggio is a sanctuary built in 1722 by local mountain villagers in the spot where, according to legend, the Virgin had appeared to a young shepherd boy, who was grazing his flock under a beech tree where a terracotta image of the Virgin hung; for a long time, the sanctuary, a traditional pilgrimage destination, was looked after by hermits, who lived there in total solitude. The beech tree where supposedly the image of the Madonna was found collapsed in the 1970s, and only its stump remains today.
The closest you can get to Madonna del Faggio by car is 600m from the sanctuary. The locals didn’t want the cars to get any closer in order not to ruin the peace and silence of the place. Or you can get there on foot from Monteacuto delle Alpi or from Castelluccio (recommended!).
You can reach the miniature village of Tresana by car, but the approach on foot is so much more thrilling, as you see it emerge, all of a sudden, isolated and peaceful, in the midst of ancient woods. The first residents lived off chestnut trees, and raised a few cows and pigs for milk, cheese and meat.
Tresana, also known as the ‘borgo delle ortensie’ (the hydrangea village, for the many colorful hydrangeas that adorn it), escaped the fate of so many other mountain villages around here, which were progressively abandoned, thanks to the descendants of the original residents, who worked to restore the village and bring it back to life.
The houses built with the local stone are typical of the Bolognese Apennines. The roofs are covered with slabs of the same material (the so-called ‘piagne’).
Today, residents mainly stay on weekends and during the summer season. There is even a B&B should you wish to stay the night (details below).
In a panoramic position overlooking the surrounding valleys, Castelluccio originated in the Middle Ages. Its main sights include the ‘voltoni’ (vaults), the gardens perched on terraces, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, and Castello Manservisi, an example of romantic architecture typical of the end of the 19th century.
Like Monteacuto, Castelluccio is a good starting point for excursions to Tresana and Madonna del Faggio, and for many other hikes (Rifugio di Montecavallo, Prati del Piella, Pian dello Stellaio, Mulino di Taccaia).
How to get there
By public transportation
To Monteacuto: Train from Bologna to Porretta Terme, then local bus 776 to Lizzano and 775 to Monteacuto delle Alpi.
To Castelluccio: Train from Bologna to Porretta Terme, then local bus 787.
Autostrada A1, exit Sasso Marconi, then SS64 Porrettana, and SP324 for Monteacuto; Porrettana SS64, then SP57 for Castelluccio.
Sleeping in Tresana: B&B Le Fole, contact Valeria, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more info, check the Apennines section of the Emilia Romagna Tourism website and the Discover Alto Reno Terme website.