ONE WEEK IN EMILIA ROMAGNA
For those who don’t know me well, I’m Italian and consider myself a very lucky person. How could I not be? My country is one of the most beautiful in the world (Italian pride!).
I’m a nomad at heart, but my motto has always been: Know your roots first, then you’re ready to conquer the world. And that’s exactly what I did.
What puzzled me during my years wandering and discovering my own country was…
WHY IS EMILIA ROMAGNA SO UNDERRATED, ESPECIALLY AMONGST THE FOREIGNERS?
I was lucky enough to visit the region a few times when I was 20, and my brother used to live in a small cute village called Loiano, located on top of one of the many hills surrounding Bologna. Since that first visit, I have wanted to go back so bad!
When I discovered the BlogVille project, I immediately asked to participate in Emilia Romagna.
A quick mention of the project: We were given a lovely apartment in the center of Bologna, facing Piazza Maggiore. We were left completely free to decide which part of Emilia Romagna to discover. Meaning: no constrictions or tight schedules to follow. Needless to say, I was beyond excited!
Because let’s face it, try to ask other travelers where they’ve been in Italy or where they are planning to go (because everyone is going to visit Italy, sooner or later), and the usual answers are:
ROME (I love it with all my heart, but please, people, don’t stop there!), VENICE (honestly? Overrated for me, sorry to disappoint Venice’s lovers), FLORENCE/TUSCANY (beautiful, of course, one of my favorite together with Emilia Romagna in northern Italy), MILAN (Not my cup of tea, it might have its appeal for some, but not me. Nothing personal).
Maybe the more “adventurous” ones even visited Cinque Terre, Naples and the Amalfi coast, and the beautiful islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Still, not many people place Emilia Romagna on top of their list. WHY?!
Being Italian and knowing 98% of my country’s regions, I’d love to see more people visiting Emilia Romagna, not just the lovely Bologna because it’s not all Emilia Romagna has to offer.
Now I’d love to show you four great things you can do in Emilia Romagna that make visiting the region for at least one week worth it!!
TOP 4 THINGS TO DO IN EMILIA ROMAGNA
These suggestions are based on my personal experience during my week in Emilia Romagna. An unforgettable week filled with surprises, adventures, and good food (Oh, the food!)
1| GET LOST BY FOOT AND BY BUS IN BOLOGNA
– Discover the REAL deal-
Ok, I said that Emilia Romagna is not just Bologna, but a visit to the capital is mandatory, but why don’t you try to see more than the usual spots and venture a bit outside of your comfort zone?
I suggest taking at least 2-3 days to discover Bologna. The center is quite easy to roam around on foot, and you’ll have the chance to see all the major attractions.
After you have admired the beauty of Piazza Maggiore, the towers, the arcades, and the small streets surrounding the city center, you’re ready: Simply get lost!
Don’t worry; Bologna is a rather safe city. Just bring a map with you, in case you have to ask someone where in the hell you ended up, buy a daily ticket, and jump on the first bus that comes your way. You’ll be surprised at what you might discover!
I first started by foot, sneaking around the small streets filled with dozens of arcades and small shops (called “Bottega” in Italian, selling prosciutto, bread, and other typical Regional products).
Then I saw bus number 30, and I decided to take it. The excitement of not knowing where you’re headed and what you’ll see is the best part. It’s like going back o your childhood when everything was new and exciting!
TIPS TO GET LOST-SAFELY!
– ENJOY THE RIDE: It doesn’t matter if you don’t know every single detail of what you’re looking at. Sometimes beauty is there just to be admired, not examined.
If you are still curious, you can always take a picture of what you see and ask the locals or look it up on the Internet. In the meantime… enjoy the ride!
–SIT NEAR THE DRIVER: Possibly on his right, you’ll be amazed at how friendly the local bus drivers can be when they get out of the stressful traffic jams in the city center!
-BRING A MAP WITH YOU: You might want to ask which bus goes to that attraction you want to see in Bologna. And below is where I ended up!
PIAZZALE SAN GIOVANNI IN BOSCO
Without knowing it, I was actually on a slightly touristic route. To my surprise, I saw the bus going up the hill, passing through some lovely villas surrounded by green areas and residential houses.
The bus stopped in this big space overlooking the city where you can find the Church of San Giovanni In Bosco.
Worth a visit. That view is awesome, you can see Bologna from the hill, and even if the hop-on hop-off bus passes there, it doesn’t stop. The quiet is surreal. I was alone admiring the beauty of Bologna from the hill.
On my way back, always with the same bus, magic N.30, I get off at Giardini Margherita, a big park where the locals play sports, take their children to spend a day out, or simply sunbathe!
You can enjoy your afternoon strolling around the park, watching the small water turtles and ducks, or simply sit on the grass and relax. Highly recommend!
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT BOLOGNA?You can check out their official website: www.bolognawelcome.it or visit their offices at Bologna Airport G Marconi (Grab a map of the city!) or in their Piazza Maggiore Office.
2| DISCOVER THE BEAUTY OF THE APENNINES
-Relax and Adventure all in one-
If someone asks me to name one thing worth visiting in Emilia Romagna, I wouldn’t have any doubts: Discover the Parco del Frignano and its beautiful lakes: Lake Baccio and Lake Santo!
I organized a day trip to the park with Trekking Italy and the lovely guide Riccardo Solmi, who showed me around and took me to one of the most beautiful places in Emilia Romagna.
These two lakes are (incredibly!) not touristy, and you’ll be immersed in nature.
Surrounded by beautiful and peaceful sceneries, sitting on the grass in front of the lakes and meeting the occasional excursionist coming down from the mountains.
TIPS FOR A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE
-GO WITH AN EXPERT GUIDE: It’s important to have one as unless you know where you’re going and have your own car, in this case, getting lost is not advisable!
-GET A PACKED LUNCH AT A LOCAL SHOP: Don’t bring your packed lunch from home; stop and get one delicious panino with some prosciutto or “coppa” (a typical Italian type of salami, my favorite).
It’s all part of the experience, and you’ll get to stop in one of the gracious villages along the way. Which adds up to the overall experience.
–BRING SOMETHING WARM (and a spare set of clothes!): Even if I went there in June, the mountains could get a bit cold. We were caught up in a storm, and I got completely soaked on our way back to the first lake (Lake Santo). Luckily enough, my guide had a spare t-shirt!
The experience was so much fun! No one there, the storm, and me trying to save not my precious camera but…. My salami panini! Yep! The food in Emilia Romagna was so good that during the storm, my only focus was desperately trying to spare my yummy lunch from the rain.
I completely forgot about my rather expensive photo equipment. That’s what I call a true miracle 🙂
ADDITIONAL INFOIt takes around 2/3 hours to get to the Frignano Park from Bologna. The Hike to the lakes it’s very easy, not steep or dangerous, so ideal for everyone. I highly recommend Riccardo and its Trekking Italy services for this trip.
He loves his region and knows a lot about the spots you can’t miss, the traditions and much more.
3 | TREAT YOURSELF TO A THERMAL CENTER/ SPA
-And try a cherry juice bath-
Emilia Romagna is well famous for the curative power of its sulfur waters. No wonder the region is filled with Spas and Thermal centers.
The locals go there regularly to cure respiratory problems or simply to relax and take a day or a full weekend to treat themselves.
On the first day in the house in Emilia Romagna, I checked out the wide range of leaflets left by the Blogville staff to help us choose whatever suited our taste.
Shame on me; I only saw the one about the Thermal centers and SPA’s two days before I left! Everyone knows how crazy I am about SPAs.
I talked about my obsession with wellness centers & co on my Sri Lankan post, so when I discovered that Emilia-Romagna had such a plethora of choices, I was like a kid at Disneyworld!
After 1 hour of drooling over the pictures on the guide, I decided to go to the Terme Della Salvarola, which is easily reachable from Bologna (just 1 hour by train).
The experience was beyond amazing, and I can’t recommend that place enough. I only have one problem to report: LEAVING! I wish I had a whole week at the Terme della Salvarola! If I felt so relaxed after only one day in there, I bet that one week would have turned me into Yoda. Seriously!
BELOW ARE A FEW MARVELOUS THINGS I TRIED:
And you should try too!
THE CHERRY JUICE BATH!!
Ok I start with my absolute favorite, I had a super relaxing bath in a small heated room and the bath was actually a real wine cask!
THE HEATED POOLS
There are three pools at Terme della Salvarola, and ideally, you should try all of them as the different temperatures will help in reactivating the circulation.
THE CHERRY MASSAGE
There is a wide range of massages you can choose from on the Terme della Salvarola “menu,” and I had a really hard time deciding which one to try! Since I went for the cherry juice bath, I paired it with the cherry massage.
One word? Heavenly!
The lady covered me with a special white mixture with a delicious scent and had real cherries in it. I almost fell asleep during the massage; so relaxing!
Unfortunately, “all the good things come to an end” the day was almost over, and I had to catch my train back to Bologna, so I sadly had to say goodbye to paradise.
I’m 100% sure of one thing: whenever I’m back to Emilia Romagna, I’m booking a full weekend at Salvarola Terme. No doubt about it! I don’t even recommend it. It should be mandatory!
INFO ABOUT THE SALVAROLA TERMETo know more about this heavenly place, near Sassuolo (Modena), their treatments, offers and prices, you can check out their official website in here. Also, don’t miss the opportunity of staying in one of the marvelous villas in Italy! Emilia Romagna has some truly amazing places where you can relax after a day at the SPA!
4| ASK A LOCAL TO BE YOUR GUIDE IN RAVENNA!
-And discover the ancient art of Mosaics-
Emilia Romagna has plenty of cities to discover. Since I had to choose one, max 2, I decided to go for Ravenna, the capital of the western Roman Empire, of King Theodoric of the Goths, and the Byzantine Empire In Europe.
Ravenna is one of the most important cities in the world regarding the ancient art of mosaics. Its walls conserve mankind’s richest heritage of mosaics, recognized as a world heritage Site.
There are great schools and laboratories to learn this art, and I was lucky to visit one. A special one where Luca Barberini, an international artist, creates fascinating contemporary mosaics, still using the ancient mosaic techniques.
I spent a few hours at the laboratory of Koko Mosaico, where they explained how they create these pieces of art and allowed me to take a few pictures while creating a mosaic. It was the first time I ever saw the making of it, totally worth it!
INFO ON KOKO MOSAICOKoko Mosaico School offers beginners and advanced courses in Mosaic making and the work created range from copies of ancient mosaics to contemporary mosaic. They have it all!
For more info: www.kokomosaico.com Address: Via di Roma 136 – Ravenna
When my visit to the laboratory ended, I met these super nice men sitting on a bench, insisting they should be my guides in Ravenna! 🙂
We laughed well, and they showed me what was worth seeing in the city, circling the top spots for me. Below is a picture of my wanna-be guides, so nice!
WHAT TO SEE IN RAVENNA
-On foot, as the lovely gentlemen suggested to me-
CHURCH OF SANT’APOLLINARE NUOVO
Along with other ancient monuments in Ravenna, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.
MAUSOLEUM OF GALLA PLACIDIA
It was listed with seven other structures in Ravenna in the World Heritage List in 1996. It’s the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments.
Dante’s remains were laid in a sarcophagus and placed in the church cemetery beside the wall of the Franciscan Monastery in Ravenna.
BASILICA OF SAN VITALE
The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in western Europe.
MORE INFO ABOUT RAVENNAFor more information about these incredible places and more, you can visit the Tourist Office website: www.turismo.ravenna.it or pay them a visit in Piazza San Francesco/Piazza Caduti per la Liberta’.
They are super friendly, speak very good English, and you can gather all the information you need, including maps, souvenirs, and books.
Just in case the old men sitting on the bench are not available the day of your visit 😉
A FINAL CONFESSION: THE FOOD!
If you are new to my website, check out my FAQ section, and read the last one where I mention “why I don’t talk about food on my blog.”
Well, ladies and gents… you already know that Italian food is one of the best in the world (yes, bragging here), but it’s the truth, right?
I’m Italian, and I know Italian food( DUH?!) but hey… Emilia Romagna, in my opinion, has THE BEST ITALIAN FOOD. Hands down.
I mean, if even someone like me, so reluctant to talk about food, actually WANTS to break the rules, it means I’m not kidding!
I made a discovery that changed my gastronomic world forever. I tasted the best Balsamic Vinegar in the world. Accompanied by slices of Parmigiano Reggiano. Trust me, saying that it was a divine combination is an understatement. You HAVE to try it!
Write this down; you won’t regret it. Its name is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia. You can read more here. Too bad you can’t taste it on the website.
Another great option to try balsamic vinegar produced in Emilia Romagna is the famous Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale Di Modena.
To know more about this delicious condiment, how is it made, and why it’s considered black gold, you can check out an informative article on balsamic vinegar, written by Ayngelina of “Bacon is Magic.” She is a travel blogger who entirely devoted her website to trying foods all over the world. In a nutshell, she is the real expert, and if she mentions a particular product, I will take her word for it 🙂
Should I go on with the food part? What about the well-known Tortellini, the Parma Ham, the famous “Piadine,” and the Bolognese sauce (RAGU’)? I could go on and on!
Emilia Romagna is the land of delicious food! So delicious that I’m drooling just by writing about it.
THE TAKEAWAY FROM MY WEEK IN EMILIA ROMAGNA
-By a local Italian-
I’ll be brief here. Very brief, but straight to the point: If you are in Italy and don’t take the time to visit Emilia Romagna, you’re missing out BIG TIME.
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Enjoyed your post and of course you had to mention food. It’s Italy after all, lol. We have only been to Turin once for a short overnight while in the south of France but had some of the best Gnocchi I ever tasted. Man I want to go back, Thanks for the fond food memories. 🙂
Samantha, you visited Turin, the city where I spent 8 years of my life! Lovely place as well, if you fell in love with the food in there, then Emilia Romagna will be a true paradise for you!
That spa looks absolutely magical.
Martha indeed it was! It’s bliss in its purest form!
Goodness, what a beautiful home country you have! I’ve been to Rome only, but would love to explore more of Italy, especially for the food!
Miriam… you said the magic word: FOOD! As I mentioned in the post I never talk about food but Emilia Romagna turned me into a believer! 😀
I agree wholeheartedly!
There are many regions in Italy I don’t know yet, but I went to Emilia-Romagna on my very first visit to Italy a few years ago and loved it. Loved the food, the people, the architecture and how beautiful and tidy its cities are.
If I remember correctly I stayed around one week in Bologna, which I took as my base for day-trips to Modena, Parma and Ravenna by train. I liked them all, but I found Ravenna particularly gorgeous.
And Bologna is great, with all that University town buzz, the casually intellectual vibe, and the open-air cinema nights at the Piazza Maggiore (I went there in August, I think). So definitely, I’d recommend anyone to go there!
Thanks Fernando! Finally someone who chose Emilia Romagna as the first choice when visiting Italy! OH and you reminded me of the open air cinema, which was still not operating in June but I could see the giant screens ready in Piazza Maggiore. What a place! I truly loved my stay in there!