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French Army
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Solferino Today
San Martino Tower
The Spy of Italy




Solferino Today

Even if you have no interest in battles and battlefields (there are several in the area) then a visit to Solferino is still well worth undertaking. The village itself is a peaceful place to spend a morning just strolling around, and it has many shaded walks winding around the tower of the "Spy of Italy" and the Mount of Cypress. We found a very nice little café for lunch, with some ice - cold beer to help cool us down after our battlefield ramblings.

An old part of Solferino.

The small museum inside the "Spy of Italy" displays uniforms and weapons from the battle, as well as a black and white panorama photograph of the battlefield taken at around 1900. The assent and descent of the tower itself is made easy by having a shallow walkway spiralling upwards to the top, which make it easy on the legs and allows more time to view the various battle paintings that adorned the side of the building, and the view from the top…well, see the panorama photographs enclosed!

Monument to the Red Cross, Mount of Cypress.

The Mount of Cypress is a very moving experience, with its many nationalities memorial plaques and its flapping pennants, as if they were waving farewell to the passing souls of those who gave their lives in the great battle. Do take time to visit this spot, you will not be disappointed.

The Museo Risorgimentale just on the outskirts of the village has a wealth of weapons and uniforms from the battle, as well as examples of Austrian, French and Piedmont cannon; some fine prints and posters are available at the information desk. 

The Ossuary

When leaving the museum one should take the road uphill towards the Ossuary Chapel which is located in the Church of St.Pietro in Vincoli. Outside there are various busts of Marshals of France, and one of Napoleon III himself, but inside be prepared for a surprise. Every wall from floor to ceiling is stacked high with the bones and skulls of the dead gathered and interned here some years after the battle, so that they could have a decent resting place rather than be scattered in unmarked graves across the landscape. Remember this was in the days before the Great War of 1914-1918, which so shocked the world that the war graves commission was set up to give the dead a permanent and peaceful place to rest- the Ossuary was the precursor of these modern war cemeteries. It is quite a queer feeling being stared down at from so many empty eye sockets!


For those interested there is a hotel in Solferino, "Hotel Albergo" La Spia D, Italia. One can also rent a farmhouse at "Le Sorgive," near the village, although I do not know what the cost would be. 

At Cavrina there are the remains of an old fortress, as well the Alto Mantovano Museum of Archaeology, while at Mazambano the castle should be worth a visit. I have also been informed that Cavriana also has a Festival and Fair each January and February when local delicacies like salami and wild mushroom risotto are served, together with some fine wine from the Colli Morenici del Garda.

For more spectacular views of the battlefield or just the green and rolling landscape plus Lake Garda, framed by the mountains in the distance, then the tower of San Martino should be on your itinerary. Like the "Spy of Italy" it has a spiralling walkway to the top, which makes the climb a whole lot more pleasant. 

We stayed at the Hotel Piroscafo in the centre of Desenzano during our visit in May 2007. This is a nice town slap bang on the shores of Lake Garda. It has very good shops and pleasant winding streets, which play host to the vintage and veteran cars that take part in the Mille Miglia rally every May. 

Desenzano and Lake Garda

Desenzano castle is perched high on the hill overlooking the town and the lake, and the alleyways and small back roads running up to it have some splendid little bars and restaurants hidden away around each corner. The only thing to be aware of is the fact that half the population of Milan seems to descend on the town each week end, many thousands of whom seem to ride motor cycles.

The town offers fine food and wine with just the right amount of "rustic" charm that sets it apart from the every day tourist attraction. Give it a go; we intend to return in 2008 to visit the battlefield of Rivoli so watch this space!

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