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  • Tony

Italy - Emilia-Romagna

June 2023

Ask any Italian where their favorite place to eat is and their response will undoubtedly be “Mamma’s kitchen”. But if you ask which region in Italy has the best food, the answer will most likely be Emilia-Romagna.

If you are not familiar with the area you will certainly be familiar with the food that originates from here. Emilia-Romagna is home to culinary specialties that with the mere mention of their name create cravings for some of Italy's finest foods. Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto de Parma, Culatello, Mortadela, Tortellini, Bolognese, Lasagna, Tagliatelle, and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, just to name a few.

When planning this trip our main focus was, of course on the food and the opportunity to experience it in its birthplace. Lucky for us and others traveling to the region there is an abundance of spectacular monuments, villages, and towns to explore and activities that require a lot of walking to explore which can help offset some of the additional calorie intake.

We've probably planned too much into the course of this ten-day trip but with so much to see, taste, and do it's really hard to resist packing in as much as we can. This trip includes stays in Bologna, Parma, and Bergamo (which technically isn't part of Emilia-Romagna, it's in the Lombardy region to the north) with day trips to Ferrara, Ravenna, and Modena.

We flew from Faro, Portugal directly to Milan's Bergamo airport on Monday afternoon, about a two-and-a-half-hour flight. We were going to take the train on this trip since Italy has such a great network that can make travel easy but at the last minute we opted to rent a car providing more flexibility for additional touring and keeping the train for a few of the day planned trips. Once we loaded up our Fiat 500x we jumped on the Autostrada for just under three hours driving to our base for the next four nights in Bologna. Since we wouldn't arrive in Bologna until about 10:30 we stopped in a small village near Modena and found a local Trattoria for dinner. Our first food experience which of course included Tagliatelle Bolognese and Tortelloni di ricotta, spinach ai funghi, what a great way to get started! If you love a simple and familiar atmosphere, this is the right place: the Ricchi family has been offering the typical flavors of Modena cuisine for over fifty years:

Bologna, Italy's seventh largest city with just under 400,000 inhabitants with nearly 1/4 of them being students studying at one of the oldest universities in the world (founded in 1088). The blend of tourists and students provides a vibrant atmosphere full of active restaurants and bars, most with 80% of their seating in the streets and alleys. The city has 3 nicknames: la dotta (the learned), la grassa (the fat), and la Rossa (the red). The learned from the large university population, the fat from the amazing foods, and the red representing Bologna's anti-fascist movement during the Second World War, aspects of its ‘red’ culture remain visible today, in street art, and lively student protest culture.

The historic center is a complex web of monuments, churches, food stalls, restaurants, bars, and shops most under the shade of the city's vast number of Porticos, providing the perfect relief from the unusual early summer heat. The porticoes are an inescapable feature of the city, so much so that in 2021 Unesco officially declared Bologna the “City of Porticoes”.

The heart of the city, Piazza Maggiore is the result of centuries-old transformations that gradually enriched it with important monuments: the Basilica of San Petronio, the Palazzo dei Notai, the Palazzo d'Accursio, the Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo dei Banchi, and the Fountain of Neptune. The week we were there started a summer-long nightly free movie presentation set in the center of the plaza. A large screen and seating for several hundred in front of the Basilica featuring international films and used for graduation ceremonies during the day. We happened to catch a ceremony for graduating Doctores as we were passing through the Piazza.

Wander through the nearby Medieval streets of the Quadrilatero, Bologna's oldest and most fascinating market, shops and restaurants. The streets of Drapperie, pescherie, and orefici: all receiving their name from what could be found in the market stalls and shops of the past.

More sights through the streets of Bolognas historic center including the narrow streets of the former Jewish Ghetto, the Founding headquarters of Maserati, and several churches.

Once boasting over 250 towers throughout the city of Bologna, only a fraction of those exists today as a notable part of the city's architecture. Torre Degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda were built between 1109 and 1119 and were handed over to the Municipality as early as the following century. Torre Degli is open to adventurers willing to climb its 498 internal steps that lead to the top at a height of 97.02 metres offering spectacular views of the city. Torre Garisenda is different due to its shorter height of 47 metres. It is known for its steep tilt due to unstable ground, so much so that Dante featured it in Canto XXXI of the Inferno. It was lowered for fear of it collapsing during the 14th century and is currently being restored.

Bologna's Archiginnasio palace, built in 1562 has an imposing entrance with a long portico consisting of 30 arches, and two floors around a central courtyard. The two large staircases lead to the upper floor which has 10 classrooms (today the main storage of books for the Library) and two lecture halls located at the ends of the building, one for Artists (now the Reading Room of the Library) and one for Lawyers. The walls of the rooms, the vaults of the staircases and loggias are decorated with ornate carved inscriptions and monuments celebrating the masters (Professors) of the classrooms and thousands of students coat of arms and names. The building ceased its university function in 1803; since 1838 it has housed the Library. On the ground floor, some of the old classrooms are occupied by the Medical and Surgical Society and the Academy of Agriculture.

A Food tour of Bologna Why not! A small group tour inside the Historic center to sample and experience what Bologna has to offer: La Salumeria di Bruno e Franco for Prosciutto di Parma DOP, Mortadella di Bologna IGP, Salame Rosa, Ciccioli, Salame Felino IGP, Culatello di Zibello DOP, and Parmigiano Reggiano DOP 24 months: Il Banco del Pane: Osteria del Sole for eating meats and cheese gathered along the way and a taste of Pignoletto DOC [sparkling white wine] and Sangiovese DOC [still red wine]: Trattoria del Rosso for Tagliatelle with Ragù Bolognese, Tortellini with Cream, Lambrusco DOC [sparkling red wine], and Nocino - walnut liqueur: Drogheria Gilberto for tasting IGP & DOP Balsamic Vinegar from Modena 8-12-25 years: Panificio Paolo Atti & Figli for Torta di Riso - Rice Cake [Secret Dish of Bologna]: Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla for Artisanal Gelato.

Ferrara, A short 30 minute train ride from Bologna is the city of Ferrara known for its UNESCO designation, Renaissance buildings, and close proximity to the Po river and its delta. Significantly less crowded than Bologna it was a nice respite and a lot calmer for touring. We visited the moated Este Castle, complete with dungeons, the Romanesque Ferrara Cathedral (under renovation) with its 3-tiered facade and a marble bell tower, and walked through the older streets.

Ravenna, another small city filled with UNESCO world heritage sites. About an hour and a half train ride from Bologna. Far less crowded and filled with spectacular monuments, amazing mosaics, and rich history as the seat of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of Byzantine Italy until the 8th century. We walked throughout the city visiting the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neonian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Church of San Vitale and Dante's Tomb.