Wouldn’t you like to spend a holiday in a place which was regularly frequented by Princess Margaret and currently visited by other members of the royal family as well as the Dutch royals? Wouldn’t you fancy getting into an aristocratic mood, in a castle which dates back to the fourteenth century and can boast its very own ghost? You would? It can be done!
Rivalta, situated in Piacenza territory, is less than two hours away from us, and is well worth a visit if you are in a romantic mood. A gorgeous little hamlet, it retains all the charm of its origins, and lies beyond the grounds of a sumptuous castle residence. Historical documents testify its presence here as far back as in 1048, but from the 14th century onwards, it fell into the domain of the powerful Landi family. To this day, the castle is still property of the Conti Zanardi – Landi ….a branch of the same family.
The hamlet itself is a tiny gem, but despite its quaint olde-worlde appearance, 12 luxury hotel rooms are available in an adjacent structure, as well as several picturesque cottages, dotted around the village; the perfect atmosphere in which to spend romantic nights. Two restaurants, a caffé and a spa complete the array of services offered. But these features are all simply secondary complements to the real attraction, which is the beautiful castle. Set in a large stretch of grounds, the entrance leads to a central open court, surrounded by balconies, rooms and stairways. We strongly suggest a guided tour, because each environment comes to life if the visit is accompanied by historical explanations and anecdotes, rather than roaming cluelessly around. Only a portion of the castle is open to the public, since the rest is currently inhabited by the afore-mentioned family, but the 45 minute long tour is more than enough to get a good idea of past mentality and living habits.
It begins by ascending a stairway leading to the first floor, where all the rooms face onto the covered balcony surrounding the court. The first one, a long narrow corridor- like space, now exhibits an assortment of musical instruments, but in the past, was apparently divided into many small parlours, in which various subjects were discussed. Each parlour a different subject, so the noble conversers would never be bored! Another large salon was dedicated to discussions on property, and a large table at the centre served as a base on which to move a number of “chips” around. The chips corrisponded to the properties of the participants, who would shift them according to their transactions ( a sort of Wall St!), confortably seated on the couches around the salon, with very long batons. Back in the day, they were obviously not partial to excercise….
Then of course, a famous bedroom. Princess Margaret was a friend of this family, and would come and spend time every year at Rivalta. In fact, she was assigned her own bedroom, which is the only one (amongst the visitable rooms), that had a very small bathroom installed in a corner, especially for her highness. Bathrooms were not contemplated back then! There are photos of the Princess with members of the family, and of other popular personalities, placed here and there. One thing that springs to the eye is the length of the beds – they are so much shorter than ours today! The reason is that in those times, nobles (and not only) slept practically sitting up. It was believed that only the dead lay completely flat, so on the one hand this habit was based on supersticion, but on the other, they preferred to be in a position of “alert” should it be necessary to get up quickly in case of invasion!
Features which leave no doubts as to the importance given to human lives in the dark ages, are the deep well, down which unfortunate prisoners were thrown, and the cells in which they were imprisoned. No love lost there – tiny, cold, dark spaces where men could be left to rot if the lord of the manor so desired. On a lighter note however, the Landi’s loved their banquets and wine; an enormous salon, with the most beautiful wood coffered ceiling, gigantic fireplace and coat of arms proudly displayed on the wall, cannot fail to put the visitor in a state of awe. The salon is available for events such as weddings and such. Underneath this, a huge, antique winepress dominates the cellar in which wine was made and stacked.
The kitchen deserves a mention, a museum of antique “appliances” used in the day, some of which were very fanciful! But even more worthy of mention is the legend of Giuseppe – the ghost. Giuseppe was the court’s head cook, and an excellent one at that. In fact it seems that his prowess in the kitchen led him to an untimely death, provoked by jealousy. He was stabbed, strangled and thrown down the well, but he never rested……it is said that, to this very day, he can be heard drifting around the castle, lights will go on and off at their own will, or electrical appliances turn on when there is no electricity…….
For military enthusiasts, the castle hosts an exposition exhibiting 90 uniforms ranging from the risorgimento to the second world war, and last but not least, the breathtaking panorama from the tower reaches across the River Trebbia and far beyond the plains. A truly enchanting place, mingling history with mystery.