Culture Stories Travel

Elena, Matilde & The Hidden Gems of Reggio Emilia

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to go to one of the biggest concerts ever ‘Una. Nessuna. Centomila.’ with some of the greatest voices of Italy from Gianna Nannini, Emma, Laura Pausini and many more. It was held at Arena Campovolo in Reggio Emilia and 100,000 people attended the event. It was my first time in Reggio Emilia, so I found a fantastic opportunity to explore a new city as well. We booked a room through Airbnb and I loved that our host said that she loves music, art and traveling. ‘We share the same passions’, I thought.

The moment we arrived, the wonderful Elena greeted us at the gate. It was an old historical building in the heart of Reggio Emilia with a large wooden gate and a very nice interior yard. We went up on the spiral staircase until the last floor, where Elena showed us around and welcomed us to our room. The building had such a great vibe, an astounding atmosphere and a warmth that I found in Elena as well. Her genuine smile and interest in our stories and our travels made us feel like home. She told me that the building in Via Roma is actually part of the association Via Roma Zero from which she is part of, which is a ‘dynamic and intercultural reality, an experimental laboratory in the context of civil coexistence.’

City Council & Dome Church, Reggio Emilia

In the short time that we had together, I found out more exciting things about her work and projects, so I knew right away that we needed to stay in touch and learn more about the artistic scene and vibrant cultural world of Elena and Reggio Emilia. As soon as I got home from my travels, we arranged an interview and it is such a pleasure to share her story with you.

Elena works in the social field with homeless people and refugees. She does restorative justice workshops/trainings and victim-offender mediations. She is also part of the women musicians collective orchestra, Matilde. It is an experimental orchestra, where they all sing in a circle, mixing rock and electronic sounds. The circular set also allows them to play off stage which makes their concerts a truly unique experience and they are loving it.

I love honesty and straightforward people, I feel a sparkle when someone is like that. I think beauty is deeply connected with love and freedom, with being yourself at your best.


You have a wonderful story to tell. From social work to music and performance, you have such a wide range of fantastic projects. When did you know that this is the path that you should take? What was your drive?

Elena: I never knew it, it just happened. Certainly I have always deeply known from my social and family history that we need more social equality and justice.

You are part of the women’s collective orchestra Matilde, born in Reggio Emilia. Why ‘Matilde’?

Elena: The collective is called Matilde because in the Reggio Emilia’s area in the middle ages the government was held by a woman (!!) Matilde di Canossa, the Gran Contessa. She lived and governed in a time of many battles, intrigues or excommunications and of course when apparently women didn’t have so many chances to be in power positions. However, Matilde had a fundamental role in the reconciliation between the church and the empire, giving the start to the Italian renaissance. We also really like the name.

Ruins of Matilde di Canossa’s Castle

Matilde is also a political and cultural collective, meant to offer a safe place for women in music. Please tell me more about the idea behind the collective and your role.

Elena: Yes, it is cultural because we love art and music and we make such things happen. It is political because apart from the obvious fact that making things as women is political, the mere fact of being an ‘only women’ collective.. raises many questions, discussions, criticisms, etc. And politics is also about thinking, asking, understanding, talking about things and touching the differences amongst expectations versus realities. My role at the moment is not very active, everything is constantly changing. I feel like I might step back in when it’s the right moment. At the moment I do some little needed things for the association… and have nice time out with the girls 🙂

How do you feel about the role of women today and their empowerment?

Elena: I feel like most old white men in power do not have the sensitivity or the competences of listening properly, otherwise the world would be a better place. I feel like women have already started the (r)evolution and have to continue on that path.

What’s the best advice would you give to a young girl now?

Elena: Identify what you want and do it. If it is difficult, do what you wanna do little by little.

What inspires you?

Elena: Art and music, nature and love in their many forms. To me these are the most nourishing and inspiring things I know. Although sometimes justice and rage can be very inspiring, I don’t feel like that often, and I like that.

What motivates you to do your very best?

Elena: The awareness that there is no other real way to do things than doing the very best. 

What was the greatest challenge for you so far?

Elena: The greatest challenge is to keep on being a better person than a minute ago, and keep on following that path. A sort of little fun competition within myself.

You make a great impact in your community and you have created a wonderful dynamic and intercultural hub in Via Roma with your colleagues from Via Roma Zero. Please tell me more about the historical building and the fellow travelers that visit every year. 

Elena: I actually joined them when it already started and I do a few things in my spare time, which is not a lot. I support them when I can but I do really feel part of it as I share their values and perspectives. 

If I was a traveler I would love to see the Churches, the Battistero, via Roma’s arch and have an aperitif there, walk the via Emilia into town and explore all the streets on the side of via Emilia.

Piazza with San Prospero’s Basilica, San Prospero is the town protector
Piazza from another point of view

I would certainly visit Museo del Tricolore (the Italian flag was created in Reggio Emilia) and Sala del Tricolore, the Theatres and the Piazzas, Musei Civici, Palazzo da Mosto, Chiostri di San Pietro, Chiostri di San Domenico, Chiostro della Ghiara, Galleria Parmeggiani, The Mauriziano, the old factory Reggiane.

Musei Civici

There is also a Templar’s Church but you have to book the visit at the phone number on the church’s door. These are a few of the things you can see in town although there are also many things you can do and see in the surroundings: castles, churches, roman ruins and so many more hidden gems. To get clear and updated information I would get advice from the tourists office and also ask the pub under via Roma’s arch if there is anything going on with the via Roma’s Association.

Main Theater, Reggio Emilia

What makes someone beautiful? What is beauty for you?

Elena: I love honesty and straightforward people, I feel a sparkle when someone is like that. I also love joyful and natural people and when they know their roots and are open about who they are, I feel a great comfortable feeling.

I think beauty is deeply connected with love and freedom, with being yourself at your best. A wild forest or a beach can both be very beautiful and human creations can be beautiful too, as long as they keep to the essential. So at the end beauty to me is more like a feeling such as love, freedom or comfort. Ah! I know a Danish word that summarizes beauty to me: hygge 🙂

I think to ask what beauty is for someone is a really good question; to keep the concept of beauty only as an exterior quality – to me – is pretty naive.

If your life would have a soundtrack, what would that be? 🙂

Elena: Most Buddha Bar productions, also some dub, goa and electronic music. Celtic music, traditional tracks from around the world and I also really love improvisations. 

What is your superpower?

Elena: The vision/s 🙂

What recent memory makes you smile the most? Or even laugh with all your heart?

Elena: Word puns, also transidiomatic. In the last year I have had a strong relationship with a dog and she’s got very interesting humor 🙂

What does your happiness look like today?

Elena: A fireplace with whom I love… and some musicians improvising with their heart 🙂 

Also go to parties with good music and vibes 🙂

What are your future plans and what are you excited about?

Elena: At the moment I don’t have big future plans apart from continuing with what I am doing 🙂 

I am very excited about the fact that Reggio Emilia is becoming more open to the world but at the same time keeps on being very well rooted in its history and cultural heritage.

Thank you so much, dear Elena, for your stories, inspiration and the wonderful virtual tour around Reggio Emilia. I so look forward to visit you again soon!

If you want to visit Reggio Emilia and explore it through the eyes of a local, make sure to book your room here at Elena’s loft and have a true Italian experience in a historical building, in the heart of Reggio Emilia.

Piazza Fontanesi
Pietra di Bismantova, near Reggio Emilia – great for climbing
Lago Calamone, also known as Lago del Ventasso

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