A Classic Italian Hike for Families, Couples, Trekkers.

A Guide to One of Italy's Best Easy Hike Destinations. 

  A Great Thing To Do with Children & Teens. A Stunning Picnic Spot. 

An Excellent Attraction near Reggio Emilia (1 hr.)  Parma & Modena (1¼)  Liguria & Lunigiana (1½).  

The Pietra of Bismantova provides spectacular views & an easy hike.
The Pietra of Bismantova provides spectacular views, but the easiest trail only takes 20 minutes and it's family friendly.

Treat yourself and your family to one of the great natural attractions of Italy. This spectacular geologic feature will remain in your memory and your photos for much longer than a postcard or the next spaghetti bolognese.

The oddly named Stone of Bismantova will surprise you with a majesty that speaks to the nature in your soul. It stands above its surroundings as a sentinel, as a symbol, as an aspiration. Primitive man climbed it, ascetics were drawn to it, local culture incorporated it, Italian youth are introduced to nature by it, and you can easily experience it for yourself.

The Pietra of Bismantova dominates the surrounding area
Dante alluded to the mountain as Purgatory and the top as the
Garden of Eden. So says every hiker.  CC by Paolo da Reggio
You will see its unmistakable form rising isolated from the landscape from miles away. The Pietra dominates the surrounding area - overlooking it from a height of about 300 meters (1,000 feet) and many sections of the cliffs are 100 meters high!  It is roughly one kilometer long by 240 meters wide.

The unique shape is due to the type of limestone which forms the mountain. Simply put, it resisted erosion better than the surrounding area over the last 20 million years. The rock was formed from sediments in an ancient sea and there are fossils in some areas as well as visible patterns from undersea currents during deposition. The rocks are partly sandstone but mostly calcarenite which is the limestone equivalent of sandstone. This is formed from deposits of carbonate bits that were pressed together into rock from diverse sources such as sand-sized limestone fragments, shells, corals, shark teeth, oodles of ooids (precipitated calcite), etc.

Of course, it was inhabited by prehistoric people - there's a Copper & Bronze Age archeological site and a necropolis near the Pietra's base at Campo Pianelli.  Subsequently, there's evidence that site was used by Etruscans and Celtic-Ligurian tribes. Naturally, the Pietra was fortified, probably until the 15th C. - first by the Romans, then the Byzantines, the Longobards, then Charlemagne, and finally by Matilda of Canossa. There little evidence left of the fortifications today.

The views from the cliffs of Italy's Bismantova are endless.
The views from the top of Bismantova are endless.

For the surrounding towns. the history concerning the Pietra is religious - involving devotion and pilgrimage to the Madonna della Pietra. The Eremo di Bismantova (Hermitage) at the base was established by Benedictines in the 1400's and rebuilt in the 1600's. There are frescos inside from the 1400's, including a depiction of the Madonna. Today, the Eremo is part of the Marian order.

Dante Alighieri visited Pietra di Bismantova in 1307. The Mountain of Purgatorio, mentioned in Canto IV of Purgatorio in the "Divine Comedy", was seemingly inspired by Pietra's unique formation. As if to inspire hikers, the Garden of Eden was located on top.

In the last few centuries, the summit was only used for grazing which explains the nice pastures and the easy views we enjoy. Slowly, the trees are regaining control, but it's slow going due to the altitude and the nearby Alps.  Today the Pietra di Bismantova is protected as part of the National Park of the Apennines. Parco Nazional Apennino Tosco-Emiliano (EN)

The starting point of Pietra di Bismantova activity is Piazzale Dante at the end of Via Bismantova in Castelnovo ne' Monte (RE). See GETTING THERE below. There is free parking as well as the Eremo (Hermitage) nearby, the Rifugio di Bismantova bar-restaurant and the Albergo Forestiera.

Before you go: Download this Pietra Bismantova Hiking Map to a portable device. Why? It is clearer than the posted map on site, and there are no trail signs or maps on the actual summit. There are also no services on the summit, so at least take sufficient water with you.

The easy hiking trail on Italy's Pietra di Bismantova in October.
The easy hiking trail on Italy's Pietra di Bismantova in October.

This is an active recreational attraction, so there are several choices.  The most popular climb is a section of Trail 697 which angles directly to the top. It's the shortest, it's not particularly hard, and takes about 20 minutes. The second most popular is the 6 km. 'L'anello della Pietra' (Ring around the Stone) using Trail 697 which combines a very scenic nature walk around the Pietra with a visit to the summit. It takes about 2 hours.  Both routes leave from Piazzale Dante and below we describe both ascents, as well as the most popular part of the summit and the descent they share. We think school-aged children who like hiking will have no problems with these two hikes.

Other recreational options include:
-Several other trails, such as Trail 699, which are steeper, rockier, and reach the top from different directions.
-Two via ferrata routes are in place for an alpine experience (i.e. straight up).
-There are also many sport rock climbing opportunities on the cliffs with numerous bolts apparent.
-Climbing (bouldering) is also an attraction on the gigantic fallen rocks around the base of the Pietra.

★The Direct Route.
Castelnovo ne' Monti farmland views from the Bismantova hiking trail.
 Castelnovo ne' Monti farmland views from the Bismantova hiking trail. 
The direct trail begins at the bar restaurant Rifugio della Pietra up a long staircase from the parking area.  Walk in front of the Rifugio, and off you go. The trail climbs steadily but moderately through forested slopes on a path covered with small rough stones that have dropped from the weathering cliffs. It loops around the Pietra under the stone facades sometimes studded with climbers' bolts. The views through the trees get progressively bigger and soon include Castelnovo and its surrounding farms. When you encounter a steeper section with larger rocks, you're getting close. At the top of that section. the trail turns right to climb up a rocky passage with ropes for handholds on the sides to a more level forested area - and you have reached part of the summit of  Pietra of Bismantova.

L'anello della Pietra.
From Piazzale Dante descend toward the Albergo Foresteria where the first sign for 'L'anello della Pietra' on Trail 697 is on the left. The trail is blazed with red and white to help you avoid false turns. Heading left (NE) the path is gently downhill and beautiful through open forest and field. Above the trail are the dramatic high cliffs of the Pietra.  Soon the trail nears an ancient landslide and then continues amidst a tangle of giant fallen boulders to the first junction.

The cliffs of Bismantova from Piazzale Dante. The beautiful nature trail around the mountain runs under the cliff line.
The cliffs of Bismantova from Piazzale Dante. The beautiful nature trail around the mountain runs under the cliff line.
On the left, Trail 699 continues towards the top of the Pietra, but follow the 697 up to a short staircase that leads to the panoramic point of 'Campo Pianelli', site of the Pietra's Bronze age archaeological digs.  Returning to Trail 697, begin a stretch in the woods with a more decisive climb, and one arrives at 'Cà dal Lovastrel' where there's an old building and more trail signs. After this, begin the last climb which includes a few hairpin bends and Trail 699 is passed again. At one point, there is an area where rock walls restrict the trail somewhat. These are the remains of a guarded medieval approach to fortifications that were once on the summit. Soon, after climbing about 10 min., a more level forested area is reached - the beginning of the summit of  Pietra of Bismantova.

Note - there are no trail markers on the summit nor a trail map. It's no big deal, just take note of the landscape features, and the evident worn paths. There are always fellow hikers you can ask for directions.

View of Piazzale Dante & the Apuan Apennines from Pietra di Bismantova.
View of Piazzale Dante & the Apuan Apennines from Pietra di Bismantova.
★The Open Summit of Pietra. Continue walking the beaten path up the gentle rise through the hornbeam and hazel forest and the habitat will change to pasture and distant mountains to the south become visible. Keep toward the left along the fields to reach the easternmost cliff top with a huge panorama. Then begin a clockwise navigation along the top of the Pietra's cliffs - admiring the views from these incredible vantage points. This walk will pass near the top of the 'Ferrata degli Alpini' where we watched (without envy) several rock climbers slowly making their way up. After a rest stop or picnic and lots of photos, continue the tour of admiration until the cliffs end at the west end. Then follow a pasture path as it enters the forest. Soon you will reach the well-trod path down to Rifugio della Pietra and Piazzale Dante - the same path by which the Direct Path entered the summit. .

A rocky section of the Direct Route trail on Bismantova.
 Going slow on a rocky section of the
Direct Route. The trail's never too hard.
★The Descent   Both popular trails descend the Direct Route. After a gentle descent through open forest you reach a fairly steep rocky passage with ropes on both side for handholds. That is followed by a section with larger rocks where it's more awkward going down than it was going up. From there descent is moderate, just be careful your feet don't lose traction on the small stones. Before you even tire, you arrive back at the Rifugio della Pietra.

Driving from Castelnovo, you will notice directional signs to the 'Triassic Gesso' at the turn for Via Bismantova. This is an exposed escarpment of gypsum deposits from the Triassic age - about 200 million years ago. Gypsum is best known as plaster and wallboard (drywall), but it's also used a fertilizer and it might even be in your tofu. Gypsum is hydrous calcium sulfate and it was deposited along with common salt (halite) via the evaporation of an ancient sea. These rocks are among the oldest in the Apennine Alps.

Follow the signs for about 5 km. from the Bismantova road intersection through Carnola until you reach a bridge crossing the wide and rocky Secchia river. The triassic gypsum is the light colored stone rising dramatically above the east bank of the river for about 10 km. in cliffs up to 160 meters (500 ft.) high. The rock has been deformed by tectonic forces and through the removal of halite by ground water.

In previous centuries, it was quarried and heated in nearby kilns to partially remove the water present at the molecular level. This made it usable as plaster to create the smooth walls in old Italian houses. Under the cliffs are fallen blocks of the stuff for you to inspect and take home - free souvenirs!

Pietra di Bismantova is located in the city of Castelnovo ne' Monti in the Province of Reggio Emilia, Region of Emilia Romagna. The starting point of activity is Piazzale Dante at the end of Via Bismantova.

Photographing the Apuan Alps from the cliffs of Bismantova.
Photographing the Apuan Alps from the cliffs of Bismantova.
By car: The main route through the valley to Castelnovo is SP63 from Reggio Emilia or the Pass of the Cerreto and Fivizzano. From Castelnovo, one takes Via Carnola to Via Bismantova. Follow that road to its termination at Piazzale Dante where there is free parking, information signage, and a restaurant bar - Il Rifugio della Pietra.  For a GPS Navigation unit, Google Maps or Waze directions set the street address to Piazzale Dante (not Via Dante) or Via Bismantova.

By bus: There is SETA bus service (3B44) about every 20 minutes departing a 7 minute walk from the Reggio Emilia train station. It takes about 75 minutes to Castelnovo ne' Monte. See SETA Bus (IT)Walking to the Pietra from Castelnovo would take about 45 minutes. There's also a Taxi.


Lizard Trail rock art imitates nature.
Trail rock art imitates nature.
★TRAIL MAP: Download this Pietra Bismantova Hiking Map
to your portable device. Why? The posted maps on site are less clear, and there's no map on the summit.

La Pietra di Bismantova (EN) Excellent informative website.

Castelnovo's Pretty Good Trail Descriptions  Trail info and more detailed Pietra information.

Parco Nazional Apennino Tosco-Emiliano (EN) 

Summitpost.org: Bismantova Via Ferrata Specs
Ferrata degli Alpini Description & Photos

Emilia Romagna Tourism (EN)  The official regional website.

The photo credited  CC by Paolo da Reggio is used via a Creative Commons license and is available on Wikimedia.