Cycling tourism in the Terre di Castelli: the most beautiful itineraries
Terre di Castelli: a perfect territory for two wheels
The Terre di Castelli offer an ideal territory for lovers of cycling tourism on the plains, hills and mountains: discover the itineraries and hop on the saddle!
Official documents claim it has French origins, but there must be some mistake: the bicycle seems designed for Emilia, given the passion its inhabitants have for the pedals, which has resulted in the city of Ferrara boasting the title of "Italian city of bicycles" for the highest number of circulating cyclists. No wonder Emilia-Romagna is one of the most interesting regions for cycling tourism: the varied territory and the presence of wide flat spaces encourage even the least abled cyclists, while the wide-ranging cycle routes did the rest.
The Terre di Castelli, in the province of Modena, have these characteristics; the plains of the municipalities immediately south of the capital are flanked by the first hills, rich in peaceful landscapes and slopes that are not too difficult, and by the first Apennine hills.
In this article we will outline some of the most interesting cycling routes to try in the Terre di Castelli: from ideas for a quick excursion to longer one that will enable you to discover this fascinating corner of Modena territory.
From the Guerro valley to the Panaro valley
Length: 41.5 km
Journey time: 4.5 hours
Starting point: Castelvetro di Modena
Type of bike: mountain bike
A path that unites two river valleys that are characteristic of the territory, through stretches of hilly ups and downs, which require minimal physical preparation, but which are able to gratify lovers of landscapes. The autumn season is best time to go, as the spectacular foliage of woods and grapevines enflame the landscape.
We start from the village of Castelvetro di Modena, in the chessboard square where in September, every other year, there is Dama Vivente and the Festa a Castello (Living Draughts and the Castle Festival), evocative re-enactments of the Renaissance in this small village in the Modena hills. We start our ride along the road that connects the village of Castelvetro to the village of Levizzano Rangone. Passing through rows of Lambrusco Grasparossa grapevines we come across the small Romanesque Oratory of San Michele and the Castle of Levizzano, which dominates the town and the surrounding hills from above.
After Levizzano you descend towards the course of the river Guerro and then go up the other side to reach, after a fairly challenging climb, the municipal territory of Marano sul Panaro and in particular the village of Villabianca, a panoramic point located right on the ridge between the two valleys, protagonists of our tour. From here, with a challenging, but highly recommended detour, you can reach the village of Denzano, with the remains of a castle and an ancient church, and a place called Monte Tre Croci, a hill in a dominant position that will give you a breathtaking view of the whole plain below.
From Villabianca the ride becomes less demanding: it starts with a nice descent to reach the village of Marano sul Panaro, where you take the Percorso Sole route, surrounded by poplars, willows and alders along the Panaro river.
Continuing to pedal with a slight and constant descent, you reach the town of Vignola, passing under the medieval fortress, and then that of Spilamberto. Here, after bidding farewell to the splendid Rocca Rangoni, a symbolic building of the city, you cross the village until you reach the cycle path to Modena.
Once you reach the hamlet of Sant'Eusebio, the path continues up to the Provincial Road 569. At this point, who still wants a last challenging climb, can choose the route to Castelvetro di Modena along the via Ossi and the very first hills that crimp the plains; who instead prefers a more relaxing finale, can choose the route along via Destra Guerro, which, after a few kilometers, brings us to village of Castelvetro.
Freshwater cycle tourism: on the banks of the Panaro
Length: 25 km
Journey time: 2.5 hours
Starting point: Marano sul Panaro
Type of bike: mountain bike
This itinerary runs entirely beside the river Panaro for the first part, along the Percorso Sole-Natura route; in the second stretch, however, we go up through the inhabited areas of the Terre di Castelli that overlook the left bank of the river.
The starting point is in Piazza Matteotti in Marano sul Panaro, in the heart of the town, overlooked by the old Montecuccoli mill, now home to the Museum of Energies. Once in the saddle, you head towards the Percorso Sole route. Here, amid the rich river vegetation, you can pedal pleasantly on a route designed to promote well-being and contact with nature. The route leads to Vignola, announced at a distance with the profile of the magnificent medieval fortress, located in a strategic position on the river. On the return we will be able to see it more closely; for the moment we continue along the route, which now takes the name Percorso Natura route and flanks the so-called "Basse" of Vignola, an agricultural area with many fruit trees.
We continue to follow the course of the Panaro river up to Spilamberto. Upon reaching the village, we leave the Percorso Natura route and enter the town, perhaps for a quick cultural and gastronomic stop-off: it is the perfect opportunity to visit the Rocca Rangoni with its beautiful park, or the Museum of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
We get back into the saddle for the second part of the route which, unlike the first, will now have a slightly less favorable slope, but gentle all-the-same. We take the cycle path built on the old route of the Vignola-Modena railway and pedal through the fruit cultivations of the generous countryside that extends south of Spilamberto, until we reach the village of Vignola, where we can take a break to visit the small and picturesque historic centre.
For the last stretch, we descend towards the Swimming Center of Vignola and, from there, we take the Percorso Sole again to go back towards Marano sul Panaro, enjoying the river with its lush vegetation and countryside this time facing the Apennines.
A sparkling festival for "red bubbly"
Every year, in Castelvetro di Modena september is the moment to celebrate the new vintage for its famous sparkling red wine. The Grape and Lambrusco grasparossa festival enhances and strengthens the agricultural vocation of Castelvetro, highlighting the history and characteristics of its main product
The Panaro river, a green lung
The Sole or Sun path stretches along the left bank of the Panaro river between Casona di Marano and Vignola while the Natura or Nature section runs north of Vignola to the edge of the city of Modena. Here, vegetation and animals thrive just a few steps from human activity; visitors can cycle and hike along it, or just relax and have a picnic at the Marano River Park.
Among white cherry blossoms
The best is to travel along it between late March and early April, whithin the frame of cherry blossom; but also during the other periods of the year, visitors can enjoy walking and cycling, and immerse themselves in nature, among orchads and farms . The cherry route stretches along the left bank of the Panaro river, between Vignola and Marano, and it is one of the most favourite route for tourists and visitors.
Cycling tourism on the old railway
Length: 27 km
Journey time: 2.5 hours
Starting point: Castelnuovo Rangone
Type of bike: touring bike, city bicycle
On the route of the old Modena-Vignola railway - abandoned in 1972 - a particularly interesting cycle path was founded, firstly because it crosses the countryside of the Terre di Castelli towards Vignola, and secondly because it still has several railway infrastructures, such as bridges, old stations, rail abutments and pylons. In addition, the cycle path is flat and paved, and therefore ideal for slow and soft cycle tourism, for the whole family and all abilities.
The starting point is in Castelnuovo Rangone, in the central square with the nice statue of a pig: a sign of abundance and luck for our journey! From here, we go down to the former station to take the Jack Kerouac Road, that is the name of the stretch of cycle path passing through the territories of Castelnuovo, Spilamberto and Castelvetro di Modena. Its name is not just symbolic, the old railway toll booths display passages of the American writer’s work further enriching our journey.
The path proceeds level and crosses the torrents of Nizzola, Tiepido and Guerro thanks to the old bridges that were once home to trains carrying many passengers. Of the railway infrastructure there are still some trellis supporting the overhead power line, which have become the pillars for street lighting.
We then reach Spilamberto where, after a short jaunt in the town, we resume our immersion into the green countryside, through orchards and farms, and on to the last disused stations, in the territory of Vignola. Here we can choose to go into the city, to visit the historic centre, with the beautiful Piazza dei Contrari, the monumental square overlooked by the Fortress and Palazzo Boncompagni, which houses the wonderful Scala a Chiocciola (Winding Staircase).
From Vignola, we take the route in the opposite direction with a slightly more favorable slope and return to the starting point, in Castelnuovo Rangone.
Cycle path of the Sassi di Roccamalatina Park
Length: 54.2 km
Journey time: 5 hours
Starting point: Vignola
Type of bike: mountain bike
Route dedicated to trained cyclists who love the challenges of climbing, with the gratification of reaching the beautiful Sassi di Roccamalatina passing through various points of interest that tell the story of the Modena Apennine civilization.
We start from the historic centre of Vignola, in the shadow of the medieval fortress in a dominant position on the "Valle dei Ciliegi" (Cherry Valley), which every spring offers the spectacle of the white cherry blossoms that attracts visitors from all over Italy and abroad. From here, we descend towards the Percorso Natura-Sole route, which runs along the river Panaro on the left bank and will allow us to climb up to Casona di Marano sul Panaro. The route is very pleasant because it is immersed in rich fluvial vegetation and allows you to stay in the shade when facing this route in summer, not forgetting the various equipped areas ideal for breaks during the ride.
Once in Casona, we are now at the gates of the Regional Park of the Sassi di Roccamalatina, and from here we can take the Parco dei Sassi cycle path up to the village of Montecorone, in the territory of the municipality of Zocca.
The route climbs up to offer suggestive views of the valley floor and of the hills that rise on the opposite bank, where the ancient village of Festà stands proud, in the municipality of Marano sul Panaro. After some ups and downs and other level stretches, we arrive in sight of the imposing Sassi di Roccamalatina, to start a sort of circuit that runs around these curious and ancient rocky reliefs.
Cycling in the heart of the Parco dei Sassi di Roccamalatina is a wonderful experience for those who love nature. Here we can see plant species that belong to different areas of the plains and mountains: so, next to the shrubs typical of the Mediterranean we can find beech, chestnut and oak woods, inhabited by a wildlife made up of badgers, porcupines, foxes, roe deer, squirrels and peregrine falcons.
The park also embraces a territory rich in history, and cycling, we can explore some places that belong to the age-old relationship between man and these mountains, such as the Pieve di Trebbio, a Romanesque plebeian church of the twelfth century, and the village of Castellino delle Formiche, of medieval origin and almost hidden at the edge of the woods.
After touring the Sassi, we can take the road that brought us here to return to the starting point, in Vignola.
Rails and pedals
If you come from outside the province, you do not need a car to reach the Terre di Castelli and face one of the cycle routes that we have recommended: Vignola is in fact connected to the station of Bologna Centrale by the TPER Bologna-Casalecchio-Vignola railway line, and it is possible to bring your bicycle on the train. Once you get to Vignola station, you can hop on your saddle and be on the main cycling routes of the territory in a few minutes. Alternatively, from Vignola you can reach Bologna by train with your own bicycle to face the challenging and fascinating routes to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca or to reach the heart of Bologna.