So I’m in the midst of planning my next trip, which is a little tour of Tuscany. And it got me thinking about a break I had in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. I’d written about it on my deleted blog, which obviously means it’s deleted…so thought I better share with you again.
My sister-in-law Perry was swimming in the World Championships in Riccione (she’s a seriously good swimmer) and suggested that I joined her. The area is real foodie heaven with claims to being the gastronomic centre of Italy. Quite a big claim really and one I was happy to investigate.
First stop was Rimini area and the town of Riccione. It’s part of the Adriatic Riviera and with a beach stretching about 15kms from Riccione to Rimini, it’s heaven in the sun – chilled and unpretentious and packed with sunworshippers.
The Italians seem to love their canine friends (cane or cagna, depending on whether it’s a boy or a girl, pronounced KAH-nyah). So much so that they have their own special part of the beach with little enclosures and water bowls to make sure they’re comfortable and, I guess, don’t disturb anyone who doesn’t want to be disturbed. Love the idea.
This expansive beach is dotted with an array of restaurants where you can put your feet in the sand and tuck into Italian delicacies for amazingly low prices. We loved ordering an array of salads and meat dishes and sharing, along with a bottle of local wine. The produce was all so wonderful, like this combo of bresaola, rocket and parmesan.
From Riccione we caught the train to Bologna. Italian trains are great – cheap, frequent and punctual – and this journey’s only an hour and a half.
The medieval city of Bologna is nicknamed la dotta (the learned), la grossa (the fat), la rossa (the red). It’s home to the oldest university in Europe (founded 1088), has a strong claim to being at the heart of Italian cuisine, and there are a lot of buildings in different shades of red. The red reference also refers to politics as it’s known as being the centre of Italian left wing politics. Obviously there’s a lot going on here!
Bologna’s dominated by grand red porticos and styles of architecture in different rosy shades. The precariously leaning towers of Le Due Torri are the symbol of the city and make you feel quite dizzy as you stare upwards into the blue sky. Just down the road, towering over the biggest piazza in town, the grand Piazza Maggiore, is the Basilica di San Petronio, the fifth biggest church in the world.
The streets leading off this magnificent square radiate an amazing energy, with crowds spilling out onto the pavement to relax with a glass of prosecco or refreshing beer. And there’s a stunning food market set in the narrow old streets nearby. The perfect place to stop for a coffee or two and inhale the scent of ham and cheese, seriously it’s in the air.
This is the city that invented tortellini and tagliatelle (which is what your traditional Bolognese sauce will be served with, and it’s made of pork and veal, usually, not beef). It’s also the home of the famous mortadella sausage.
To complete the foodie jigsaw of the region there are two must-visit cities nearby. Modena is only 20 minutes away by train. Modena is home to Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati (the new Ferrari museum is worth a visit for petrolheads), so not lacking in style and speed and it’s the birthplace of Pavarotti. Plus it’s where the delectable balsamic vinegar is produced.
Modena is also home to the three Michelin starred Osteria Francescana, voted the third best restaurant in the world for 2014. An absolutely extraordinary experience, fabulous, amazingly creative food and friendly service in a relaxed surroundings. I’d go back to Modena for this restaurant alone!
A slightly longer train journey away from Bologna, Parma seems to works at a slower pace. It’s more laid back with wider streets, beautiful gardens and the inspiring dusky pink church, the Baptistery of Parma. And don’t forget two of the ultimate culinary delights, Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese). Once you’ve tried them in their home town you’ll dream of those flavours.
Well, that was all quite a revelation. So much to do and see, and oh so much to eat. I feel this delightful region of Italy needs some deeper investigation. At this rate I need to move to Italy for a year…now that’s not a bad idea.