Emilia Romagna: Home to Pavarotti, Enzo Ferarri, Ferruccio Lamborghini, the Ducati brothers and the artist Parmigianino. It's the land of Parmesan Cheese and Balsamic vinegar, it's also the gastronomical capital of the country. There are so many reasons to love Emilia Romagna, you may never want to leave. It's funny because before visiting this province in the North of Italy, we didn't even know it existed.
When visiting Italy, often times people are a little disheartened. They're searching for that romantic Italy seen in the movies, and expect the locals to welcome them with open arms. What they end up getting are masses of tourists at each destination elbowing each other for a decent photograph and cheap pasta being served at crowded restaurants being served by annoyed wait staff. Seriously, if you lived in the most visited destination in the world all of your life, would you be thrilled to talk to every tourist that came your way?
Emilia Romagna is Different
That is why Emilia Romagna is so refreshing. It is that Italy you see in the movies. The Italy where old men sit at outdoor tables talking about anything and everything and where locals yell Ciao and Grazie on a regular basis. You can't help but smile as you travel through Emilia Romagna. It's filled with beautiful scenery, rich history and a food culture that is second to none. In Emilia Romagna, Mama and Nona still make pasta by hand and every restaurant takes pride in what they serve. If you don't know what to eat, the wait staff will be happy to recommend their specialty of the house.
We came home with fond memories of the places we saw, the people we met and the amazing experiences we had, and here are all the things that we love about Emilia Romagna.
Emilia Romagna – The Best in Italy
The Capital of Emilia Romagna is the perfect place to base yourself for your visit around the Province. Bologna is an often overlooked city in Italy, but it shouldn't be. It's home to the tallest leaning tower in Italy, the world heritage appointed porticoes and it's known as the gastronomical capital of the country. Bologna dates back to 1000 BC. It was a city of the people and Bologna is one of the few Italian cities who refused to be run by one family. It allowed for open thinking and even houses the oldest University in the Western world. There is much to see in Bologna and it's worth stopping for longer than a quick pause on your bus route. We loved walking through the porticoes and having our morning coffee each day at the Kamit Express where we felt at home and welcomed by owner Alicia.
2. Racing a Ferrari
Emilia Romagna is the land of motors and you cannot help but get caught up in everything cars. They've built some of the finest most luxurious cars in the world. Lamborghini, Ducati and Ferrari all have their factories here because all the men who built these machines were all born here. Ducati in Bologna, Lamborghini in Ferrara and Ferrari in Modena. All great cities to visit by the way. There are museums and showrooms but the most fun we had was taking a spin on the track in a Ferrari. We had the need for speed.
3. Cycling the Maranello Hills
The Maranello hills take you through the Italian countryside to see ancient castles, family vineyards, olive groves and farmers fields. It's a land of rolling hills and gorgeous scenery. Cycling Maranello hills isn't all about the cycling though, when you cycle in Italy, you stop to eat, drink and be merry. We toured a castle, tasted balsamic vinegar, visited dungeons, ate aperitivo and explored a natural wonder.
4. Saying Hello to Fabio Lamborghini
I never thought we'd ever have the chance to meet a person from the Lamborghini family, but Fabio opens his private collection of Lamborghinis to the public. Make an appointment at the Lamborghini family museum and meet the nephew of Ferruccio Lamborghini. He'll be able to tell you personal stories and show off the priceless collection of cars, tractors, air condidtioners, motorcycles and even a helicpoter during this fascinating tour. I don't normally have an attention span when being led through a museum, but on this tour, we held on every single word.
5. Eating at the Oldest Inn in the World!
Located in the Renaissance town of Ferrara a visit to Al Brindisi is not to be missed. Third generation owner Frederico is the Coolest Cat in town and he houses and extensive wine bar. Sit in history as you wine and dine in the Osteria of the oldest inn in the world. When ordering your meal, don't try to pair your own wine, let the experts do it. They'll walk up the ladder and pick out just the right wine for you. When Frederico found out we were from Canada, he pulled out a dusty bottle from the Maritimes from his collection surrounding the dining room. These wines are priceless and Al Brindisi even has its own label.
For more on Al Brindisi visit their website
6. Hiking in the Apennines
We started out hike in the town of Montese overlooking the beautiful Apeninnes, the Mountain range of this region. Montese was a strategic point during World War 2 due to it's high vantage point in the mountains. Back then the area was barren due to clear cutting the forests, today it is a beautiful lush green landscape leading towards the mountains of Tuscany.
6a. Dinner at The Belvedere Hotel in Montese
I know that Bologna is the spot in Emilia Romagna known for its food, but the best meal we had was at the Belvedere Hotel in the mountain town of Montese. We had no idea what to order so they brought us sample plates of truffel Pasta, grilled fresh vegetables, stuffed tortoloni and balsamic infused chicken. All was made by hand with fresh ingredients and tender loving care. It was the meal in Italy we've always dreamed of.
For more information on accommodation and dining visit Hotel Belvedere in Montese
7. The Coastal Town of Rimini
Rimini was once a thriving beach town for German tourists spending their holidays basking in the sun. While the clientelle has changed a bit over time, it's a more of a local Italian tourist destination now , it's still an amazing beach town and perfect alternative to the crowded Italian Riviera. Famed Italian filmaker Felini retired here and its no wonder why. Rimini has a beach that stretches for miles on the Adriatic Sea. Kite surfing is huge here and you can also visit the famous Riminiterme spa too. The waterfront promenade makes for a gorgeous walk with gelato stands, beach umbrellas and even a ferris wheel decorating the sea front.
Read about our time there at Sometime's a Couple's gotta relax
8. The Oldest Renaissance Festival in the World
Haven't you always wanted to dress up and go to a Renaissance Festival? Maybe it's the geek in me, but I've always wanted to go to one, and if you are going to go to one in your life, you should head to Ferrara in Emilia Romagna. This is the oldest continuous Renaissance Festival in the world and people take it seriously. Ancient houses compete against each other at the track and one male and one female are declared the winners of a foot race. They used to race for food now they race for glory. The winner would bring a feast back to his village now they parade a trophy around the track.
After the foot race comes the donkey race. While the peasants raced on foot for food, the rich and royals raced on steed. This is the most hilarious race to watch as donkeys have a mind of their own and sometimes decide not to run at all. They do four laps around the track and the first donkey through, with or without his rider, wins!
9. Mille Miglia
It's a classic car lovers dream. Each year hundreds of drivers pack up their beloved cars and do a loop around Italy. The Mille Miglia used to be a road race through the country, but after too many fatal crashes it was banned and today it is a road rally parade. We caught a check in celebration in Ferrara. As each car came in to town, they checked in and drove the red carpet to show off their pride and joy. There are everything from vintage Jaguars to classic Ferraris.
9a. Feel at Home at B&B Ai frutti di una Volta
During the Mille Miglia, we stayed at the B&B Ai frutti di una Volta located just outside of Ferarra. We stayed at many places during our time in Italy and the reason I mention this place is because of it's owners. Marco and Roberta have a passion for this place and it shines through when you stay there. Having left their jobs in commerce, they started this B&B for a better quality of life. They met us with smiles in the middle of the night and served us a local produce during breakfast with smiles first thing in the morning. They care very much about eating locally and most of their food comes from within a 100 km radious. Their rooms are elegant and decorated with love. This is a place that one needs to stay for a few days and it just so happened that the Mile Mglia parade drove right by their house! Book your stay at B&B Ai Frutti di Una Volta
For more on your stay at Ai Fruitti di Una Volta visit their website.
10. San Marino
It may be it's own republic, but San Marino is located smack dab in the middle of Emilia Romagna. It overlooks the Italian Apennines on one side with the Adriatic Sea on the other. It's a tiny nation with only 30,000 residents, but it's also considered to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world on a per capita basis. San Marino is gorgeous. It's a medeivel town
Learn about San Marino at Remarkable Views of San Marino
11. Little Venice, Comacchio
It's known as the Venice of Emilia Romagna, only without the crowds. Comacchio is a town built on 13 different islets connected by waterways and canals. It's an area known for it's eel fishing and Sophia Lauren even filmed a movie here. You must visit the fisherman's museum telling you of the town's history and to watch the fascinating films showcasing the work that the eel fisherman did at the turn of the century. I believe the movie we watched dated back to 1912. Before you leave, make sure you try some eel, it's cooked anyway you like it and they are masters at it. There are several restaurants around the main square.
12. Tasting Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
I didn't care nor think much of traditional balsamic vinegar before visiting Emilia Romagna, but while there, we grew fascinated with the process. Barrels are passed down from generation to generation for families to make their own balsamic used for every day life. Traditional Balsamic vinegar is aged for a minimum of 12 years and some are aged up to 45 years! The vinegar is moved in small portions from barrel to barrel each year and the more aged the barrel the better the vinegar. Traditional Balsamic sells for €100 per 100 ml bottle and after learning how it is made, I can understand why. You must visit one of these family run balsamic makers.
When you visit Acetaia Pedroni near the town of Modena. Make sure to eat there too.
There are so many reasons to love Emilia Romagna it's difficult to narrow it down to just twelve. The people are always a reason to love a place and Emilia Romagna is no different. While we didn't include the people in the list, they were involved in every experience we had in the province and without them, we wouldn't have the wonderful memories to bring home. The people of Emilia Romagna made every day special. They were genuinely happy to have us and were pleased that we chose their region of Italy to visit. If you visit Emilia Romagna, you will notice a difference from the other provinces of the country. So when you plan your next Italian vacation, add ER to your list!