Mostly castles

Has it really been that long since we last chatted? The lack of blogging does not equate to a lack of interesting incidents here in Tuscany, it just reflects the slackness of this blogger! Actually this past week has been a little stressful with a whole lot of little negativities piling up into one big downer.  The sh*t hit the fan in a multitude of ways back in Australia, just one thing after another.  I really have no right to complain considering the devastating flooding of my beloved homeland! There are many of my fellow countrymen right now who are suffering far more than I could ever imagine.  We were lucky to escape with some minor damage to our Tasmanian property, but I had a small taste of the collective misery of the Queenslanders and it was enough.  Anyway, I’m feeling more positive about things now and maybe it is helped by the recent beautiful sunshine of Bagnone.

With the many goings on here, I thought I might present you with a collection of short stories accompanied by photos of course.  They will seem disjointed, but I hope they’ll be enjoyable all the same.


Caprio Party

You may recall how we participated in the “Presepe Vivente” in Caprio at Christmas time. We were dressed up in ancient costumes and put in a display where we pretended to perform tasks from Biblical times.  It was great fun and Chris got some wonderful photographs of the evening.  The organiser of the event, Graziana, held a dinner for the participants last week to say “Grazie” for helping out.  We attended of course and had a great time! The village of Caprio is a tiny little ancient “borgo” and I think the entire population was crammed into the local hall that night.  We arrived a little late (couldn’t find it) and were seated at the end of one of the long tables amongst many loud and enthusiastic Italians.  There was MUCH food and wine and merriment all around.  It was loud in that room! If you sat and listened for a moment it was the strangest crowd noise, all Italian words of course but spoken in the same tones as any other celebratory gathering in ANY country.  In fact, we likened it to a typical Puccetti gathering but we still can’t agree on which would be louder.  During the meal, Chris actually made a speech.  It was hilarious! He spoke in mainly English (with an Italian accent) but threw some Italian in here and there which the crowd LOVED.  After dinner, we all assembled around a little TV to watch a slide presentation of the photos from the Presepe Vivente that one of the local girls had put together.  Chris is giving Graziana a disc of his shots, but his are more “arty” and probably wouldn’t have been suitable for the “show and tell”. It was a great night and we felt quite priveleged to have been a part of this local celebration.

The Dinner held in Caprio for the Presepe Vivente participants


The Mall at Fidenza Village

Chris and I took a day trip last week to Fidenza. I had been reading about a mall there and wanted to check it out.  Normally, you would take the Autostrada there but we decided to take the scenic route and drive through the mountains.  The trip took an hour longer this way, but we saw some beautiful sights and Chris got to take some photos.

Abandoned building along the way to Fidenza

Along the way, there were many buildings of the type pictured above. They were all of similar style and left abandoned and all with signs on them “della Cisa” and numbers etc. I’m not really sure what they were once used for, but we found them strange and interesting.  After getting lost (again), we eventually found our way to The Mall.  Fidenza is near Parma and seems to be mostly famous just for this mall.  Indeed, the mall was beautifully done, almost like a Disneyland for shopping.  We wandered around looking in each store. Unfortunately it was mostly designer clothing, which I wasn’t in the mood for, but I still really enjoyed it.  I was hoping for more interesting and quirky shops.  There WAS a Lindt store though…..yum!  We had lunch in a restaurant that had huge Parmesan cheese wheels towering up the walls, and returned home on the autostrada.

The VERY elegant mall in Fidenza. Gorgeous architecture and shops.

The Lindt store at Fidenza. Drooollll!!



I write about Aulla often, because it’s not too far from here and is the closest commercial town to us. There is a big supermarket there and lots of other handy shops. If you drive over the bridge and up into the mountains, there is a place called Podenzana amongst a collection of smaller villages perched on hillsides in the typical Italian way.  We took a drive up there last Saturday.  We had lunch in a little restaurant whose speciality was “Panigacci”.  This is a type of pancake which is served with various sauces (sweet or savoury) and is unique to that area.  I had Panigacci with mushroom sauce and it was quite nice.  I don’t have a photo of it as it wasn’t all that interesting to look at, just small round flat pancakes with sauce poured over them. We drove up higher and higher toward the local Castle.  When we reached it, we were disappointed to find it privately owned and therefore inaccessible for visitors.  We got some photos anyway.

The castle of Podenzana with a view of the Apuan mountains in the background

An unnamed village perched on a hill as viewed from Podenzana

View from the hills above Aulla (Podenzana). You can see Chris!!



After a pretty average week, the best thing to do is just forget about it and have a nice day out with your family.  We did exactly that on Sunday.  We took the “back way” to Comano, by this I mean we drove via Pieve and down to Licciana Nardi through the winding hilly roads.  On the way we found a really cool little ruined chapel by the side of the road:

Ruined Chapel on the way to Licciana Nardi

These sorts of things are plentiful around here and I’m always amazed at these extremely ancient structures and how they are not major tourist attractions.  You do sort of get complacent with so many ancient and beautiful things around you…..and so many Castles!!  Our first castle of the day was Castello di Monti above Licciana Nardi.  The Castello itself is privately owned (of course), so we walked all around the outside of it. I love how they built these things. The towers look really solid and the walls just go straight up.  I’m a sucker for defensible housing 😉

Il Castello di Monti

Il Castello di Monti.....and Balin

After a quick lunch in Comano, where I had the yummiest grilled chicken breast, we drove on to the Castello di Comano.   It was easy to find, with it’s big tower sticking up, but not so easy to get to.  We climbed a very steep and long flight of stairs up the side of the hill where the castle was, only to find (at the top) that they were the stairs to someone’s house.  The secret way to the castle was actually through the narrow cobblestone streets of the neighbouring borgo, through the little tunnelled alleyways, and then you come out right next to it.   Maybe that would have confused invading armies?  Once again (of course) it was closed, but there didn’t seem to be much of it to see anyway.  It’s quite an old Castello and more of a ruin.

Castello di Comano

Castello di Comano

Our main destination for the day was Lake Paduli which Chris had seen on Google Earth very high in the mountains.  It required a steep ascent up a narrow and winding alpine road. It was quite scary at times!  On the way up, we saw a lonely ruin on top of a rounded hill and we turned off the road to see if we could get to it.  We drove on the narrowest road yet (more like a goat track) with a sheer drop to certain death on one side.  We parked the car and met a local man who told us that the ruin was a 2100 year old outpost/lookout.  It was strategically positioned on top of a hill with a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. We hiked up the side of the hill, keeping a tight grip on the kids.  At the top, the main stone structure was crumbling, but still inaccessible except through a small hole in one wall.  There was a stone covered well next to it.  The view was just amazing and almost dizzying!  We stood up there for a while and the kids made wishes with stones in the well.

The ancient outpost on the hill

Feeling on top of the world!

We resumed our journey to the lake. The drive was actually very beautiful and eventually we found ourselves face to face with “our” mountains: the Apenine ranges that we see in the distance as we head down the road from Groppo.  It was great to see them so close up, I only wish there had been snow on the peaks.  The lake was set before the mountains, and took a bit of climbing (downwards) to get to.  We all made it safely and enjoyed the serenity that only a lake can offer.

Lake Paduli. That's Denver and I on the shores

Lake Paduli looking very blue against the brown of winter

Enjoying Lake Paduli 🙂

We really had a lovely day out! The kids enjoyed it as much as we did and were quite exhausted at the end of the day. Balin even took himself off to bed!


The Bonfires of Pontremoli

Last night was the first of two huge bonfires in Pontremoli.  The “Sfida dei fuochi” (the Challenge of Fire) starts with the lighting of a huge hand-built pyre made by the parish of San Nicolò.   The fire was absolutely HUGE!  It was built on the riverbank in Pontremoli.  Huge crowds gathered on the bridges overlooking it and there were fireworks before the pyre itself was lit.  The kids were pretty thrilled with such huge flames, they must have gone up more than 25 metres into the air and gave off a huge amount of heat.  There were people in the crowd dressed in medieval costume and a traditional chant could be heard from time to time (like a football war cry).   The fire was the first in the challenge and will compete with the one on the 31st (by the rival Parish of San Geminiano).  The idea is to see whose fire will go the highest.  This challenge is very ancient and started as a pagan ritual for the god of fire, later being adopted by the catholics as a sort of rivalry.

The bonfire in Pontremoli. Very hard to show the scale of it. We'll get better pics on the 31st!


I’ll leave you with a few random shots that don’t really require any additional stories besides their captions:

Handsome Balin. He got a haircut soon after this was taken!

Sweet little Denver.

Sad Mausoleum in our local Cemetary, young men killed during war time. Even non Italian speakers can get the gist of the words 😦

Franco and his lovely family visiting with us

Ciao xx



About missrini

Global citizen. Travel blogger. Eccentric dreamer.
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7 Responses to Mostly castles

  1. Deanne says:

    There are a lot of “arm crossing” photos of you Rin which I’m assuming is because it’s b****y freezing there! Can’t wait until we visit and get some culture! I think I’m putting on weight just reading about the food – I might have to pay for excess baggage (me) before I come back to Australia.

    D xx

    • missrini says:

      Yes arm crossing = freezing my tits off!!! I like it though 🙂 As for weight, suprisingly I haven’t really put any on. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s all the walking?

  2. Sheila says:

    The abandoned houses with ‘Cisa’ signs on them are buildings that were built to accommodate the people who were building the roads. They were originally painted a distinctive deep ox-blood red. You can still see one painted this colour on the road to Aulla – it is on the left-hand side. They were marked ‘Cisa’ because that is the name of the road together with a number to indicate their postion. They were also used, I believe, to store equipment and materials.

    • missrini says:

      Excellent! Thank you so much for explaining that to me Sheila. I was curious about the way they were built and painted and then seemingly just abandoned (they look like they would have been nice houses too). What a shame someone doesn’t restore them, they would make good B&Bs perhaps?

  3. Villafranca says:

    Hello Rini – we have just got back to England after spending a few VERY sunny days in Villafranca/Bagnone at our place there. We took your recommendation and tried the trattoria in Ponticello. Unfortunately, it was closed on Thursday lunchtime, so we tried again on Friday. This time there were rows of cars outside so we knew we had got it right. The name of the place is – Fringuello. As you said, it was a 3 course menu, all for 10 euros per person. I had spaghetti alle vongole for primi, ossibuchi con piselli for secondi, radicchio for veggie, and a lovely caramelised custard to finish off. Wow! Delicious. We will not be able to restrain ourselves from going again and again.

    When we were in Pontremoli, we saw the start of bonfire building, but unfortunately had to come home on Sunday, a day before the bonfire burning competition.

    Never mind, we have village festivals to look forward to this summer.

    Your blog is great, and I am hoping to pick up more tips about trattorias and places to visit. You certain get around.

    • missrini says:

      Fantastic! I’m so glad you got to try Fringuello (and thanks for reminding me of the name, I knew it was something to do with a bird…but couldn’t quite remember!). When you return in Summer, let me know and we’ll go to our favourite Gelati shop 🙂

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