Nestled amidst picturesque rivers and lush greenery, Porretta Terme is a stunning town known for its deep-rooted connection to music and art. Despite its fading thermal bath culture, this enchanting destination offers a warm embrace to visitors who venture beyond the Bologna Apennines. With a population of approximately 5,000, Porretta Terme exudes small-town hospitality and genuine friendliness, creating a welcoming atmosphere that captivates the heart.
As visitors wander through the charming streets, they’ll discover the town’s rich musical heritage that mirrors the yearly summer soul festival. From Rufus Thomas Park to via Otis Redding to the Solomon Burke Bridge, Porretta pays homage to soul music icons who have left an undeniable impact on the community. In addition, an alleyway dedicated to Sam Cooke stands as a testament to the town’s deep appreciation for soul music legends. Vibrant murals portraying soul artists grace the town, conveying the appreciation the town holds for the genre of Soul, both musically and culturally. Icons like Solomon Burke, Rufus Thomas, The Memphis Horns, and Bobby Rush are among the celebrated figures showcased, reminding visitors of the genre’s profound impact.
Below please find a carousel of photos. The first is a view of the town from a bridge with a mural of Bobby Rush, Vasti Jackson and Curtis Pope; the second is a mural of Memphis Horns, the third is of Otis Redding, the fourth are the Blues Brothers.
As mentioned, Porretta Terme proudly hosts the annual Porretta Soul Festival, an event eagerly anticipated by music enthusiasts from around the globe. Under the visionary guidance of Graziano Uliani, the festival’s founder and Artistic Director, this year’s festival marks its 35th edition from July 20 – 23, promising an exciting lineup. The festival serves as a melting pot of cultures, drawing soul music aficionados to experience the diverse range of artists and sounds presented on stage. Renowned performers such as Bobby Rush, Rufus Thomas, The Norman Sisters, and more have graced the stage, leaving audiences enchanted.
This year’s lineup includes Mighty Mo Rogers, Bobby Rush and The Lehmanns Brothers, among others. Mighty Mo Rodgers is an electric blues musician, who gained popularity thanks to “Picasso Blue ” in 2003. Bobby Rush, a renowned soul musician, now 89 years old, continues to make music with over 70 years of recordings. A member of the the Blues Hall of Fame, Rush is a two time Grammy winner, and has won the Blues Music award 14 times. He is best known for his hit “Chicken Heads” in 1971. Mighty Mo Rodgers, is an electric blues musician, who gained popularity thanks to “Picasso Blue.” Best known for their songs, “I Wanna Be,” and “Inked,” The Lehmanns Brothers, a six musician band from France, formed their group based on their love for black music. To enhance the festival experience, a delightful array of street food entices visitors, ensuring a culinary experience that complements the musical event.
For those seeking relaxation, Porretta Terme offers rejuvenating hot springs, a cherished activity in the town for centuries. Embracing the tradition of ancient balneotherapy, visitors are invited to indulge in the healing properties of the springs. Symbolized by the sick ox cured by the therapeutic waters, the springs promise a serene and revitalizing experience. The balneotherapy features thermal pools with sodium chloride, bromide, and iodine-rich water at a soothing 35 degrees Celsius, providing the perfect opportunity to unwind. This renaissance of wellness tourism showcases the town’s commitment to reviving its historical allure, with hotels and spas undergoing reconstruction to recapture the grandeur of the past.
While Porretta Terme may be a quiet and sparsely populated town, it shines as a gem tucked away from the bustling life of Northern Italy. Just a short train ride from either Pistoia or Bologna, this tranquil haven invites visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of the countryside just over the border from Tuscany in Emilia Romagna. Whether one seek the soul-stirring melodies of the festival or the therapeutic embrace of the hot springs, Porretta Terme is where music, nature, and tranquility intertwine to create an authentic, warm, and welcoming experience. (jonah foster/additional reporting by leiana webb)