On our way back up from Ancona we stopped off near Salsomaggiore Terme, a spa town, to stay with academic friends and celebrate a birthday. Yesterday evening, as we gazed out over the rolling foothills of the Appenines, I could see a crenellated tower in the distance, a reminder of the Mani; indeed, the towns of Emilia Romagna and Tuscany had similar tower building and feuding traditions (Bologna and Florence once looked like hedgehogs and San Gimignano still does). This morning we toured Salsomaggiore. It has some wonderful examples of Belle Epoque architecture and the station is a fine example of period architecture (midway between the monumental classicism of Milano Centrale and the modernism of Firenze Santa Maria Novella). But the crown jewel is the original Berzieri spa building (picture), an extravangaza of coloured ceramic tiles and sculptures. Sadly, Salsomaggiore Terme would seem to be in decline. Two of the grand hotels are closed and another, the Grand Hotel, has been converted into a conference centre. We walked around its ghostly corridors and gazed on the richly decorated dining and ball room where the dance scene in Bertolucci’s Novecento was filmed. Cures in the spa’s famed saline waters are no longer subsidised by the national health service and royalty and film stars no longer grace its grand hotels. Real end of an era stuff.