Food & Travel Guide to Emilia Romagna, Italy – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

Trace the origin of any Italian ingredient and you will somehow end up in Emilia Romagna. Mention the name to any well-deserving Italian chef and they would talk for ages, about the “sensational Parmigiano Reggiano”, the “noble Culatello”, the “Balsamico Vinegar, smooth as velvet”. The list just goes on. It is where the most Italian of all Italian food comes from, and the most quintessential. In Emilia Romagna, there is no festival. There is only the feast. And so, the gastronomic adventure in Italy’s eating table begins. 

Processed with VSCO with j5 preset

PARMA

In Parma, the practice of ham-making practice is a tale as old as time. It is here, near the Po Valley, where the luxurious Culatello di Zibello is made. The Bergonzi family at Podere Cadassa has been crafting culatello for decades. In a natural cellar frozen in time, the culatello ages until its flavour is at its fullest. The precious meat is salted and refrigerated, before being placed in the cellar where humidity takes full reign. A walk through the cellar always ends at the family’s restaurant, Al Vèdel. In the kitchen, Chef Enrico arranges thin slices of culatello, from 16 months to 26 months to 38 months, on a perfectly polished porcelain plate. In the evenings, loud chatters emanate from the linen dining tables and red leather booths. Waiters rush to and fro tables to shave black truffles on ox tartare as a cheese cart trails them. Ravioli is served Colorno style, as Al Vèdel calls it, with pears, grape seeds and pumpkin. 

Processed with VSCO with j5 preset

Processed with VSCO with j5 preset        Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with j5 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset        Processed with VSCO with j2 preset

Processed with VSCO with j4 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset        Processed with VSCO with a9 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

MODENA

In Modena, the making of balsamic vinegar is a tradition still preserved at Acetaia Pedroni. Cooked fermented grape must sit in the battery, or barrels, to age for at least 12 years.

The tasting menu gives a small but complete offering of dishes that compliments the balsamic vinegar, but it’s the a la carte menu the locals order from. Vegetable flan with Parmigiano Reggiano cream, ricotta tortelloni and custard cream gelato are dished out before the owner comes over with their treasure – a bottle of balsamic vinegar. Slowly, he dabs the smooth, thick vinegar over the food in carefully measured drops as he smiles with pride. It could be the pride of owning a centuries-old tradition, or the pride of owning the barrels that produce the best balsamic vinegar in the world. Nobody knows. But everyone leaves the osteria in silent agreement that it was a dining experience unlike any other. 

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset        Processed with VSCO with j2 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

BOLOGNA

When in Bologna, a few slices of mortadella are in order. Mo Mortadella Lab gives a generous serving of Bologna’s favourite slice in a panini. Go before lunch to avoid the queue of hungry Bolognese. In Bologna, the wining and dining hour eases past the reasonable Italian lunch hour. Armed with a few plates from the local macelleria, you can grab a seat and a mandatory drink at Osteria del Sole where this longtime establishment has a strict bring-your-own-food rule. At one table, a class of students from the nearby university are having a toast with their teachers. At another, an old man sits perched over a notebook as he pens some sentences on the parched paper. Everyone has a glass of something on their table. For dinners, Hostaria San Carlino and Osteria dell’Orsa are perfect for Bolognese classics like tagliatelle al ragù and tortellini in brodo.

On any day in Bologna, chefs clamber to Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo located on Via Drapperie. Hundreds of kitchen tools hang on wooden displays from ceiling to floor in this historical shop, any kind you can ever imagine. As a customer rattles off a list, the shop assistant bustles about, grabbing two ravioli stamps, an anolini stamp, a truffle slicer, a gnocchi cutting board and a dozen or so ravioli moulds. It’s a busy day at the Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo. 

Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset        Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with j2 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset        Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset        Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with j5 preset

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset        Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

BRISIGHELLA

It’s a whole new world further south in the region. Brisighella is nearer to Ravenna, and so nearer to the coast. There is a very serious seafood scene with restaurants like La Lanterna, where plates heaping with pasta and shellfish are paraded to the tables. Others include La Cavallina and Osteria Pontenono, or Il Portolano and Osteria Il Paiolo in Ravenna.

A few minutes on an unpaved road across a bridge from Brisighella will take you to Azienda Agricola Baccagnano, an agriturismo with a handful of rooms. The owner of the winery, Marco, furnished the modern rooms with vintage finds. In a restored church, guests have a breakfast of croissants, local cheeses and fruits on beautifully-mismatched place settings. 

For views of Brisighella, take a walk from the town center to La Rocca Manfrediana and on to Torre dell’Orologio. The town truly comes alive when celebrating the autumn harvest. People come in droves from the neighbouring houses to gather around the white-top tents where the food – salumi, cheeses, pears, truffles, porcini mushrooms – are proudly boasted by their farmers. There is a band making uproarious music. White-haired Italian men are indulging in a guitar riff on a makeshift stage, crooning the tunes of 80s Italian rock music. Even as night falls and the stalls close, the crowds disappear into the bars. The night is still young. 

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with j5 preset        Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with j5 preset        Processed with VSCO with j5 preset

Processed with VSCO with j2 preset

Processed with VSCO with j2 preset        Processed with VSCO with j5 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

120 Hours in the Amalfi Coast – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

In the blazing heat of the Italian summer, the entrance to the Amalfi Coast is a sight for sore eyes. Houses and terraced vineyards sit atop undulating precipices against the bluest ocean. The ride on the coastline is beguiling in the picture-perfect scenes that surprise at every twist and turn. In the evening, the coast glows like a placid dream. Along the Italian Riviera, the towns light up to form a trail of stars. Elsewhere, glasses of limoncello clink.

Many have claimed the romance of the Amalfi Coast, and few would contradict that assertion. It is a place where the sweltering sun rays melt into a sultry warmth for sunbathers lounging on the golden sand. Where boats wait in front of summer villas, ready to whisk day trippers away. Where every dinner is preceded by an endless flow of aperitivi. In every season, in every decade, the Amalfi Coast still stuns the well-travelled. 

Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset

POSITANO

Positano sparkles like a jewel on the coast, with ornate buildings climbing down a cliff that falls sharply into the ocean. A trip here will cost in parking, but the jaw-dropping views it affords are not to be missed. These views are best enjoyed from the balconies of Le Sirenuse.

Once a summer house of four Neapolitan siblings, the hotel is now the vacation home of the upper echelon. The rooms are designed with an eclectic mix of Italian antiques, mosaic-patterned cushions and cream-coloured linens. Doubles start at €470. Also on the premises of Le Sirenuse is the ultra-chic Franco’s Bar, where Negronis are paired with sunset panoramas.

But of course, the celebrated Il San Pietro di Positano will never be forgotten as the 19th century villa hangs gracefully off a cliff edge. At the foot of the hotel is the guest-only beach club. Tangerine sunbeds and umbrellas gather on a cove accompanied by a bar. Private charters on a yacht and cocktail masterclasses are also available. Doubles start at €442. For another sun-kissed view, Residence Villa Yiara is an adults-only hotel with bougainvillea-clad rooms. Doubles start at €230.

From Positano, a five minute boat ride brings you to Da Adolfo. This beach shack hidden from footpaths does grilled local fish, mussel soup and mozzarella on lemon leaves. Saraceno d’Oro is also a crowd-pleaser for being friendly on the wallet, and for the vongole and seafood pasta. The best finisher to a meal there will have to be the limoncello shots. 

DSC_0163_edited

DSC_0146_edited

        DSC_0182_edited

Processed with VSCO with kk2 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset       Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

DSC_0170_edited

DSC_0311_edited

DSC_0324_edited        DSC_0309_edited

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

RAVELLO

Unlike the glitz of Positano, Ravello enchants with a sonata. It is little wonder that Ravello is the stage for the Ravello Festival of music at the Villa Rufolo, a 13th century villa with a well-manicured garden of climbing figs, hydrangeas and umbrella pines. Ravello’s villas and gardens are like the museums of Florence, and the Villa Cimbrone Hotel and its garden the masterpiece. Owned by the Vuilleumier family, the estate is a favourite of the literary set. The hotel is furnished with frescoed halls leading into 19 bedrooms and an outdoor tea room. Doubles start at €300. On the same grounds is the English garden. It can be hard to leave once you set foot on the path rambling along the rose gardens, the shaded walkways dripping with wisterias, and the unrivalled view from the terrace leading out to the ocean that knows no end.

You will most certainly pass by Villa Maria towards the town square from Villa Cimbrone. The hotel breathes old-fashioned Italian style. Small, family owned, marble staircase, and mahogany furnitures that look centuries old. The hotel only has one restaurant and that is the only restaurant to be. The menu is made up of produce from the garden sprawled below the outdoor dining area, overlooking the valley.

Back in the square, the most talked-about restaurant is Mimi Pizzeria. You get the classic margherita or prosciutto crudo di parma, and contemporaries like the Mimi – San Marzano tomatoes, anchovies, garlic burrata and lemon zest. The outdoor dining area is perfect for having a slice under a vine-covered canopy. 

DSC_0245_edited

        Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

DSC_0195_edited

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset       Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset

DSC_0233_edited

DSC_0247_edited

DSC_0246_edited

CONCA DEI MARINI

The biggest draw to Conca dei Marini is the Grotta dello Smeraldo. Visiting this Emerald Cave is uncomplicated – a staircase, an elevator and a boat tour. A less than 5 minutes car ride away is Fiordo di Furore, an inlet that narrows into a fishing village. In the late afternoons, the beach there is a sanctuary for some unobstructed swimming. For food, Le Bontà del Capo is best known for its lemon and ricotta ravioli. Ask for the outdoor area seating that juts out into the ocean for the best views. 

DSC_0131_edited

Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset       Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset

Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset

PRAIANO

Praiano has always been the one for affordable stays within reach of Positano, but really there is more than meets the eye. There is the view. The buildings seem to be etched vertically into the cliffs, and staying at Calanteluna will make you feel like you are at the edge of the coast. This small bed and breakfast has a casual beat to it. The occasional homemade lemon cake and lemon juice in the afternoons. The after-dinner laughter and cheer resonating from the floor below. Doubles start at €90. Then there is the food without the crowds – La Strada for the seafood risotto, or Kasai for quiet dinners by the sea. 

Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

DSC_0315_edited

dsc_0125_edited       Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with kk2 preset

120 Hours in Etosha National Park – What to See, Eat & Do

Africa

Ten or twenty cars cluster around Chudob watering hole, eyes searching beyond the dense foliage. The wind picks up the dust, creating a sheen of white. In the distance, the trees rustle, making way for giants. There is silence. Nobody stirs. There is an air of anticipation as several grey masses emerge above the treetop. As they move towards the watering hole, their shapes become visible. Elephants. Not just one but a herd. Everyone angles their cameras towards the elephants as they quench their thirst and cool off in the waters.

There is something intimate about the uninhibitedness of nature-watching. Then there is the thrill of the unexpected. That while the elephants are engaging in their frivolous fun at the waters, a pride of lions could be eyeing the calf, watchful for the right moment. No one knows what the next second will bring as we wait for the magic hour. 

DSC_1297_edited

THE SAFARI

Etosha National Park is aptly named the animal kingdom. The bone-dry winter means that wildlife of all shapes and sizes congregate at the waterholes. Prides of lions encamp at Okondeka, Nebrownii and Salvadora while elephants are regulars at Olifantsrus, Chudob and Klein Namutoni. The skittish and nimble damara dik dik is a frequent sight along Dik-Dik Drive or en route to Von Lindequist Gate. Between Salvadora and Namutoni, immeasurable herds of plains game can be found grazing. But the one waterhole to watch is the legendary Okaukuejo. Anyone who has ever been to Etosha would have heard of Okaukuejo – the stage for a perpetual parade of wildlife that continues through the night. Access to Okaukuejo after dark is reserved only for those staying in the Okaukuejo Camp, where booking a room can feel like a race against time. The rooms, especially the ones with a front row seat at the waterhole, can fill up as early as a year before. 

DSC_1098_edited

DSC_1468_edited

       

DSC_1296_edited

DSC_1311_edited

DSC_1151_edited

       

DSC_1462_edited

       

DSC_1166_edited

DSC_1323_edited

THE PRIVATE RESERVES

Unlike South Africa, Etosha is not big on the private reserve scene but there are still one or two top drawer reserves. Stays at the Ongava private reserve will yield some of the most mind-blowing sightings on off-road drives. The nights are primal at Ongava as lions roam the watering hole and tented camps. Its location just outside the Anderson’s Gate will get you closest to sunrise in the national park. At the eastern side of Etosha, Onguma private reserve is slightly smaller but it does not hold back on sightings. Cheetahs from Etosha are known to periodically move into the reserve for protection against predators. 

DSC_1344_edited

       

DSC_1330_edited

DSC_1205_edited

DSC_1204_edited

THE FOOD

Emanya is where all would want to unwind after a long day of game viewing. Four course dinners of African-European flavours are served under the starlit sky with place settings to match. Their oryx steaks are just the right amount of game. The afternoons are best for tea and cake, a complimentary respite from the lodge.

DSC_1455_edited

DSC_1451_edited

DSC_1439_edited

THE ROOMS

Camps and lodges are concentrated around the southern and eastern gates of Etosha. Etosha Village occupies a cosy corner of the southern side of the national park. The rooms are awash with near-neutral tones with modest fittings. At dinner, the freshly grilled steaks and stir fry are crowd-pleasers. Doubles start at N$1553 per person, including breakfast and dinner.

Ongava is a classic safari outfit with an ace in their pocket – their highly raved about private reserve. The exclusive Little Ongava has only three suites for low-key stays. Each suite opens up to a private deck overlooking the veld. Doubles start at N$14140 per person fully inclusive. The Ongava Tented Camp is a favourite for its wild-in-Africa atmosphere and a busy waterhole. Doubles start at N$7848 per person fully inclusive. 

In the east, Onguma Bush Camp maintains the charms of old world southern Africa. Its fenced up grounds means child-friendly rules. Never miss a second of game-viewing as dinners and sunbeds are set in front of a massive waterhole. Tired of an all day drive in Etosha? Just kick back your safari boots at the pool while the wildlife comes to you. Doubles start at N$1530 per person for bed and breakfast. 

DSC_1257_edited

DSC_1256_edited

DSC_1277_edited

DSC_1196_edited