A place in the North of Italy that almost feels like Tuscany: the lush greenery of the hills, the purity of nature, the chance to eat good and genuine food and to taste excellent wines while passing by medieval villages that remained the same year after year. Not so distant from Pavia and Milan, the Oltrepò Pavese is a location that will surprise you with its astonishing yet low profile charme.
Oltrepò Pavese is composed by the districts of the area of Pavia that lay in the south of Po’ river, set between the area of Piacenza (Emilia Romagna) and the Tortonese (Piedmont). It is worth to visit the Oltrepò just driving your car, going south and stopping by one of the villages that you can find on the route, nestled between fields and valleys. No matter if you finally take a break in a little district of around 300 inhabitants that looks stuck at the beginning of last century: skepticism will make way for amazement, and it will be impossible not to fall in love with the landscapes all around you.
MUST SEE PLACES IN OLTREPO’ PAVESE
Fortunago counts only 380 inhabitants, yet it is in the circuit of the most beautiful villages of Italy. Immersed in a unique landscape, it’s a medieval village that has preserved its own characteristics and rural traditions.
The path of the Sentiero della Rocca leads through almost the whole village; at the end you’ll reach San Giorgio’s church, with its mesmerising panorama. The alleys wind through rock walls, and the atmosphere in this little piece of world is one of a kind. Try to dive inside of it.
In a very small hamlet of Fortunago, Costa Galeazzi, in 2007 a very ambitious project has been launched: the Azienda Agricola Viviana Vignandel – “La Casa di Paglia”.
Thanks to complete respect for the environment, La Casa di Paglia is a great example of eco-building. Also, agriculture here is 100% natural, synergic, characterized by the no-work of the soil. The products born in the garden are transformed into jams with crazy names and other tasty products, ready to be eaten while you’re laying on the ground and you’re filling you eyes of the panorama in front of you.
The ideal destination for sunny Sundays. From a meteorological point of view, it looks like Monte Penice is always in a state of grace. Equipped for ski lovers in winters, with nothing to envy to the Alps, it is always fresh, even in the warmest summers. That’s the reason why it is particularly recommended for family’s day trips, with pic-nics into the greenery and a panoramic spot of excellence, or for long walks through conifer woods and oaks, discovering a pure and untouched natural habitat.
One of the most popular itineraries is the medieval path for the Santuario of Monte Penice. It connects Bobbio to the shrine of Santa Maria, at 1460m. above sea level, tracing the border between Lombardia and Emilia Romagna.
The Thermal baths of Salice, used since the roman period, boast two different kinds of water: a iodine rich water, and a sulfurous one, both with healthy action on some specific types of diseases or to be used for aesthetic and psychological motives.
Lido di Salice is a must: located inside the Park of Salice Terme, it is the best place to soak up the sun and relax even in the most crowded days; also, during the evening, happy hours and parties are hosted side of the pool.
Salice has become a meeting place for young people of the district of Pavia, and therefore a lot of pubs and clubs are open for dancing all summer long.
During the afternoon, or for the happy hour, you can not miss a break into the Sala dei Gelati (Via delle Terme, n.41), an elegant space where you can taste handcrafted ice-cream with fresh ingredients of superior quality, drink a cocktail made with season’s fruits or make your day sweeter having a slice of cake or some cookies from artisan patisserie. In the evening, especially in summer, concerts and Dj’s sets are organized.
And if you came for thermal baths, you are going to stay and visit the town. Godiasco Salice Terme is fascinating, a medieval village where it is still possible to see the towers of the XIII century and the famous Malaspina’s Palace.
At the bottom of Monte Penice, Varzi erects itself, a small village of about 3383 inhabitants. Its popularity is in part due to nationally renown local product: the salami of Varzi.
Varzi was founded in the X century, and there time seems to have stopped, attracting in this way both a naturalistic and historical tourism. Relevant sites are the San Colombano’s church, of 1600s, and the medieval Malaspina’s castle. During summer the municipality organizes a lot of cultural events, moments of aggregation, both for local people and for tourists.
To bring home a tasty piece of your journey, it is worth to go La Bottega del Pastaio. This typical food shop also sells fresh, handmade pasta, including traditional ravioli filled with brasato meat.
A must see of the Oltrepò Pavese, beside the marvelous landscape, are the castles. Zavattarello is literally dominated by Castel Dal Verme, built during the X century and now open to the public. Climbing on its towers it is possible to see the panorama all around the village, today a natural park of about 79 hectares. Every year, in autumn, there is the chance to take part into an intriguing Tour of Mystery, discovering the history, the legends and even the paranormal researches made in the castle.
Zavattarello is considered one of the most beautiful village of Italy and you will soon understand why by walking through its streets and exploring its alleys.
WHERE TO EAT IN OLTREPO’ PAVESE
Loc. Bagarello, 5, 27047 Montecalvo Versiggia, Italy
Farmhouses are the best places to taste excellent local and handmade food while relaxing and enjoying some rustic atmosphere. The Agriturismo Bagarellum offers different kinds of handmade dishes at small prices. Local cold cuts and ravioli filled with brasato are really tasty, and everything should be accompanied by a good wine from the Oltrepò, DOC.
Agriturismo Ra Cànva da Berto
Fraz.Bognassi, 13, 27057 Varzi, Italy
Traditional dishes made with care and passion for good food by the chef, Miss Maria Adelaide Giorgetti, the great niece of the farmhouse’s founder. Excellent meat, spareribs and tip of ox cooked in a wood oven above all, ravioli and, of course, salami. Reservation is a must in this temple of big dishes with a even-too-reasonable price/quality comparison. In addiction, the landscape is unbelievable.
Località Sasseo, 3 Santa Maria della Versa 27047, Italy
Deep into the hills rests Sasseo, founded on an ancient stones cave. The restaurant has a spectacular setting: a structure from the 1700s, completely restructured. With its wide spaces, it’s ideal for ceremonies and jobs meeting.
The chef proposes a menù that matches traditional plates with culinary experimentation, from fish to meat, from soups to handmade pasta. Unmissable gem: the wine cellars from the 1200s, designed also for a taste itinerary. They host a wide range of different wines from all over Italy, with a particular attention for the wines of Pavia’s hills.
Via Bernini 89-91, Casteggio, PV, Italy
In comparison with the medieval villages, Casteggio looks like a modern city. Near its centre there is the restaurant SantoPalato, a small and friendly place with modest furniture characterized by a french inspiration, with wooden tables and colorful paintings on the wall.
The menù makes use of the products belonging to the four areas that surround the Oltrepò, Lombardia, Emilia Romagna, Piemonte and Liguria, and in each plate the chef proposes a sensory path. Here tradition joins the contemporary techniques; particularly interesting are meats cooked vacuum-sealed, with a low temperature, a method that makes them really soft, keeping all the taste inside.
Loc. Boccapane, Pometo, PV, Italia
Traditional cuisine, with genuine farm-to-table ingredients. As a rustic place, the Boccapane welcomes its guests inside the Agriturismo or outside, in the new portico. The local products are severely selected, together with special types of cheese. The manufacturing is followed in each part by the family direction of the farmhouse. The restaurant is available on the weekends on reservation and the menu is different each week, following the available ingredients of the period. Just to be sure to let people try only the best.
WINE CELLARS OF THE OLTREPO’ PAVESE
Wines from the Oltrepò Pavese are prestigious and famous all over Italy, red and full-bodied, fruity, white, muscats, DOC.
From Bonarda to Chardonnay, a tour of the cellars is unmissable to explore the flavours of this land.
Santa Maria della Versa. Wine point: Montescano, Via Pianazza 4, PV, Italy
The company La Versa boast a tradition that started in 1905. A history made of passion and hard work that thoroughly represents such a charming land.
In the heart of the Valle Versa, important point for the plantation of grapevines and for the DOC wine production, the starting point of the company is the famous Pinot Nero, of which La Versa is one of the most significant maker. In the Montescano Wine Point you can buy the Versa’s “grapes-juice”, and so discover the taste of the hills in a bottle.
Località Travaglino, 27045 Calvignano, PV, Italy
Founded in 1111, Travaglino has a great history and tradition in the production of local wines. But the star here is surely the Pinot Nero.
The ranch is a place full of history and magic, of aromas and noises of the manufacturing. It’s possible to visit it with a guided tour or with a taste itinerary, comprehensive of five different wines accompanied by local cheese and cold-cuts. The ranch extends itself for 400 hectares and it includes vine-variety of Pinot Nero, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay and many more.
Località Cabanon, 1, 27052 Godiasco Salice Terme, PV, Italy
Cabanon wine claim a great popularity, reaching different prices for the high quality of its products. The farm Cabanon has a family direction and is currently run by Giovanni, Elena and their little Gregorio. Thanks to a deep respect for the environment, Cabanon succeeded in obtaining from the Lombardia district the status of BIO for its wines, being now the only specialized farm with this characteristic. It is through wine that Cabanon wants to communicate with us, to tell us its hard work full of passion that starts from the plantation of very different vine-variety and leads to specific and unique wines and grappa.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN OLTREPO’ PAVESE
La Corte di Nando
Fraz. Ranzi, 4, 27057 Varzi, Italy
This Bed & Breakfast will be like your second home in the hills. A familiar place in which you can drink while laying on a chair, listening to the sounds of nature and even cook pizza and focaccia in a wood oven available for every guest. Located near Varzi, it could be the starting point to wonder all around Oltrepò, finally coming back home and enjoying the fascination of a timeless place.
La Torretta di Sotto – The Country Corner
Soriasco, 111, 27047 Santa Maria della Versa, Italy
Patrizia is the owner of this super friendly Bed & Breakfast, and she knows exactly what her guests are looking for: an Italian country house, surrounded by vineyards and just below the medieval tower.
The Country Corner is an oasis adorned with fruits trees, ducks and chickens; sometimes it hosts special events for children, as the falconry ones starting from April. Breakfast is served every morning, a special moment to taste the flavours of the land, to smell the scent of pure air, to stare at the sun and finally restart breathing.
Il Melo Rosso
Località Cà de Vecchi, 1, 27040 Fortunago, PV, Italy
The Melo Rosso is located in the little medieval village of Fortunago. With greenery surrounding it, it’s the perfect place to spend some time “out of the world”. The companions of your journey in Melo Rosso are the sounds: far away from the noises of the city, leaving the screams of the screens behind, the only thing you will hear is the voice of nature. Inside of the Agriturismo there is also an excellent restaurant, with handmade food prepared using local ingredients, and the location, with wide and stunning spaces, is perfect for public or personal events.