On the way from Portico di Romagna, the Romagna part of the region, where I had spent several days being the guest of the delightful Albergo Al Vecchio Convento with an exceptional kitchen, to the coastal town of Ravenna, we decided to take a small detour through Brisighella, a place I had heard much about.
The village has an 'Orange Pennant' and as a result is part of a highly praised initiative by citizens who no longer wait for subsidies that never arrive, but with modest resources protect and maintain the historical heritage of their own town or village for tourism. Quite a mouthful, but it somewhat captures the essence of the initiative.
Ambushed between two hills
By its natural location between two hills, Brisighella was easy to defend with two fortifications to keep enemies out. The tower of Maghinardo, which was restructured in later times and is now known as the Torre dell´Orologio, it was one of two, it dates back to the 13th century. Subsequently, in the 16th century, a fort was built on the opposite hill for the Manfreda family, lords of Faenza. The bell tower, along with the fort, provided sufficient defense for the town. In 1850, the tower was restored and the clock was installed. In the early 16th century, Brisighella fell under the rule of the Republic of Venice, which also built the defensive walls. But the Venetians didn't enjoy it for long as the Vatican soon claimed ownership.
The Donkey Trail, Via degli Asini
The fort, the bell tower, and the church of Monticino all date back to the Middle Ages and still dominate the town that emerged at the foot of a hill, which serve as foothills to the higher Apennines. Italy has some unique porticos, but this might be the most unusual one I've ever seen: the long portico Via degli Asini, or the Donkey Trail, which runs at the first-floor level of the buildings on Piazza Marconi and over centuries has taken on irregular shapes and a strongly undulating surface. It's an absolute must-see!
On one side of the portico are the doors of medieval homes that are still inhabited today. On the other side are arched openings overlooking the street below. If you're short on time, you can glimpse the other monuments from your car window, but for the portico, you should definitely step out and take a closer look.
Donkeys carried plaster from the mountains to the city
The portico was constructed in the 13th century and was mainly used for defense against unwelcome visitors. Though originally a garrison for the military, it later became inhabited by families. The road was later used for transporting plaster from the Monticino quarries, and because it was carried by donkeys, the road earned the nickname Donkey Trail.
Stopping for the smallest volcano
On our way from Portico di Romagna, we spent some time at the eternal flame of what's called the smallest volcano in Italy. It actually looks like a small campfire, but these are burning gases emanating from that spot in the ground. If you didn't know any better, you'd think a farmer was burning some waste. It's most interesting to see at night.
If you have more time to explore the surroundings, it's worth visiting the places where the plaster was mined. It has been turned into a Regional Natural Park, where you can hike endlessly in a very peculiar-looking landscape.
Places to stay
Azienda Agricola Baccagnano, rural area just outside Brisighella
Fascinating history lessons gifted to you at the agriturismo Baccagnano, whispered by the wind in the cypress trees that are hundreds of years old. The house is mentioned as early as the 13th century, back then a village with 52 hearths, the old way of counting households, and a small church where you now have breakfast. There are 2 double rooms and a suite for 4, decorated with such style and creativity that it's a pleasure to stay and enjoy the beautiful things. The farm produces a variety of items, like wine, olive oil, honey, pasta, all available for purchase onsite. The countryside walk to Brisighella is short enough to stay enjoyable, and the deer that curiously come to see who's visiting prove you're right in nature. Be smart and follow the owner's directions to get there; some find the route that your navigation system suggests a bit too steep.
Al Vecchio Convento, Via Roma, Portico di Romagna, Province of Forlì-Cesena, 35 km
An albergo diffuso, although most rooms are in the main hotel building, other rooms are scattered throughout the charming village of Portico. There's a beautiful Roman bridge and a small river if you wish to explore. Breakfast is served in the hotel where you can also enjoy delicious meals. During truffle season, they organize trips you can join, and upon return, the chef is ready to turn your findings into an omelet for breakfast – but be ready to wake up early for a truffle hunt. Al Vecchio Convento has had ties with the Netherlands for years, so don't be surprised if you're greeted with a heartfelt Dutch welcome. Just make sure your room isn't next to the church, as the bells might keep you up.
Albergo La Rocca, downtown Brisighella
Downtown is Hotel La Rocca, recently fully renovated and now a very pleasant place to stay, not only because you're right in this beautiful town, but also for the renowned Romagnola cuisine. This family-owned hotel has been run by the same family since the mid-19th century. The current chef, having spent 5 years working in one of London's most famous 5-star hotels, now expertly wields his spoon in La Rocca's kitchen, serving authentic regional dishes made with produce from their and the neighbors' gardens. Enjoy the stunning rooftop terrace, offering an unparalleled view of the 'Rocca'.