The view from Cavazzone is as moving today as it was back in 1878, when it caught the eye of Baron Raimondo Franchetti. A banker turned entrepreneur, farmer, and humanitarian, the baron was originally from Venice but upon arriving in Reggio, he was instantly spellbound by the beauty of these places. Soon, he acquired about 3000 hectares (or 7500 acres) of land in the municipalities of Albinea, Viano and Vezzano, and began major land reclamation projects: he turned woodlands into pastures and agricultural soil, repaired the road, and erected the imposing court together with its many stables, farmhouses and other annexes, including a nursery school for his labourers’ children.
He also commissioned a peculiar Nordic-style chalet to be built for his wife Sara Luisa Rothschild, inspired by a pavilion at the 1878 Paris World Fair. Around the turn of the century, Cavazzone became a sort of celebrity hangout – a gathering spot for the city’s enlightened aristocracy and for the burgeoning industrial elites.
The baron’s son, musician and composer Alberto Franchetti, would stay here for months at a time while writing his operas or during their runs at Reggio’s Municipal Theatre. His friends included the likes of Puccini, Mascagni, Giordano, Illica and Ricordi, who were frequent guests at the property.
In 1919, local entrepreneur Eugenio Terrachini purchased the central part of the estate from the baron’s heirs, and shortly thereafter he had the “Belvedere” – an impressive cast iron gazebo – transferred onto the property. The structure had originally been located in the park of Franchetti villa in Reggio, where the baron would sit and admire Cavazzone from afar. Thanks to Terrachini’s effort, it was spared from certain destruction, and today this oddly striking architectural gem has become one of the symbols of Reggio’s hillside.
In the years following the Second World War, under the leadership of Eugenio’s son Paolo, the farm was progressively modernised to meet the demands of an evolving agricultural market. It was during this period that mechanised agriculture was introduced, modern farming facilities were built, and the old barn was transformed into a modern feed manufacturing plant. In the early 1980s, Paolo Terrachini’s grandson Giovanni Sidoli took over the farm’s management and ushered in several innovations. Among them, was the establishment of the “Acetaia.” Starting from an original nucleus of a few family-owned barrels, Paolo started a full-fledged Vinegar Factory in one of the old barns. Today, there are over 200 barrels made of different prized woods, holding within them the tradition, taste and aroma of this magical nectar, which is so indissolubly tied to the region’s culture.
At the beginning of the new millennium, a new chapter began when part of the ancient court was turned into an Agritourism facility: an old stable, with its picturesque vaulted ceilings and cast-iron columns, was transformed into a gorgeous and fully-equipped conference room, while another one became an exclusive restaurant where guests can enjoy the true flavors of Reggio’s cuisine. The quaint case coloniche (farmers’ houses) nowadays feature welcoming suites where the timeless charm of history blends seamlessly with modern comforts and amenities. Another stable has been set up to house exhibits and events.
Finally, to give guests an even more compelling experience, a number of historical spaces have been recreated which illustrate how Cavazzone operated up to the mid-20th century: this living history museum leads visitors into the farm life of yesteryear, when Parmigiano-Reggiano and butter were made the old-fashioned way and foods were stored in the icehouse, through the daily routine of an era whose memory reverberates throughout these rooms and survives in the objects on display.
The visitor’s eyes and soul are immediately captured by the surrounding landscape, by the sweet wilderness of these hills, by the intense colours and scents. And the mind, enraptured, races towards the harmony and elegance of these ancient sites, impeccably preserved and closely guarded, together with the history which defines them.