Have you ever had a place, a secret place that you don’t want to share with anyone because it is such a wonderful find?
I have such a place, and I decided it was time to stop being selfish and tell you about it.
The first time we heard the name Castell’Arquato was in 2013, from our foodie field trip guide, Angelo. He told us he was from a small town called Castell’Arquato- just 1 valley over from where we were exploring that day in Emilia-Romagna.
We had never heard of it and were in the first few hazy months of living in Italy. I wasn’t skilled yet in writing + saving every little detail down that someone told me. So I promptly forgot that name and went on with my cheese exploring day with Angelo.
Almost a year later, in the spring of 2014 Chris and I decided to take a day trip to someplace new. As usual, we weren’t sure where to go, but finally decided on a little town one of his co-workers had mentioned- Castell’Arquato.
And 1 hour later we were HERE.
It was one of those days when we set out just to get out and explore and turns out, we fell in love.
We spent the rest of the day driving each other mad saying things like…
“OH MY WORD THIS IS INCREDIBLE” and “I cannot believe we haven’t been here before.”
Now I know that we are easily excited about finding beautiful places everywhere we go, but this place truly deserves every bit of our excitement.
Castell’Arquato is a beautiful medieval town in the Piacenza hills, 30 kilometers southwest of Piacenza. (and about 100 kilometers from the center of Milan)
It is a very special place, full of beautiful stone buildings and towers, a view out over the green hills, fields, and vineyards, and the most gorgeous little-frescoed chapel I have seen in my whole life.
We have since returned several more times, and have even taken some friends with us and shared it with them. And you know what? We didn’t feel bad at all sharing our secret. It was fun to see it through their eyes.
When you go, you must stay for lunch and try the typical Piacentini specialties, including this delicious local dish- Pisarei e fasò.
Pisarei e fasò are tiny dumplings made of bread and flour, then added to beans in a creamy tomato sauce. Definitely a peasant dish, this is rustic comfort food at its best which reminded me of something an Italian grandmother would make.
Other local specialties to try are the tortelli Piacentini, and Gutturnio- the local red wine that you can get frizzante, (fizzy) or ferme (still). We love Casa Benna vineyards “Gutturnio Classico Riserva” which you can buy directly from the family. (details below)
At Ristorante La Rocca, I love that they have a tasting menu, always my favorite because you get to try small amounts of different things! They will bring you an antipasti plate to start (meat usually but vegetarian on request) and then several local dishes to try. This charming restaurant is right on the main Piazza of Castell’Arquato.
Our other favorite place, (the favorite of the favorites) is Ristorante Maps, which is in the lower town, closer to where we usually park. It is a must go place, and I’m already
plotting planning when I can go back. We took our friends who were visiting us in Milan last summer and we were all sighing with happiness when we had a long leisurely lunch there. Every single thing we ordered, was delicious and we loved trying the unique cuisine to the area. The walls are filled with colorful art and the atmosphere is just cozy and happy. You will love it!
My best-kept secret of our whole time in Italy.
Let me know if you go, and what you think!
EAT + DRINK
Our favorite restaurant so far, this is a very special place in the lower town well worth the detour. The atmosphere is gorgeous with beamed ceilings and interesting colorful art. Plan your visit to arrive at lunch and eat here then walk up the hill to the upper town- or vice versa, visit the upper town and then end your day having a fantastic meal at Maps before heading out. Make sure to try some of their unique starters, and definitely the Pisarei. I can’t wait to return!
Beautiful restaurant in the heart of old Castell’Arquato, with several dining rooms and a view out over the rooftops. We loved their degustazione menu (tasting menu) at lunch. It felt very homey and family like when the waitress brought the pans of pasta out and dished out servings to each table. A really fun touch.
Right next to the Rocca Viscontea, Falconiere has a gorgeous screened in patio overlooking the rooftops. This is the first place we every tried and fell in love with the tortelli Piacentini and the Gutturnio from Casa Benna.
Casa Benna Winery, Call ahead for hours. It is a family run business, and not a touristy spot. You can stop by and purchase wine by the bottle or the case directly from the wine makers. Really reasonable prices for the quality of wine they produce.
SEE + DO
ROCCA VISCONTEA DI CASTELL’ARQUATO
The view from the top is to die for. The climb up is easy and since this is now a medieval museum, there are artifacts and things to look at all the way up. Small entrance fee to climb the tower and see the museum.
Giardini Giovanni Paolo
Next to the tower is a beautiful little park with trees, flowers, benches, a fountain and incredible views of the countryside.
COLLEGIATA DI SANTA MARIA (COLLEGIATE CHURCH)
A beautiful small Romanesque church dating from the early 12th century. The original church is said to have been built in 758, and nothing remains of the original building except the medieval well-preserved baptismal font.
My favorite part of visiting this church is the gloriously frescoed chapel of Saint Caterina d’Alessandria, built and painted in the early 15th century.
FREE ENTRANCE, small fee (coins) to light up the chapel.
Museo della Collegiata
Next to the entrance of the church lies this small museum of religious artifacts from the area. SMALL ENTRANCE FEE.
We use the free parking by the river at the bottom of the town (see map for location) and then walk up the hill to the upper town.
There are free public bathrooms near Taverna del Falconiere + the tower (down the steps by the gate)
The Movie “Ladyhawke” (1985) with Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer was filmed in part in Castell’Arquato, along with other locations in Italy.