There are often many little towns located close to the major motor routes, but which often we do not visit or consider while we travel by camper. This is very true of little towns with their classic parish churches that you find right next to the motorway exits, i.e. places that are easy to reach, but which unfortunately, escape our attention, So today we would like to offer you an itinerary that runs parallel to the A15 motorway, that goes from the Padana plain to the sea.
I am sure that you have used this motorway many times to go from Milan, Brescia, Mantova or Piacenza to the Tyrrenian Sea or the beautiful Cinque Terre in Liguria, and equally you we will recognise the names of the motorway exits at Fornovo Val di Taro or Berceto. Between these two exits, and in fact as far as Pontremoli, you can follow a different road that takes you to a series of truly beautiful little towns, full of history and culture, or where you can go on MTB excurions or on foot, or simply enjoy a rest in the splendid countryside.
From Fornovo Taro, go across the bridge of the same name, go through the town and turn off for Calestano, on that Valsporzana. After 8 km. You will fijnd the turn-off for Bardone, a perfect place to relax deep in the beauty of the Appennines.
Bardone and Terenzo
Bardone is Longobard in origi, and its historical centre still retains some of its medieval layout. The Church at Santa Maria Assunta dates back to 1000 years, and in fact restoration work carried out in 2000 revealed relics dating back to the 8th century. This little town enjoyed its heyday between 1200 and 1400, but first the Plague, and later famine and poverty left only 261 inhabitants (in 39 families) in the 1837 census, leading a hard countryside life far from the city. Today there are 82 in 23 families.
But the demographic collapse of Bardone is not what we want to focus on today, because this town is next door to the Monte Prinzera National Reserver, and Bardone is famous because the Via Francigena passes here, the section that goes from Parma to Luni. It used to serve as a rest stop halfway up the Appennine route. The countryside is extremely relaxing and the the council rest-area functions almost as a small campsite, attracting many tourists from France, Holland and Germany from spring to autumn.
From Bardone, we head towards Terenzo, just a couple of kilometres away. This is another ancient town, believed to be Roman, or maybe even Celtic, in origin. Built on the unstable land typical of this area, Terenzo was nearly completely destroyed by a landslide in 1294, and its history is very similar to that of Bardone, even if it suffered much more from wars and being sacked. It is also on the Via Francigena and has its own parish church, Santo Stefano built in 1131, destroyed by the landslide and then rebuilt in 1494 in Late Romanic style. Since it is so close to Bardone, you can get there on foot or bike, leaving your camper at the rest-area in Bardone.
Other parish churches
There are many other parish churches of note along the roads that go from Terenzo to Berceto, the SS62, and the Cisa.
The Church of San Michele Arcangelo nella in the small area of Corniana, built in 1200, restructured in 1700 (with the addition of a side chapel), and de-consecrated in 1931. Now it serves as an exhibition space.
The Church of Sant’Apollinare at Castello di Casola, first built in 1550, it was expanded and then restored in 1960.
The Church of the Assunzione di Maria Vergine at Cassio, another Romanic building rebuilt in 1600. It was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing raids in WW2, and was rebuilt in the 1960s. A further restoration took place in 2010, and it houses an excellent fresco dating back to 1400.
From Cassio, stay on the S.S. 62, deep in the Appennines. This road in fact apart from being an important connection from Fornovo to Lunigiana, divides the Val Taro and the Val Baganza. It is marked off by woods, but also by the panorama you have of the fields along the road, a Sunday favoured destination above all for motorcyclists. And so you reach Berceto, a beautiful jewel in stone and rock, 1000m above sea level, close to the sea, and that has a splendid sunny climate. Berceto is one of the Comunità Ospitale of the Borghi Autentici d’Italia, and is another step on the Via Francigena
The Emilia Romagna tourism website describes it thus:
A splendid place for a summer break, for horse rides in the high Appennines, along the horse-track of the Taro and Ceno Valleys. The last stage on the Via Francigena before you reach the Appennine pass.
It has always been important for the people of the valleys of the Taro, the Manubiola and the Baganza, since it is located on the ancient trade routes that passed from the Cisa to Lunigiana and Tuscany. Its cathedral exemplifies its historical importance: built in the 7th century, next to a Benedictine monastery, and around which the town developed. It was also significant as a rest point for pilgrims travelling along the Via Francigena towards Roma.
It is a delight to visit Berceto: the serviced camper rest-area is close to the town centre, whose streets are still partly paved in stonework. And so you can easily explore its beauty, which hosts a range of cultural, gastronomic, sporting and excursionist events each spring. It is also an excellent spot to enjoy the famous Porcini mushrooms, found throughout the area, or other traditional dishes, like potato tortelli, in the town’s trattorias.
It has many attractions, like the Devil’s Jump for trekking enthusiasts, or the area of Corchia, which still retains its medieval centre with stone-houses and tiny arched streets. It was once home to important metal mines, now no longer active.
From Berceto we head towards the Cisa Pass, and then down towards Pontremoli and Aulla, or you can just get back on the A15 motorway, the entrance is 6km away.