146km with a positive elevation gain of no less than 3,960 meters are the numbers of Encore, a mountain bike loop trail that runs through the most significant sites of the Gothic Line in the Bolognese Apennines. Here we will cross the major war events that pitted American battalions and partisan groups against the last German armies, barricaded in the mountain heights on the outskirts of the city.
Encore is the name of the vast military operation that deployed a huge number of forces in one of the harshest – and most premature – winters in a long time. We are between November 1944 and March 1945; Bologna is truly a stone’s throw away, but the German grip is still struggling to let go.
On the front lines of the Italian Campaign, everyone is there. There are the Americans of the infamous 10th Mountain Division, the American military unit formed in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and there is the Red Star Partisan Brigade. There are the Brazilians, whose president had bet that it would be easier for a snake to smoke than to see Brazil’s entry into the war. Tabagist snake promptly sewed on the uniform and the Força Expedicionária Brasileira will successfully complete the battle of Monte Castello. Three long months that will make Monte Castello the greatest battle the Brazilian army still remembers.
Along the way we will find the remains of foxholes, while there will be no shortage of glimpses of genuine scenic beauty such as the distinctive Labante waterfall and the large stone complex of Stella Mattutina. We will pass through small Apennine villages with evocative names such as Pietracolora, Veggio and Tudiano, accompanied on the horizon by the now snow-covered ridge from Corno alle Scale to Mount Cimone.
The brief return to the valley is a small sigh of relief, just enough time to catch one’s breath before getting up on the pedals again, riding along the ridge of Monte Sole. This is the only case in the region where a Regional Park also takes on the label of “historic.” It is here that we now ride in total freedom through the same places where between September 29 and October 5, 1944, Nazi Germany was responsible for the infamous massacre of Monte Sole. There is nothing to add to what has not already been written. Everything that happened can be contemplated for oneself; the signs of that great darkness are still there for all to remember.
The long dirt roads of Monte Sole will take us away to Grizzana Morandi, accompanied by the ridge of Monte Vigese in front of us. We will cross the Via della Lana e della Seta (Wool and Silk Road) and then venture onto dirt roads unfamiliar to two-wheelers. The last effort to cross the Eastern Limentra and plunge into the woods of Castel di Casio and Porretta Terme, descending on the last singletrack in the green to Silla.
Point of interest
The waterfall frames one of the largest travertine cave systems in Italy of this material. Inside, the rock is totally quarried, giving rise to a unique karst phenomenon.
Mount Belvedere and Mount Castello
These are the two mountains on which the most complex operations between the 10th Mountain Division and German artillery will take place. Monte Castello, on the other hand, is the theater of war in which the Brazilian FEB is engaged, which succeeds in gaining the summit at great cost after three months of fighting.
Iola di Montese Museum
Only 5 km from Abetaia, just after the descent of Mount Castello, we highly recommend a visit to the Iola di Montese Museum, a museum of quality by the Institute of Cultural and Natural Artistic Heritage of the Emilia Romagna Region. The association’s volunteers have collected thousands of war objects belonging to the various sides of the Apennine front. They recently collaborated in the production of the upcoming TV miniseries Mountain Men, set precisely during the war on the mountain ridges between Bologna, Modena and Pistoia.
A hamlet of the municipality of Gaggio Montano at 800/1000 meters above sea level and dominates the valley, boasting a breathtaking horizon over the major peaks of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines.
Monte Sole Regional Historical Park, is now a protected area with a dual purpose of naturalistic and historical enhancement of the area related to the tragic events of World War II. It features a refuge and refreshment point and the beautiful experience of the School of Peace.
It owes the last part of its name to the famous painter Giorgio Morandi, who stayed here inspired by the surrounding landscape. A lively town full of small characteristic hamlets, it stands in a rare panoramic position between the Reno and Setta valleys.
The Montovolo/Mount Vigese complex can be recognized from any surrounding valley. On the summit is the Oratory of Saint Caterina from 1200 and a more modern shrine. The history of Montovolo is fascinating because it appears to have been an ancient Etruscan oracular center. The rocks of the mountain have been quarried over the centuries to extract the peculiar pietra serena or Montovolo stone, the tradition of which is alive thanks to the incessant cultural work of the stonemasons. It is worth delving into the studies of Graziano Baccolini, a passionate scholar of the area to whose memory local sculptor Luigi Faggioli has dedicated a moving and intimate little monument a few steps from the shrine.
We particularly care about the wartime history related to the Gothic Line. For anyone who would like to learn more we report below two real tidbits:
The loop takes place on two ridges on either side of the Reno River. As the route is particularly long and challenging, downstream it is possible to use the Bologna-Porretta railway, with a run at least every hour.