Emilia-Romagna is often mistaken as one region, when in fact it is actually an uneasy union of two provinces joined together in 1945. These two provinces could not be more different. Emilia is sometimes referred to as the bread basket of Italy, the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello, and the balsamic vinegar of Modena while Romagna is known for game and seafood. Without a doubt, Emilia-Romagna is considered heaven for foodies, home of the famous tortellini, luxury cars (Ferrari, Lamborgini, Maserati, Pagani), delicious Lambrusco and so much more.
Home of the first university in the western world, birthplace of the Italian flag (Reggio Emilia), Emilia-Romagna is also the place where many bright minds were born and where they studied, birthplace of many of the world’s musical geniuses, from Giuseppe Verdi, Arturo Toscanini to Luciano Pavarotti. The university had a major influence on the local culture, developing science, unique art, literature, music, and architecture, among many other fields. Emilia-Romanga is also known for the iconic clothing brands such as Giorgio Armani, Max Mara, Blumarine and Alberta Ferretti. The region also has a “shoe district” found in San Mauro Mare, located in the Romagnan Riviera, with brands such as Sergio Rossi, Vicini and Giuseppe Zanotti.
6 reasons why you should visit Emilia-Romagna
The Via Emilia is an ancient Roman road that leads along the entire region of Emilia-Romagna. The road is the thread that connects all of the diverse natural and cultural landscapes of the region, from the sunny beaches of Rimini to the historic art city of Piacenza. The Via Emilia, which was first commissioned by Roman consul Marco Emilio Lepido in 187 BC, connects the many gems of the region to discover. From the 10 famous art cities of the region, to the untouched landscapes of the Apennines mountains and the Po River Delta. The road passes through the Motor Valley, the heart of Italy’s luxury car industry as well as Emilia-Romagna’s Food Valley, known for being one of the most unique and celebrated food and wine regions in the world. Emilia-Romagna has even more to offer with its vast network of thermal springs and spas, its successful industrial sectors as well as pristine 110 km of coastline along the Adriatic Sea.
1. Emilia-Romagna has many beautiful medieval castles and Renaissance cities
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!
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.
2. It’s home to the oldest university in Europe
Yes, Oxford and Cambridge are old universities, but 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. The region has he highest number of protected food products, 44 DOP and IGP products as well as 50 DOC and DOCG wines, with many of these authentic ingredients being used in typical dishes offered by Michelin-starred restaurants, taverns and street food kiosks. Casa Artusi, one of most famous culinary institutions in Italy is located in Emilia-Romagna along with the Alma di Colorno which is the International Cooking School run by Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi, located near Parma, which was named the Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO.
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. 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…
4. The region of legendary cars
Ferrari,Pagani,Maserati, Lamborghini were all born in Emilia-Romagna, in an area called the ‘Motor Valley.’ The same goes for the 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. 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. 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.
6. 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.