Italy offers an embarrassment of riches to those who explore her lands: miles upon miles of pristine beaches, dramatic mountain passes, rushing rivers, and tranquil forests. One would need weeks – or a few splendid months – to experience all of it. But Emilia-Romagna, a region encompassing Adriatic coastline, Apennine foothills, and acres of rolling plains, has all that and more. It is, in fact, a microcosm of Italy’s universal allure.
Saturday, September 2, the Italian Food Wine & Travel group takes a virtual trip to Emilia-Romagna, exploring its culture and cuisine and – of course – its wine traditions. Anyone who’s interested in the topic is welcome to participate, and we love when new folks come into the fold! How does it work? It’s simple: let me know you’re in by commenting on this post or via Twitter (@theswirlingderv) by end of day Tuesday, August 29th. Be sure to include your blog post title and links to your social media accounts. I will draft a final preview post that includes everyone’s titles with links to their home pages.
Our live chat occurs on September 2 at 11 am EDT. To follow the discussion, log into Twitter and search for #ItalianFWT. Click the “latest” button at the top and you’ll see all the tweets live, as they are posted. After the chat, read and comment on the other participants’ blog posts and they will return the favor! It’s always a good time, with plenty of wine recommendations, food pairing ideas, and travel tips. If you’re already missing the lazy days of summer, please join our virtual trip to intriguing Italy!
The diversity of Emilia-Romagna’s terrain gives a clue to its popularity among tourists: there truly is something here for everyone! Enjoy local seafood at an al fresco cafe on the Adriatic coast; hike the rugged trails of the Apennine Mountains; treat yourself to a relaxing day at the thermal spa. Not to mention the numerous food and wine tours through some of the most famous culinary cities in the world.
Emilia-Romagna comprises nine provinces, each with a distinct personality. Here are some highlights about each, moving from west to east:
On Emilia-Romagna’s western edge, bordering Piemonte, lies Piacenza, a festival of medieval villages and Romanesque churches nestled in the four valleys carved out by the Tidone, Trebbia, Nure, and Arda Rivers. Castles built by wealthy families, notably the Palazzo Farnese, dot the landscape and harken us back to the middle ages. In Velera Romana, one can jump further back in time with a visit to the roman ruins, including forum, cathedral, and baths. Opera fans can pay tribute to maestro Giuseppe Verdi at his home in Piacenza. For a glimpse of what Piacenza has to offer, take a few minutes to watch this video featuring the castles of the area. It’s in Italian, but the pictures do most of the talking!
Culinary delights run the gamut from pork products like copa, salame, and pork belly, to freshwater catfish and frogs – a perfect reflection of the diverse nature of Piacenza province. Wines rely on familiar grapes like Croatina, Barbera, and Malvasia.
Bordered by the Po River in the north and the Apennines to the south, this region abuts sections of Lombardia, Liguria, and Toscana. The pastoral countryside includes vast plains and lakes, and is dotted with castles and cathedrals. Within Parma, you can visit the Bishop’s Palace, which dates to the 11th century as well as the octagonal Baptistery constructed in the 12th century of pink marble. The town of Fontevivo is home to a Cistercian abbey built in the 12th century.
Food lovers will know this region for its celebrated Prosciutto di Parma and its Parmiggiano cheese. But there is so much more! Indeed, there are three tourist routes dedicated to the enjoyment of local products: one for culatello di Zibello ham; another for regional ham and wine; and a third that’s all about the porcini mushroom.
Sandwiched between Lombardia to the north and Toscana to the south, this province is a picturesque swath of green plains and forests. Hard to imagine this pastoral land was once the center of political power in northern Italy. In the 11th century, Matilda of Canossa came to possess a vast territory that included present-day Lombardy, Emilia, the Romagna and Tuscany, and made the castle of Canossa, in the Apennines south of Reggio, the seat of power. In May of 1111 she was crowned Imperial Vicar and Vice-Queen of Italy by Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor at the Castle of Bianello.
As interesting as the history might be, local food and wine are always a draw, and Reggio-Emilia is no exception. This province has given us rabbit alla reggiana, erbazzone, and the wines of Lambrusco.
This central province has Etruscan origins and was subsequently ruled by the Celts and then the Romans. But Modena is renowned for two reasons in particular: the famous balsamic vinegar produced here, and high-performance motor cars. Makers of luxury Italian sports cars such as Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati are, or were, located here and all, except Lamborghini, have headquarters in the city. One of Ferrari’s models, the 360 Modena, was named after the town itself.
If political history is more your speed, a visit to the town of Nonantola is in order. The Benedictine abbey there was constructed in the 8th century, and houses relics and documents from the time of Charles the Great and Frederick Barbarossa.
The capital of the region and home to the oldest university (11th century) in the western world, Bologna was ruled first by the Etruscans, then the Gauls and Romans. Evidence of these civilizations persists around town, most powerfully in the towers and porticoes gracing local architecture.
Bologna might also be considered the culinary capital of Italy. Think of the delectable, long-simmered Bolognese sauce, not to mention mortadella or tortellini in brodo. Vegetables grow well in the fertile soils here, and the town of Altedo is famous for its asparagus.
In the far northeast, bordering the Veneto, lies Ferrara, a flat plain strewn with rivers and canals that brought goods from the Adriatic ports to other regions of Italy and the rest of Europe. Spina, an Etruscan city dating to the 6th century BC, was built on the Po River delta where the river empties into the Adriatic. Spina was unknown until the 1920s, when a necropolis was uncovered about four miles west of the commune of Comacchio. One of the more intriguing locales in Ferrara, it is home to the Valleys of Comacchio, complex networks of canals that look much today as they did in medieval times.
Local cuisine tends toward seafood and freshwater fish, including eel from the aforementioned Comacchio canals. Another traditional favorite is salama da sugo, a concoction of pork and red wine that is used in heavier dishes.
Running east-west from the Adriatic coast, Ravenna’s landscapes include beaches, plains, mountains, and acres of pine forest. An area rich in biodiversity, it offers the outdoorsman plenty of distraction from ancient ruins and gustatory pleasures. Nature preserves abound, and an adventurous traveler can choose from diving in the sea beds along the coast to birdwatching in the woods.
Serving (at different times) as the capital of both the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, Ravenna’s towns are studded with fine examples of architecture and mosaics created by these two cultures. A monthly event, Mosaico di Notte, invites citizens and tourists alike to visit the famous mosaics after hours; to see them in a different light.
Other attractions include Faenza, in the southwest of the province, which is world-renowned for its majolica ceramics, and the tomb of poet Dante Alighieri – he of the famous Inferno – who died here in 1321.
Here’s a close-up of how majolica cermaics are made:
Lying in the far southeast of the province, along the border with the Marche, Forlì-Cesena touches both the Apennine foothills and the Adriatic beaches. Throughout history it has served as a trading hub, thanks to its favorable location on an ancient Roman road that crosses the province. In the town of Cesena, you can visit a cathedral built atop the ruins of a Roman temple; if you prefer ancient history, Ca Belvedere in Montepoggiolo should be right up your alley. Archaeologists there have uncovered prehistoric sites dating back to the Paleolithic era.
Foodies will enjoy Forlimpopoli, birthplace of Pellegrino Artusi, who penned Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, the first book chronicling Italian cuisine. No doubt his reference contains a recipe for piadina – local flatbread topped with squacquerone cheese (similar to stracchino) and salame.
Tucked in the far southeast corner of Emilia-Romagna, along the Adriatic coast, Rimini is another treasure trove of history. Ruled in turns by the Romans, Goths, and Byzantines, the city boasts the Arch of Augustus, built in 27 BC, as well as an amphitheater from the same era and the Ponte di Tiberio (Bridge of Tiberius) which remains in use today. Rimini, the birthplace of filmmaker Federico Fellini, is also home to the Sant’ Agata Feltria white truffle. Each October the locals celebrate the magical mushrooms in a sagra or festival, dedicated to their namesake.
I hope I’ve tempted you to join us on Saturday, September 2. There is so much for us to talk about! If you’d like to dig a little deeper into the region of Emilia-Romagna, here are a couple of on-line resources that can direct you to more details:
Italian Wine Central for a map of regional DOPs and other information.