Driving south out of Piacenza and heading down towards Genoa through the mountains of Emilio Romagna, ones passes through stunningly beautiful scenery and lovely villages unspoilt by tourism. One of these little gems is Bobbio, surrounded by a mountainous backdrop and bordered on one side by the River Trebbia. Stretching across the river is the Ponte Vecchio o Gobbo an ancient roman bridge which combines a gentle stroll across the river with far reaching views across the countryside and the town of Bobbio which is dominated by the impressive Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The bridge is also known as the ‘Hunchback’ due to the irregularity of its shape. The bridge is 280 meters long with 11 arches, all of different heights. Legend has it that the bridge was built by the Devil in one night after making a pact with the Irish Saint Columban, who had promised him the soul of the first passer-by. On completion the saint sent across a dog! From the main road a short walk takes you up to the town and turning into a narrow alleyway at the Ristorante Dei Cacciatori will take you into the main square of the Piazza del Duomo. The facade of the cathedral is impressive and upon entering there is a welcome cool interior after the heat of the summer sunshine outside. The interior of the cathedral is wonderfully ornate, the paintings and stucco on the ceilings is well worth the trip here alone. To the rear of the high altar is a chapel and under the altar is the body of St.Antonio Maria Gianelli. Born in Cerreta di Carro in 1789 he came to Bobbio in 1838 to head the Diocese. The Cathedral was built in the XI century and in the St.John chapel is a wonderful fresco from the second half of the XV century representing the Annunciation.
A market is held in the square on Saturday mornings and the stalls spread out along other streets throughout the town, the stalls in the Piazza del Duomo contain locally grown fruits and vegetables and there is also a mouthwatering array of meats, sausages and cheeses. Along the side streets stalls contain clothes, bags, beddings, towels and shoes all providing a welcome distraction as you wander along and it is easy to spend the full morning browsing and taking in the tastes and smells of this bustling market. Back out in the Piazza there are restaurants at the opposite side looking towards the cathedral and leading off here is the Contrada Di Porta Nova along where you can find small cafes and shops of all descriptions. There are clothes shops, greengrocers selling locally grown produce, shoe shops, opticians, butchers and of course bakers selling the most delicious looking cakes and varieties of breads. The buildings along this street have been lovingly restored with original materials and one can see the effort and thought that have gone into keeping the ambience of the place true. At the end of the Contrada Di Porta Nova it opens out into the Piazza S.Francesco surrounded by restaurants and Pizzerias, a large fountain sits in the middle and glistens welcomingly in the hot summer sun. A tourist information office is just across the road, as are a newspaper and magazine stand and a large book stand. Following the road around the outside of the town there is a large terraced, and newly built, car park. The road overlooks gardens filled with vegetables, salads and fruits of all descriptions. Near to the Piazza S.Francesco stands the Santuario della Madonna dell’Aiuto which encloses the remains of the XV century church with the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary – in 1611, it was said to have dripped with water from the forehead.
Set behind the shops and buildings of the busy part of the town is the peaceful Piazza Santa Fara and here you will find the Abbey of St.Columbanus, which is open to the public, also the Basilica of St.Columbanus which was built between 1456 and 1522. In the Basilica there are beautiful works of art and the marble sarcophagus of St. Columban. In this place there is also situated the Abbey Museum and the Town Museum.
On the hill overlooking the town of Bobbio there is the XIV century castle. From here there is a wonderful view of Bobbio.
The gastronomy of this area is greatly influenced by the different traditions of neighbouring regions such as Liguria, Piemonte, Lombardia and Emilia. Local specialities include the famous snails, a great delicacy of Christmas Eve in the area, and ‘maccheroni’ a hand-made pasta done with the aid of knitting needles and served with a rich beef stew. Almonds dominate the desserts, look out for the almond cakes or ‘croccante’ a kind of almond sweetmeat. In the right season look for dishes which include produce from the surrounding fields and forests such as mushrooms and truffles. Local wines are excellent and of good quality. It is said that the vines were planted by the same monks that accompanied St.Columbanus and that the wine production was restarted after it had been abandoned in the middle ages.
Near to the town on the opposite side of the main road is a large parking area where it is possible to park up with motorhomes, from here it is an easy walk up to the centre of the town. One can cool down in the crystal clear waters of the river Trebbia either in the flowing waters cascading over the large rocks or in the ‘pool’ which has been specially dug out next to the river where you are able to swim as you cool down. Further along the main road and across a small bridge there is a campsite which offers cool, shaded pitches and easy access to the river. The town has several good hotels which offer accomodation for those arriving by car.
Marco Bellocchio, an acclaimed director who spent his childhood and summer holidays in Bobbio, chose the city as the set of some of his best films, and established Bobbio Film Festival and Laboratorio di Fare Cinema there.
Trofeo – Bobbio-Passo Penice
There is excitement during the summer when the free-kit classic car rally takes place amid breathtaking scenery and sees the cars climb from Bobbio, in the Val Trabbia, up to the highest pass in the provence of Piacenza. This was conceived as the historical re-enactment of the pioneering Bobbio-Passo Penice from the late 1920s.
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