Are you fascinated with labyrinths? I definitely am!
Even though I am always quite scared of getting lost – I know, the kid inside me never goes away – I also find really fascinating to enter a place without knowing what will happen, if you’ll find the right way, how many times you’ll have to start again, and how long it will take to find the exit. Exactly as in life, actually.
I have to admit that I am more into old labyrinths, like the ones you find in Renaissance villas and gardens, but when I heard that a new labyrinth had been built near Parma and it was the largest in the world, I knew I had to visit! Two years have gone since I took that decision, but I finally managed to go there and experience it.
And I am really happy I did it, because it was an amazing experience!
The entrance to the complex
The labyrinth I am referring to is the Labirinto della Masone and it is near Fontanellato, a small town not far from Parma, right in the middle of the Pianura Padana (Po Valley). You can reach it by car in twenty minutes from Parma, but it’s not that far from Milan as well: it only takes a 1.5-hour drive to get there. And it’s totally worth it!
First of all, you can always say you’ve been to the largest labyrinth in the world and managed to get out – spoiler: it’s super easy! – but you can also enjoy a magical experience in a very peculiar place, which gives you a lot of peace even if you visit it at midday on an incredibly hot summer Sunday – like I did.
Aerial view of the Labyrinth (photo courtesy of Labirinto della Masone)
The Labyrinth is the creation of Franco Maria Ricci, the heir of an aristocratic family who first worked as a geologist and then left his job to become a publisher and designer. His publishing house focuses on very rare and valuable books, with the publishing of refined works of art like the Manuale Tipografico by Giambattista Bodoni or the Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini.
Franco Maria Ricci was a close friend of the Argentian writer Jorge Luis Borges. One of the most important themes in the work of the writer was that of the labyrinth as the metaphor of the human condition. Such theme influenced Franco Maria Ricci, who in 1977 promised Borges to build a labyrinth.
A nice gazebo to relax when you are tired of walking
The promise was kept and in 2015 Labirinto della Masone opened its doors to the public. It was built in Fontanellato, near Parma, as a sort of legacy to that strip of the Po Valley including Parma, its countryside and the nearby towns, which Ricci has been tied to since birth and whose importance for art and the Italian landscape is
Visiting the place is a real amazing experience.
First of all, the labyrinth is all made of bamboo plants, which are quite an uncommon sight in this part of the world. Inside the garden, there are many different varieties of bamboos and each of them has a little informative panel, which gives you the opportunity of learning more about this beautiful plant.
Me trying to find my way in the labyrinth
Some of the plants are really tall (they can even be 30 meters tall) and the sound they make when the wind moves them is really soothing. I especially loved the fact that I was in Italy, in its very heart, right in the middle of the Po Valley, and sometimes I felt as if I was in some far away place in Asia. This feeling, added to the natural sense of being lost which comes into a labyrinth, was really unique.
Moreover, navigating the labyrinth is very easy.
The place is huge (80,000 square meters and the path is 3 kilometres in length), but it is designed in such a way that you don’t have to worry about getting lost and you can just enjoy the incredible peace of the area. You can walk down the paths, enjoying the chirping of birds and the sound of the plants moved by the wind, and just lose the sense of time. Here and there, there are also benches where you can sit down and relax.
One of the signs that help you find your way, if you are lost
As I said before, I visited the labyrinth on a super hot day because I had no other choice, but if I were you I’d go there at the end of the day – when the sun goes down. I am sure that the golden hour would make it even more magical. I’ve also been told that they host concerts and last year Air played there: I am sure their concert in such a place was mind-blowing!
If you are interested in art, you can also enjoy the refined and eclectic art collection of Franco Maria Ricci, which is hosted in the main building, alongside some temporary exhibitions. And if you happen to be there by lunch time, there are some very nice cafès and restaurants where you can enjoy the typical cuisine of Parma – something you absolutely must not miss!
The labyrinth seen from the museum complex
By the way, have you ever visited a labyrinth? How was your experience? I’d love to know!
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