Everyone traveling from Florence to Venice (or the other way round) goes through Emilia-Romagna and its largest city, Bologna. This Italian region is often barely an area of transit and only a few make a stop on their way to or from Tuscany.
Too bad, for Emilia-Romagna is a land full of beauty and charm. Thus, I’ll try to tickle your curiosity by telling you 10 reasons you should add Emilia-Romagna to your bucket list.
1. A land of authenticity
I’m not going to deny that Tuscany is awesome, but part of it has been shaped to please tourists. The only thought that an area of Tuscany has been nicknamed ‘Chiantishire’ makes me shiver as does reading many signs in English at the entrance of some local wineries, meaning that a lot is done to satisfy Anglo-Saxons visitors.
Not so in Emilia-Romagna, where authenticity is deep-rooted and the feeling of Italy is much stronger.
2. Warm hospitality
I don’t know the reason, but Emilia-Romagna has always distinguished itself for the warm hospitality, a characteristic which luckily hasn’t faded away.
Most people in the region are friendly, joyful and easy-going, and feeling at home is often only a matter of minutes. I cherish this area of Italy because I always feel welcome.
3. Art cities, smooth hills, mountain ranges, endless beaches: Emilia-Romagna is surprisingly diverse
I love art and was enchanted by Ravenna and its magnificent mosaics, Modena’s beautiful Romanesque architecture, the colourful streets of Parma and lovely Ferrara.
I felt pure bliss looking at the smooth and verdant hills near Faenza and fell in love with the little town ofBrisighella, a place where I could easily spend months just enjoying the peaceful surroundings.
Albeit not as scenic as the Alps, there are plenty of nice spots in the Apennines, with lots of outdoors activities that can be done. I only visited the area around Porretta Terme, a pretty town surrounded by hills and mountains on the edge between Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, and certainly wish to see more next time.
And then there’s the Adriatic coast, with its wide sandy beaches and a lot of entertainment for anyone: teenagers, couples, families, elderly.
I’m not much of a beach lover anymore, but Rimini and Riccione – the two most popular spots -, are linked to my childhood since my father used to bring my brother and I there on holiday.
And from time to time, I like reliving sweet memories spending a few days of long walks along the beach, eating delicious typical piadina (a local flat bread, that I usually have filled with ham, soft cheese and arugola) and shamelessly savouring huge dishes of fresh fish.
4. Wonderful places, little crowd
Rome, Florence and Venice are unique and extraordinary but it’s really hard to beat the crowd, no matter the season, and the flurry can be overwhelming.
Most places across Emilia-Romagna are quieter (unless you go to the Adriatic coast in July-August peak season, and sometimes Ravenna can be busy) and more enjoyable.
5. Less known doesn’t mean less interesting
Hopping from one small city to the other, it doesn’t take long to see how special everyone is.
Especially for art lovers, there are must-see places like Ravenna, a town with a population of about 160,000 people and no less than 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (a unique complex of early Christian monuments with magnificent mosaics) and Modena, another UNESCO WHS.
A university town, Bologna is filled with young students giving to the city a very peculiar and lively vibe. I loved walking under the arcades (they cover 45 km, or 28 mi, in the city), getting lost in the tiny streets of the historical centre, sitting with a book at one of the many café and just enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.
6. The realm of home-made pasta
Sure, pasta is the national Italian dish and there are so many different types of pasta and way of cooking it that you could easily eat it every day for one year and never have it prepared twice the same fashion.
However, Emilia-Romagna is the realm of home-made pasta – or sfoglia, as they call it here: tagliatelle, tortellini,lasagne, to mention only a few, because there are several ‘variations on the theme’ across the region.
Preparing home-made pasta is a cult and a pride, and maybe nothing holds memories of a past that has been kept alive, no matter how the world has changed. Food in Italy is traditionally a family matter, and the loving preparation of tortellini or lasagne was meant for special occasions, gathering family and friends around the table. There may be less occasions today, but the tradition is still strongly felt.
My favourites are tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth), tagliatelle al ragù (beware that there’s not such thing as ‘spaghetti al ragù in Italy’, that’s for so-called Italian restaurants/food abroad), lasagna and tortelli di magro (home-made pasta filled with ricotta, parmigiano-reggiano and just a bit of parsley), topped with melted butter and a generous spoon of grated parmigiano.
7. Bologna is perfectly located to explore Northern Italy
Not many foreign visitors know that Bologna is one of the main railway hubs in Italy, being strategically positioned on the railroad line connecting Milan to Florence-Rome and Venice to Florence-Rome, both passing through Bologna.
The introduction of high-speed trains has significantly reduced the time to travel from one city to another, thus from Bologna it takes only 1 hour to reach Milan, 1 1/2 hour to Venice and 35-40 minutes to Florence. These trains are quick but expensive, however, there are ways to save money on high-speed trains.
Exploring Emilia-Romagna by train is easy since Bologna has many regional trains connecting most of the best spots.
Additionally, Bologna has a small but well serviced airport. With 76 international connections, the city is within easy reach by plane from most European cities as well as from Moscow. Furthermore, a regular shuttle bus connects Bologna airport to the city centre in about 20-30 minutes.
8. Good prices and value for money
Italy is a wonderful country but let’s be honest: the most famous spots are pricey, when not outrageously expensive. Emilia-Romagna is on average cheaper and it’s easy to have amazing food at really fair prices.
Moreover, you’ll rarely find the typical places for tourists, with lousy food too expensive for what it is.
9. A foodies paradise
No country in the world can boast such a variety of food specialties and creativity in cuisine, and every Italian region is a land of culinary discoveries.
If I had to say which are my 3 favourite Italian regions for food, I would say Apulia (I loved the gastronomic specialties in Brindisi and surroundings), Sicily and… yes… Emilia-Romagna.
Celebrated on Forbes as Italy’s Greatest Gastronomic Treasure, Emilia-Romagna is an authentic foodies paradise, home to some of the most unique and delicious products, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Modena’s balsamic vinegar (I’m talking the real thing, not the one sold in most supermarkets, because it takes years to produce balsamic vinegar and therefore it is expensive), mouth-watering cured meat like Culatello di Zibello, Parma ham,Mortadella, Coppa and more. Not to speak about Lambrusco, the local red wine, slightly sparkling, perfect pairing with the regional food.
10. The land of legendary cars
Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, three legendary cars which were born in Emilia-Romagna, in an area sometimes called the ‘Motor Valley’, where the best talents gathered and developed unique designs and cutting-edge technology.