The rice road
Countryside full of water and rice paddies illuminated by the sun
The rice road
Flat, ploughed countryside,cut by rivers and irrigation canals, lightened from May to September, by the reflection of the water on the rice-fields. This is the landscape that accompanies you when you pass through that part of the province of Mantua which lies between river Mincio and the border of Lombardy and Veneto. Once, during the late spring and summer months, one used to hear the voices of the rice pickers singing about their toils. Today one still hears the songs of the birds which have chosen the rice-fields as their habitat, and the inviting sounds of the numerous country fairs, which celebrate rice in its many forms.
This is a land where the bond of rice with water, which renders its cultivation possible, has very strong and very ancient roots; the rural architecture, in particular the numerous rice farms with their outdoor threshing-floors, the landing places for barges, the desiccation plants and the "pile" (the place where rice is refined); the wet environment of the rice-field with its intense life; the gastronomy, which has rendered "unique" the very techniques, ancient and loved, of the preparation of rice in the valuable variety cultivated here, Vialone nano. Everything, here, speaks of rice and water.
We therefore propose an itinerary for the discovery of the "rice road" and of its riches, which winds for about 200 kilometres. You can travel along the countryside by car, bicycle or on horseback, pause at the farms and the little churches.You can stop and buy rice directly from the producers, try the traditional local recipes or discover new rice dishes in the numerous small local restaurants. Let yourself be carried along a route where you’ll find a landscape bathed in a "sea" of green, with ancient farms of extraordinary charm. If you want to savour the pleasure of brief stops along the route, nothing is better than to pause in one of the holiday farms situated along or not far from the "rice road".
The Western part of the rice road crosses and flanks, for the most part, the "Mincio Park", the main natural reserve in the province of Mantua, which extends from Ponti sul Mincio in the north as far as Sustinente in the south.
The journey begins from the exit of the A 22 motorway at Mantova nord. Going towards San Giorgio in a place called Ghisiolo, there is Corte Costavecchia, an example of classic Mantuan rural architecture on the left of the Mincio, characterized by its large threshing-floor and surrounded by a ditch on three sides for the landing of rice – barges.
At Gazzo, Corte Carpaneta there is a "pila", today inactive. At Stradella, continuing along the provincial road in the direction of Roncoferraro, there is on the left, Corte Motta,of Gonzagan origin, and the "pila" of Il Galeotto, named after the first owner, Francesco Galeotti, and active since 1765. At Cadé, in the church of Saints Filippo and Giacomo, there is the painting of "Madonna della risaia" ( Madonna of the rice-field).
Continuing towards Roncoferraro, you`ll arrive at the small village of Villa Garibaldi with the nineteenth century Villa Nuvolari, and Villa Ramaschi from the sixteenth century. At Roncoferraro, the most important centre of the Mantauan rice-growing, you can admire Corte Grande, consisting of a country house with its wings from the nineteenth century and a large rice threshing-floor. Of particular interest is the "Rice Museum", opened on appointment. In the gardens near Corte Grande there is the monument to the rice-picker, a contemporary work by B. Rossetti. A few kilometres outside the built-up area, towards Nosedole, there is Corte Cagiona, probably the most ancient Mantuan rice farm.
Near Roncoferraro you come to Corte Badia, an ancient rice-farm of Gonzagan origin which has the important finds of a storehouse for paddy rice. In the direction of Governolo, you`ll reach the small village of Garolda with Villa Cavriani, Corte San Giovanni , Villa Veneri e Villa le Quadre, all in Baroque style.
Making a detour towards Mantua, there is Pontemerlano, with Villa Isabella d’Este and Villa Riesenfeldt, which are examples of aristocratic buildings in Rococò style, as well as Corte Rottadola, an ancient and prestigious farm. In the neighbourhood there is the natural reserve of La Vallazza. Going towards Ostiglia you`ll reach Governolo, the place where, according to tradition, pope Leone stopped the invasion of Attila, the Hun. In this area, we must mention the Tower of Galliano, built on the wishes of Matilde di Canossa, and the Church of Saints Erasmo and Agostino, with the painting by Borgani of 1614 "The meeting of St. Leone and Attila". Governolo still has two important hydraulic works: la Conca di Sostegno (supporting lock) or Conca Vinciana, built on a project by Pitentino (1198), continued later by Bertazzolo from drawings by Leonardo, which prevents the waters of the Po from reascending , and further downstream, the Lock of St Leone, which allows navigation along Mincio and the river Po, rivers which have different water levels.
At Sacchetta di Sustinente there is Villa Mazzocchi (or Corte Palazzona) and Corte Palazzina A short way out we find Sustinente, the birth place of Bernardino Ghinosi, patriot and scholar of the rice fields; immediately after the village we find the Palace of the marquises Guerrieri Gonzaga Belgioioso. Carrying on till Serravalle Po, we find the Complesso della Torriana (Countryhouse of La Torriana ) built in 1650 and consisting of the country house and its church.
Ostiglia, Ostiglia, a town of Roman origin, where the Latin historian and poet Cornelio Nepote was born, boasts a collection of musical manuscripts of international standing, kept in the Greggiati library. The Garden of Palazzo Bonazzi and the archeological museum are also important. In addition, in the river bed of the Po, there is the "Boschina Isle", which is a natural reserve. In the countryside near Ostiglia, at Santuario della Comuna,there is the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of La Comuna, built in the fourteenth century as a consequence of an apparition of the Madonna, and later restructured probably by Giulio Romano. At Ostiglia, you can buy Vialone Nano rice at Lucchi e Chiodarelli "pile". As we get near the Busatello, we find the archeological site "La Vallona" and an important natural oasis.
Once past Cardinala, you cross the "Valli di Poletto", which was land reclaimed in 1473 and which were the first areas in the province of Mantua where rice was cultivated. Towards Gazzo Veronese we find the Church of St Pietro in Monastero, built before 1000 and called by the inhabitants "El Ceson", i.e. "The big church". Going along the provincial road 80, after a few kilometres we reach Villimpenta. The Castello Scaligero, dating from the middle of the thirteenth century, and the Villa Gonzaghesca (or Villa Zani), ascribed to Giulio Romano or M. Sanmicheli are both remarkable.
Near Corte Francioli, in Via Fossa, there is a collection of agricultural equipment relating to the cultivation of rice At Villagrossa there are several well preserved farms, among which there is one of the Orsini family of Rome, which still houses farm producing and selling directly to the public "Vialone Nano" rice. Castel d`Ario, famous as the birth place of the legendary racing-car driver Tazio Nuvolari, defined as "the flying Mantuan" by D’Annunzio, still has the towers and part of the castle walls. According to legend the castle, of Roman origin, was built by the centurion Ario. In the biggest tower, called Torre della fame (Tower of Hunger), F. Pico della Mirandola and his two sons, Prendiparte and Tommasino, were walled up on the wishes of Passerino Bonacolsi. The same destiny later struck Francesco and Giovanni, sons of Passerino, and Guido and Pinamonte, sons of Butirone Bonacolsi, this time on the instructions of the Gonzagas. Next, you arrive at Susano, where the recently restored ex-monastery of the Dominicans (cloister and church built by Antonio Maria Viani in 1613) houses antique shops. Going towards the upper part of the province, at Bigarello there is the Mill of Tristano Martinelli, the famous Harlequin, a typical Mantuan mask-character. In the nearby Bazza we find the farm of the same name, which dates back to the thirteenth century and which was restored in the eighteenth century by the counts of Todeschini.
At Castelbelforte, in the Corte Parolara of the marquises of Canossa, we find the oratory of St. Ignazio Loyola. Then you arrive at Canedole, where there is a massive bell tower of military origin where, according to legend, Romeo Montecchi took refuge after abandoning plague-ridden Mantua. In the same area we find Corte Grande (or Pasetto), with its house, in front of which there is an enormous threshing-floor still surrounded by a ditch for the rice-barges. In the zone of Castiglione Mantovano, a built-up area constructed in 1229 as a defensive castle against the Veronesi, with the function of guarding and blocking one of the most important access roads to Mantua until the sixteenth century, we find Corte Alta and Corte Castello. From here you get to Roverbella, which has an interesting Parrocchiale dell’Annunciazione (Parish church of the Annunciation) built in 1766 in late Baroque style.
A few kilometres after Roverbella there is Pozzolo, famous for Fossa (Canal), a hydraulic work from the fifteenth century, of which one building from the eighteenth century remains, rebuilt in 1878 by A. and F. Arrivabene. Thanks to the current hydraulic system the water from the Mincio is used for the irrigation of all the countryside crossed in our journey. Towards Marmirolo, in the hamlet of Massimbona, in the district of Goito it is possibile to visit a mill from 1150, which is still working and in which there is a collection of numerous original tools made and used by the millers through the centuries. Carrying on in the direction of Mantua, going through the countryside around Marmirolo, we find the Corte Quaresima, from the first half of the nineteenth century, built by Giovan Battista Vergani, and Corte Villanella, dating back to the seventeenth century. After leaving Marmirolo, in direction of Mantua, after 2 kilometres on the right there is the road to Bosco Fontana.
Finally we reach the zone of Porto Mantovano, where, at Spinosa, there is a farm of the same name, ascribed by some to Giulio Romano and by others to G. B. Bertani ( mid-sixteenth century ). At this point, near the motorway tollgate of Mantova nord, we find the imposing remains of the Palace della Favorita, built for the Gonzaga by the architect Niccolò Sebregondi between 1615 and 1624, testifying the ancient splendour of the dominating Mantuan family.