From Bologna to the villages of Emilia-Romagna

After a one hour train ride from the stylish bustle of cosmopolitan Milan, we arrived in Bologna, a historical and cultural center in northeast Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. It is a large city with an enormous, just-opened, new railway station — a destination for international visitors as well as a connecting point for business people and local residents. But our itinerary moved us quickly out of the city by car with our travel blogger friends to begin a 9-day journey through Emilia-Romagna beyond the locations commonly found in travel guides, Mr. TWS and I were to spend our first night in the village of Tredozio on the border of Tuscany about 40 miles southeast of Bologna.

Ponte della Signora in Modigliana

Ponte della Signora in Modigliana


Along the way in Modigliana

Exiting the busy main highway out of Bologna, our drive quickly turned scenic as we took winding roads through rural areas of vineyards and olive trees. A stop in the quiet village of Modigliana gave us the chance to cross the steeply-arched Ponte della Signora (San Donato Bridge) built in the 18th century and wander the streets of this town of under 5,000 residents. We met several friendly locals who helped us to find Antichi Sapori, a great place for a lunch of “pasta fresca”. This was our first experience with the authentic homemade pasta of the region, made from scratch in the kitchen. It was the start of a long series of wonderful meals as we ate our way through Italy.




After lunch, we continued on to Tredozio, a village of about 1,300 residents within the lush Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi (Casentinesi National Park). It is an ancient town once inhabited by the Romans which later became part of the province of Florence until Benito Mussolini changed the borders of Romagna in 1923, making Tredozio part of Forli in Emilia-Romagna.

We were told that we’d be staying in an 18th century vintner’s tower for our lodgings the first night and were looking forward to such a unique experience. As we approached the driveway of Torre Fantini we were amazed with an awesome view of the Apennines and the valley below with a farmer at work in the fields.


Torre Fantini

While we took deep breaths of the exceptionally fresh air, it was easy to imagine spending several days there, instead of just one night. The property has 3 double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a nice garden and a pool with great view over the valley. From our “Old Tower” room we had windows facing the hills from the bedroom and bath, as well as a view of a woodland from a window on another side of the room.


La Vecchia Torre bedroom at Torre Fantini

A walk around the grounds and a bit of relaxation at the gorgeous pool provided panoramic views — what a setting!

Panoramic pool at Torre Fantini

Settled in our room, we took a short 10 minute walk to the village of Tredozio where we enjoyed the feeling of a small Italian town and had an opportunity to interact with a few of the residents, who even with our language difficulties were friendly and helpful.

The town was quiet and irresistible. It captured exactly what we’d hoped from the trip, being able to experience a less-traveled, hidden part of Italy.


The village of Tredozio

Completing a circuit of the town, we snapped several photos of the 17th and 18th century buildings, as well as the 14th century church, Chiesa della Compagnia. We found that most of the shops were closed for siesta, but we did find a small restaurant open with an outdoor patio to enjoy a cold drink, the village sights and watch the locals while they strolled and conversed with friends and family.


The Church of La Compagnia

Palazzo Fantini


Palazzo Fantini courtyard

In the evening, we met with Beatrice Fontaine, the owner of Torre Fantini, in Tredozio at Palazzo Fantini, an elegant residence belonging to her family since the time it was built in 1753. Beatrice gave us a tour of the Tuscan-baroque style house and beautiful grounds. From the modest presentation from the street front, the house and gardens were surprisingly large and exceptional.

The gardens created in the 1800s had been designed not by a famous architect but they appeared to be. The gardens were bursting with roses thriving after an unusually wet month of May in the area. Beside the roses, there were various flowers and trees all positioned uniquely to create a peaceful and beautiful floral setting, making it a perfect venue for weddings, concerts and other events.

Gardens 2

The Garden


Palazzo Fantini is listed by Great Italian Gardens, an organization that promotes the heritage of gardens in Italy.

We also toured the buildings that were once used for housing horses and other animals That area as well as two large courtyards and a granary were restored to their original design. These buildings are painted an intriguing pattern of red and gold stripes (the original design) to differentiate the living quarters from the farm buildings.

Striped buildings

Striped buildings at Palazzo Fantini

The living quarters are actually four different structures that had been joined, the original building constructed in the 17th century, enhanced in the 18th century, then restored as a project by Beatrice’s father in recent years.


The Lemon House

The evening continued as we moved to the residence to the living area for conversation, then the warm and spacious kitchen/dining for dinner. Beatrice was a generous host; we enjoyed her conversation and appreciated her interest in our upcoming blog project in Emilia-Romagna officially starting the next day.


Dinner at Palazzo Fantini

The kitchen was warm and welcoming and the company and conversation made for a memorable evening, enhanced by the inclusion of Mafalda, a charming woman who has worked with the family for many years. Despite our language differences, I felt that we communicated brilliantly with our smiles, Mafalda’s smile as she served being as warm as the pasta soup was hot. We devoured the steaming pasta soup, salad, and fruit which was prepared by Pierluigi Gentilini, chef of Tredozio’s Michelin–rated Il Mulino di San Michele. We now truly anticipated that this trip to Italy was going to be the culinary delight we hoped. It was also clear that we could expect to add a few pounds before our time in Italy was finished.


Mafalda cooked for us!

A fresh start to our fresh project

After a nearly silent night and peaceful sleep, delicious homemade pastries from the village bakery and flavorful coffee in Torre Fantini’s breakfast room were a perfect way to begin the day. From Tredozio, we would be heading off through Casentinesi National Park to Portico di Romagna to continue our project exploring more of hidden Emilia-Romagna. But our short stay at Torre Fantini has put Tredozio on our list of places to return someday.


Breakfast at Torre Fantini


Take a look at EsteVillas website for details, more photos and booking information for Torre Fantini and other properties in this area.

Posted on Jan 18 2016

Written by Catherine Sweeney – Travelling with Sweeney

Manota Palazzo Te : Room of the Giants

Manota Palazzo Te : Room of the Giants

By  Eileen Ogintz

  • Published January 09, 2015·


After all, I’m staying in a palace — the Palazzo Castiglioni, which dates back to the Renaissance, located right across the piazza from the 500-room Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, Italy.

Where? That was my reaction when Kit Burns, whose company Doorways specializes in booking villa vacations to Italy, suggested we spend a few days in the palazzo that has been owned by the same family since the Renaissance, in a city just 40 minutes from Verona. (If you know your Shakespeare, you’ll know this is where Romeo came to buy the poison.)

Today you won’t find that many tourists here, but you will find the quintessential Italian experience — restaurants spilling out onto cobblestoned piazzas, locals starting their morning with a cafe, the weekly market that takes over the entire Piazza Sordello (we see it from our window) selling everything from socks to cheese and sausage. During the Renaissance, we learn, Mantua was famous for its music, art and the powerful Gonzaga family. I’m so glad we’re here but we nearly missed the opportunity. Burns acknowledges that suggesting visitors stop here can be a hard sell when there are so many more famous sites to see in Italy, but that makes Mantua (Mantova in Italian) all the more special. “It’s hard to find a place that’s off the beaten track in Italy,” Burns said. “Here you can immerse yourself in what was and what is.” Without tripping over other tourists, she adds.

skyline 2

At one time, Mantua rivaled Florence for its art. But sadly, the Austrians and then Napoleon stole much of it. There’s still amazing architecture and frescoes like the Camera Picta painted room in the Ducal Palace with huge wall paintings by Andrea Mantegna. There’s the amazing Biblena Theater where Mozart played as a young teen; In June, there is a music festival where chamber musicians play short pieces in the ancient rooms of the Ducal Palace.

I was nervous suggesting Mantua to the extended family traveling with us, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, I thought. The stop turned out to be a high point of the trip. We met Guido, Luisa and their father, Baldesar Castiglioni, whose family own the Palazzo Castiglioni where we stayed (a portrait of their ancestor by Raphael hangs in the Louvre right near the Mona Lisa). There are also impromptu pasta-making lessons in a tiny restaurant outside of town, the local Sbrisolona traditional tart, amazing frescoes in the Palazzo Te, the pleasure palace Federico II Gonzaga, a young duke, built for himself with the help of Raphael’s top pupil Giulio Romano, to get away from his mother — some things never change!

Most important, unlike other Italian cities packed with tourists and cruise passengers, the locals were genuinely glad to see us and show us their city. That’s why in 2015 I’m going to aim to get off the tourist track more — and I encourage all of you to do so as well. Of course, when you let the kids lead the way you always go in new and unexpected directions.

That doesn’t mean you’ll always find a hidden gem — like Mantua — but when you do, you remember why you’re traveling in the first place — to get out of your comfort zone and share something new with those you love most and, of course, eat great food!

Locanda Le Grazie Mntova

Locanda Le Grazie Mntova

“Come see our pasta maker,” said Daniela Bellintani, who with her husband, Fernando, owns the charming La Locanda delle Grazie in the village of Grazie just a few miles outside of Mantua. The pasta maker turned out to be Chef Fernando and three smiling young men who were happy to show us how they make the local specialties — the pumpkin ravioli, which we happily sample along with pasta with homemade duck ragout, an assortment of local salamis and ham and local Lambrusco wine.

“My father says if you don’t share your recipes, they just die with you,” says Anita Aldighieri, the couple’s daughter, explaining their plan to offer cooking classes, including those for families who will want to visit the Santa Maria del Grazie church. This is a church like none other you’ll visit — and one the kids will remember most. Even before the church was built in the 15th century, pilgrims came to pray for miracles. You’ll see the strangest statues of those whose prayers were heard — a man fished out of a well; another who couldn’t be hanged when a beam broke. Perhaps the strangest and what kids love most is the embalmed crocodile hanging from the ceiling that’s at least 500 years old.


Daniela Bellintani Le Grazie Restaurant

Daniela Bellintani Le Grazie Restaurant


Every August, thousands make a pilgrimage of a different sort here for a unique festival during which artists from around the world are chosen to create chalk paintings on 10-by-10-foot squares of pavement about something that relates to the miracle-making Madonna.


Mantova Palazzo Castiglioni in Piazza Sordello

Mantova Palazzo Castiglioni in Piazza Sordello

The Castiglioni family — Luisa owns a villa rental management company in Italy — has turned a few rooms of their palazzo into the most unique inn I’ve ever seen. (Think sleeping in a palace room — there is even one with an ancient fresco on the wall — but with all the modern conveniences and breakfast, starting at under $200 a night.) While they don’t want their city overrun with tourists, they certainly would like more people to discover its charms — like the Palazzo Te, which is considered one of the great Renaissance palaces.

Kids love the Hall of Horses with life-sized paintings of some of the young duke’s favorites from the 1520 and the astounding Chamber of the Giants with paintings that cover the walls and ceilings, telling the story of the fall of the giants who tried to climb Mount Olympus. When a big fire was going in this room, we’re told, with light playing on the walls, it was like a Renaissance 4-D experience.

It’s pretty great in the 21st century, too.

Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of Her new  Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando,  LA and Chicago. Coming  later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver


Where :  Mantua / Mantova  Lombardy Italy – Milano  189km/117ml ; Venice 159 km/85km

Palazzo Castiglioni

Palazzo Te viale Te 13 Mantova  Italy
Palazzo Ducale piazza Sordello 40 Mantova

Locanda delle Grazie

Address: Via San Pio X, 2, Grazie MN
Phone: +39 0376 348038


Exploring Florence with kids in tow is a great opportunity to discover things we wouldn’t have noticed in an adults-only traveling party.

Palazzo Vechhio

Palazzo Vechhio

The Palazzo Vecchio Family Museum offers a number of attractions for children of all ages.

One such tour is Life at Court: An itinerary through the rooms – and through centuries – to discover the history of the Palazzo’s many masterpieces.

Today Palazzo Vecchio is a museum but during the sixteenth century it was the residence of Duke Cosimo I de Medici, his wife Eleonora de Toledo and their eleven sons.

At the end of the guided visit you can wear a cape or an overcoat, shoes and hats of the sixteenth century and even enjoy playing with some of the princes’ toys.

Children’s tour at Palazzo Vecchio – Florence by Jane Black

Whilst staying at La Novellina in Chianti with our young children aged 4 and 7, we were highly impressed with the number of fantastic children’s activities available to us in the surrounding area.

One of the highlights was our trip to Palazzo Vecchio in the center of Florence, where the

children were able to dress up in traditional Renaissance costumes.  My daughter loved the dresses and shoes of a true Renaissance lady, whilst my son could not choose which sword he liked best as a knight.


The first room we entered was full of costumes and the kids could pick and choose which ones they liked best. There were also some original and very old costumes (antiques) that they could look at and ask about, but not touch! The children were able to spend plenty of time trying on several different costumes, which was such fun.

After we had finished dressing up, the friendly English-speaking guide then organized a tour around the palazzo for the children, which was very interesting and interactive. They explained what used to happen in each room to the kids and how the people used to behave. They also showed the kids where the wives used to spy on their husbands through little holes in the walls and also where they used to eaves drop on conversations so they thought they had an idea of what was going on around them.

The children learned a lot about history and to this day (12 months later) still talk about the experience. It was not expensive and a wonderful way to spend a few hours in Florence with children. We highly recommend this to families staying around Tuscany.

-Jane Black, Italian Villa Vacations


The Palazzo tour was created for adults and families with children from 6 to 10 years of age. 
It’s available in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Maximum number of participants: 25

Duration: 75 minutes

Where: Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Price: (2014):

€12,00 (25-65 years)

€10,00 (18-25 and >65 years)

€2,00 (<18 years)

Duration: 70 min.

Schedules: Everyday at 3.00pm; on Saturdays and Sundays at 11.30am and 3.00pm

For private individuals
 Tel. +39 055 2768224 – +39 055 2768558

Monday to Saturday 9:30am – 1pm and 2:30pm – 5pm.

Sundays and Bank Holidays 9:30am – 12:30am

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved