How many of you have heard about the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy, or know where it is? I bet not many. This area is often overlooked, although there are many reasons to travel Emilia Romagna.
Italy’s region of Emilia-Romagna, home to Bologna, Modena and Ravenna. 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 there are many tourist attractions in Emilia Romagna. It’s a land full of beauty, charm, and traditions. And if you’re still wondering why you should visit Emilia Romagna, read further.
8 reasons why you should visit Emilia Romagna
1. In Emilia-Romagna, see castles, castles everywhere
Emilia-Romagna’s history has been, well, pretty confused. Divided into various city-states in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, even after the Papal States took over most of the region in the 16th century, the territory of Parma, Piacenza, and Modena maintained its independence—all the way up until the Reunification of 1861. All of those switching alliances, and outright battles, mean medieval and Renaissance-era castles are thick on the ground. Seriously. It’s hard to drive 15 miles without seeing one. And they happen to be some of the best-preserved in Italy, particularly those in the region around Parma and Piacenza.
2. It’s home to the oldest university in Europe
Oxford and Cambridge, move aside: The oldest university in Europe is actually in Bologna, in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region. Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna has had such illustrious alumni as Albrecht Durer, Copernicus, Pope Alexander VI, Petrarch, and Dante. The graceful, medieval city of Bologna still buzzes with student life and academic fervor.
3. From Parma ham to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Emilia-Romagna is a foodies paradise
Few countries in the world can boast such a variety of food specialties and creativity in cuisine like Italy. Furthermore, every Italian region is a land of culinary discoveries.
Emilia-Romagna is an authentic foodies paradise. The region is home to some unique and delicious products, prosciutto di Parma, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, mortadella di Bologna, Culatello di Zibello, Coppa and Modena’s traditional balsamic vinegar, whose production is fascinating. I’m talking about the real thing, not the one sold in most supermarkets because it takes years to produce traditional balsamic vinegar. Lambrusco, the local red wine, slightly sparkling, the perfect pairing with the regional food.
Sure, pasta is the Italian national dish, and there are so many different types of pasta and way of cooking it that you could eat it every day for one year and never have it prepared twice the same fashion.
However, Emilia-Romagna is the realm of homemade pasta – or sfoglia, as they call it here. Tagliatelle, tortellini, lasagne, to mention only a few, are ‘variations on the theme’ across the region. My favorites are tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth) and tagliatelle al ragù. Add to the list lasagna and tortelli di magro (homemade pasta filled with ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and just a bit of parsley), topped with melted butter and a generous spoon of grated Parmigiano. And I could go on…
It’s not surprising that the entire area around Parma is called the “Food Valley,” and the many delicious local products and dishes are alone reason enough for a trip.
4. The region of legendary cars
Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini legendary cars were all born in Emilia-Romagna, in an area called the ‘Motor Valley.’ The same goes for motorbike Ducati, together with other motorbike brands. Here, the best talents gathered and developed unique designs and cutting-edge technology.
The founder of Ferrari was born in Modena, so it’s no surprise that the Ferrari factory, race track, museum and shop all are located in Maranello, just outside the city; here’s where to find out all about visiting the Ferrari factory. The Lamborghini factory is located just 20 miles from Bologna (Sant’Agata Bolognese), also very near Modena, and has a Lamborghini museum (unfortunately, the museum is closed because of the earthquakes until future notice). Maserati, based in Modena since 1940, also has Maserati factory tours and a Maserati museum. And the Ducati Museum is located in nearby Bologna.
5. From Modena to Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna is full of beautiful medieval and Renaissance cities and art
When you picture Italy, do you imagine gorgeous Renaissance domes, winding medieval streets, and graceful palaces? Then you can’t miss the cities in Emilia-Romagna. Ferrara, a UNESCO world heritage city, once an independent and powerful duchy, became one of Italy’s best-known cities by the 15th century and remains circled today by some of the best-preserved medieval walls in Italy.
Bologna also flourished, politically and artistically, throughout the Renaissance, with the artists of the Bolognese School including such heavy-hitters as Annibale Carracci, Domenichino, and Guercino; the town still has its medieval towers and Renaissance palaces. And Parma, with its Romanesque duomo, Gothic churches, and graceful Renaissance palaces and theaters, is worth visiting for more than its famous prosciutto!
6. Mountains and beaches, caves and springs: it’s all in Emilia-Romagna
Although the region is famous for its medieval and Renaissance cities, it also has spectacular natural gems. Emilia-Romagna extends to the Adriatic sea, meaning gorgeous stretches of beach on the coast. But, geographically, the area couldn’t be more diverse: there are the Appenine mountain range, marshes, forests, caves, and springs (taking a dip in the area’s thermal baths is a very popular way to relax, like at Bagno di Romagna or Salsomaggiore). And many of those natural areas have been protected; the region has two national parks, 14 regional parks and 11 regional reserves. So if you’re after hiking, camping, mountain-biking, caving, or any other outdoor activities, Emilia-Romagna is a fantastic place to head.
7. The region that inspired Verdi and Toscanini
Born in 1813 in Roncole di Busseto, Emilia-Romagna, Verdi was one of the greatest Italian composers of all time. And if you’re a fan of his soaring music, there are some stops you have to make in Emilia-Romagna. Like at the National Museum of Giuseppe Verdi, located in a graceful 16th-century palazzo in Busseto. Or his childhood home, the mansion where Verdi had his first public performance, or the palazzo he purchased once he’d become wealthy. Catch a performance at the Verdi Theatre in Bussetto, built in the composer’s honor. One hundred years later, the rising star of Italian opera was Toscanini—and he, too, is a native of Emilia-Romagna. You can visit the house of Toscanini’s birth in Parma.
8. Home to some of the most important mosaics in Italy
Many of the most spectacular, and important, mosaics in Italy are in one city in Emilia-Romagna: Ravenna. Since Ravenna was briefly the capital of the Roman empire after the empire had become Christian, the city’s churches and mausoleums were decorated with the most opulent mosaics possible. Many are still well-preserved today, spellbinding UNESCO world heritages sites, a total of 8 early Christian monuments, and just as spectacular as they were in the 6th and 7th centuries.
TIPS AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
1. Beautiful and less crowded places
Rome, Florence, and Venice are unique and extraordinary, but it’s tough to beat the crowds, 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’s peak season, and sometimes Ravenna can be busy) and more enjoyable.
2. Reasonable prices and value for money
Italy is an extraordinary country but let’s be honest: the most famous spots are pricey, when not outrageously expensive. Emilia-Romagna is generally cheaper, and it’s easy to have delicious food at really fair prices. Moreover, you’ll rarely find the usual places for tourists, with lousy food too expensive for what it is.
3. When to go
You can virtually travel to Emilia-Romagna all year round, but there are times of the year which are more advisable.
Spring and autumn are a favorable period to visit the cities and towns of Emilia-Romagna, which can get quite hot in July and August. Winters can be chilly, but never so cold to prevent you from a pleasant stroll and enjoy one of the many museums and landmarks.
The seacoast is very busy from June to the end of August, and since it’s high season, the prices rise. May and September can be lovely, a bit cooler, and less crowded. If you like the sea in winter, as I do, you’ll appreciate the vast, long beaches, where you can walk almost undisturbed. The only downside is that many hotels, restaurants, and cafès are seasonal, so you’ll have limited options.
4. Getting to Emilia Romagna
By Air: Bologna Marconi Airport (BLG) has direct flights from/to several European cities (Vienna, Munich, Edinburgh, London, Paris, and many more). The airport is very close to the city. A regular shuttle bus connects Bologna airport to the city center in about 20-30 minutes.
By Train: Bologna is the main railway hub in the north/south train lines. With the high-speed train, you can quickly travel from/to Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome.