Journey from Villagio Sanghen wasn’t too far (126 miles) and mostly by the Autostrada but longish stops first at Lidl and then a motorway service station for lunch saw us arrive at Dozza in the Emilia-Romagna Region much later than we expected. Rather than rush around the place, we decided to spend the night in the Van on a very quiet and secluded car park on the west side of Dozza and leave the trip to the coast until the next day. That gave us time to properly explore the town during what was left of the afternoon and then return in the evening for a meal in a local restaurant.
Not far from Imola, Dozza is a small hilltop town overlooking the Sellustra Valley. It’s houses are built along the lines of old castle walls in a long thin shape which taper at both ends, almost like a spindle. At the eastern end of the spindle is an entry arch and at the western end, connected by two almost parallel cobbled streets, is the Rocca Sforzesca – Rocca Fortress. It is almost wholly pedestrianised with only the locals who live between the entry arch and the castle allowed to drive in the town.
It is magical – a medieval village doubling as an open air art gallery. More than 100 (some say 200) brightly coloured frescoes decorate it’s houses, shops and municipal buildings. There’s an abundance of colour everywhere you look but it is not graffiti style street art; it is far more. It is all to do with the “Biennale del Muro Dipinto”, a festival of painted walls which takes place in September every two years and which sees famous national and international artists descend on the town to paint permanent works on the walls of publicly and privately owned buildings. It is a street art museum and quite wonderful. Sod’s law – It’s been taking place every two years since 1960 and it was supposed to take place this year but it is a casualty of Covid.
Not just murals…
It cost 5 euros but I just had to pop into the Rocca Sforzesca (Rocca Fortress). The original fortress was built 1250 but extended significantly some 250 years later and then remodelled again in the 16th century when the Malvezzi-Campeggi family sought to transform it into more of a dwelling place than a castle. Most of what you can see now is 15th century. With the exception of the dungeon and the kitchen which are packed with their respective fixtures and fittings the inside of the castle is quite sparsely furnished but there is enough there to provide a real mood about the place and everything is authentic.
Views across the countryside from the top of the fortress are breathtaking and the light was, I imagine, an artists dream. Although dotted with small woods of Oak, Chestnut and Ash the rolling countryside is largely cultivated with a mix of wheat fields, strawberry plantations, apricot and peach orchards and, of course dominating everything, an abundance of grape vines. This is the land of the Sangiovese and Trebbiano di Romagna reds and the Albana and Pignoletto white wine. Vanya will be interested in the Pignoletto (Grechetto) which is this Region’s Sparkling Wine or Frizzante. Not to be confused with Spumante, “Frizzante is softer, rounder and has frothier bubbles” or so I am told.
Talking of wine, the basement of the fortress holds an Enoteca (regular readers of this blog will perhaps recall the Enoteca I visited in Tuscany 2 years ago – that one cost me a small fortune). We were more prudent this time – just 4 bottles; 3 for Vanya and 1 for me.
That evening we left the dogs sleeping in the van for a couple of hours while we walked back into Dozza for something to eat. The cuisine in this region, Emilia-Romagna, is considered among the best in Italy. Particular products include Parma Ham (Prosciutto), Parmisan Cheese, Modena Balsamic Vinegar and some famous Tagliatelle Pasta dishes that Vanya was keen to try.
We found a very welcoming trattoria, Osteria di Dozza, with the chef coming out of the kitchen to explain the dishes (we cannot read Italian and the rest of the staff could not handle English). We chose a local cheese board to start with and then Vanya went for the Tagliatelle while I opted for grilled leg of mutton with garlic & rosemary potatoes.
The town was as magical in the evening as during the day…
What is most amazing about Dozza is that it is not at all touristy. There are no coachloads of tourists (we appeared to be the only visitors in the place during both the afternoon and evening) and absolutely no souvenir shops. It remains a simple village without any of the chaos and stress that now seems a part of everyday life. I do hope we find more like this one.