That Thing I Tried: Biking to a Castle in Vigoleno, Italy

Vigoleno, Italy, Photo: Julie Santini

When someone asks me, “Hey! Wanna bike 10 miles to visit a castle?”, I now know my answer is “Yes!”

On a Thursday morning, Barbara (Chicago) and I meet at 9am to take a train from Reggio Emilia to Fidenza, to then bike to Vigoleno.

We buy our train tickets on Wednesday and learn there’s a 3.50 EUR surcharge to take a bike on the train. Realistically, tickets rarely get checked, but better be safe than sorry.

Here’s the view from the road:

View from the Road, Photo: Julie Santini

View from the Road, Photo: Julie Santini

About 3km before getting to the castle, we pause to admire all the grape in this wine country.

Grapes in Wine Country, Photo: Julie Santini

Grapes in Wine Country, Photo: Julie Santini

As a biking destination, there should be a trail. We do not use said trail. A woman sees our sun beaten selves and assures us the castle is just a minute away. A few meters later, a woman and her daughter who live on the side of the castle point us further up. It’s the trail I imagine Robert Frost was referring to when he wrote “The Road Less Traveled”, and up it goes, steeply. We drag our bikes up the way. For this, I adopt Kimmy Schmidt’s “just get through the next 10 seconds” and count to ten repeatedly the whole way up. Once at the top, there are stairs. Then, at the top, there are more stairs. I stick with the Kimmy Schmidt mantra, but look at this view!!

This View! Photo: Julie Santini

This View! Photo: Julie Santini

Finally at the real top, an Italian man and young boy sitting outside of a restaurant ask where we’re from. He’s astonished when I tell him we trekked from Reggio Emilia, even if a chunk of it was by train. I could have sworn passing them on the road. I whip out my Italian and ask how they made it up, “Is there a road?” He responds by telling me there are several roads. I tell him about the stairs and his face drops. The sincerest “Enjoy your lunch” comes from him as we make our way into the restaurant, Taverna al Castello.

The things that went into my mouth, I am not worthy of! (–take that as you will.)
I mean, LOOK AT THIS!!

I order fiochetti con formaggio e pere, which is essentially pasta stuffed with cheese and pear. I could eat this the rest of my life. The wine comes in the pitcher pictured below and is served in bowls. We ask the waiter why it’s served this way and he mentions the original owner of the restaurant when it was another restaurant served his wine in wooden bowls, so it’s their way of maintaining a unique tradition.

Yum! Yum! Photo: Julie Santini

Yum! Yum! Photo: Julie Santini

We decide on dessert. I ask the second server which dessert he would order before he dies and he recommends the tiramisu. (I was hoping he would say that.) I overhear an older man at the table behind us reading the dessert menu and getting disgruntled in Italian. “Tiramisu and Tiramisu with coconut! No! You get normal tiramisu!” He catches me giggle at his outburst and I inform him, I am ordering normal tiramisu and none of that coconut business. Don’t tell my grandma, but it was to die for.

Tiramisu, Photo: Julie Santini

Tiramisu, Photo: Julie Santini

Until this, I really believed grandma was the only one who knew how to do it right.

We pay and finally make it out to explore. We pop into a shop where a woman lets us sample a digestive. I’m mostly distracted by her dog, Billy. She and Barbara turn the corner of the shop to find me lying on the floor with him.

We make our way to the castle museum where Barbara is most excited about the torture chamber. The entrance has prisons:

Castle Prisons, Photo: Julie Santini

Castle Prisons, Photo: Julie Santini

And the torture chamber has a guillotine from 1300. This leaves me surprisingly less freaked than I expected.

Guillotine, Photo: Julie Santini

Guillotine, Photo: Julie Santini

We go into a second museum, circus museum. Pictures are prohibited, unfortunately.

There’s another little shop next door. Barbara works in a wine store and gets into a sincere discussion with the shopkeeper who speaks fluent English. They gush over the preciousness of this particular bottle. Only about 1000 are produced per year. We each buy a bottle. The vineyard was on the way to the castle.

After going back to the restaurant for a coffee boost, we take the bikes back down the mountain and stop at the winery about two kilometres down. Barbara asks if we can see where they make the wine. An older woman, Liliana, who is the brains of the operation very willingly obliges. We tell her we each just bought a bottle of her vin Santo. Here are photos from the tour:

Wine Country, Photo: Julie Santini

Wine Country, Photo: Julie Santini

More Wine Country, Photo: Julie Santini

More Wine Country, Photo: Julie Santini

She runs it with her husband and son, though they do occasionally hire extra hands to harvest the grape.

We thank her and bike the 16km back to the train station.

Sweaty, but surprising less pooped than expected. Just super happy. Cheers!

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