Known for its historical-monumental heritage, the matildic area is also a place of extraordinary environmental interest, thanks to the limited settlement and industrial development of these hills. A big respect of natural history and the traditional hill crops which are part of it, are a sign of land quality that preserved the balance between man and nature, already existing in Countess Matilde age. The landscape around the castles should’t have been so different when knights, soldiers, dignitaries, emperors and popes passed through it. A land improvement is now ongoing to conjugate environmental treasures and historical heritage, for an alternative use like trekking, horse-riding or mountain biking. Among the itineraries the Sentiero Matilde follows the old medieval path, variation of the Via Francigena, that from the Enza river mouth led to the hearth of Canossa lands, the castles of Rossena, Canossa, Sarzano, Carpineti, Toano and went towards the ridge at Forbici Pass to go down again to the tuscan dominions. The itinerary allows the exploration of the ancient communication net, the defense system based on castles and tower houses (Cavandola, Monchio, Sorchio, Riana are along the path), and the suggestions of the integral nature of ancient Quara sulphurous springs, Cadignano cambered bridge and Secchia gypsums.
The land at the foot of the hills has two naturalistic areas: Vezzano sul Crostolo Park and Roncolo Park are two different realities, the first with wide reforestations of black pine and cypress, the second closer to the original naturalistic characteristics, with typical trees like maple, hazel, blackthorn, juniper, hawthorn, wild pear tree. Some rare flowers like orchids are present in the area. In Quattro Castella, besides Roncolo Park, there is Bianello Oasis, a tiny protected area of 125 hectares with around 130 birds species. The mud volcanoes of Regnano di Viano represent a naturalistic phenomenon with emission of water and methane, sulphured hydrogen and hydrocarbons. In the area of Codemondo gravelly fans (Reggio Emilia), there is the wood of Coviola stream. For the speleology passionates the Tana della Mussina is an interesting underground itinerary of carsic origin, behind Borzano di Albinea.
The Secchia river natural reserve spreads along 260 hectares in the valley. In the middle of the Secchia conoid one can see marsh buttercups and water plantains. Its fauna includes amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals. Marmirolo Oasis is a beautiful example of a cave nature tranformation with white willow, white poplar, elm, cornel and elder. Many birds species use the oasis as a shelter and breeding area: heron, kingfischer, reedwarbler and many ducks. The natural reserve Corte Valle Re in Campegine protects one of the last perpetual springs left in this province.
In this humid area many plants flourish all the year round: 91 birds species and 15 mammals are known. In the low valley, Valli di Novellara are a recent drainage with hawthorn, blackthorn, elm, maple, blackberry, elder, eglantine, willow, poplar and water plants. The banks offer important naturalistic and landscape areas like the sandy and slimy flooding areas near Guastalla. Dithces and oxbow lakes are range for hydric grass and trees. San Simeone island in Guastalla, born in the ‘50s, is linked to dry land through an oxbow lake. Here the Po vegetation prevails with white willow and cotton-wood.