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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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120 Hours in Puglia – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

One glance at Puglia, and all you can see is a sea of green. Olive groves stretch as far as the eye can see, a precursor to the cerulean beaches that embellish the rocky boundary meeting the Adriatic Sea. Here, the green scent of olives dances through the air, lending the region its characteristic charm. Waist-high wild grass accompany narrow roads, leading to sleepy hamlets and farmhouses. Puglia is a countryside haven – all food, all beach, all cobblestone towns and all Italian

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THE TOWNS

Puglia glows in the daylight, where pearly white towns rise above the olive groves. Ostuni, also known as The White City, is the fairest of them all – white cobbled streets, beige-coloured churches and a majority local attendance. While there, Sapori D’eccellenza does panini-to-go, with octopus panini being a specialty. Alberobello also gained traction for its conical-roofed houses that looked like they walked straight out of a fairytale book. Mellow afternoons are for sunbathing in Cala Porto in Polignano a Mare, where pasty buildings punctuate the beach that curves into this coastal town. In the capital city of Bari, roam the famed pasta alleys in the morning. This unmarked back street is located in Bari Vecchia, an unassuming spot where nonnas knead out orecchiette so nimbly they can rival pasta machines. 

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DAY TRIP TO BASILICATA

Less than two hours away from Puglia is Basilicata, the often overlooked wine region of Italy. Cantine del Notaio is home to the Aglianico del Vulture wines and a trip there would be accompanied by a tour to its grottoes where wines are stored for ageing. In Venosa, the stunning grounds of Cantine Re Manfredi make it worth a visit. At the centre of the wineries in Basilicata is Matera, a town of centuries-old caves and rock churches. At dusk, the warm glow emanating from the caves makes for a contemplative evening best spent with a glass of Basilicata’s finest wine. 

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THE FOOD

The eating table of Puglia is scattered all over its hamlets. Butcheries are an institution in Cisternino. At Rosticceria L’Antico Borgo, the butcher grills the meat in a down-to-earth fashion. Just salt, pepper and its juices. Bombettes are the bomb there. The meat encases provolone cheese, herbs and sometimes, salami, before being placed on the grill. Closer to the coast, seafood rolls in in abundance. Go with raw seafood here, preferably at La Tana Del Polpo in Bari. Also situated in the capital city, Mastro Ciccio needs no introduction. It’s fast food meets luxurious ingredients. The sandwiches displayed alone are visually tempting and its taste does not betray. For prim food at casual fare prices, Primi & Vini in Polignano a Mare does a standout gnocchi vongole and prawn orecchiette. 

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THE ROOMS

Bari makes for a good start off point for day trips to the Pugliese countryside. Near the old town, Palazzo Calò’s minimalist decor stands out from the surrounding old-world cobblestone alleys. While lacking a dining area, the hotel does a breakfast in bed, fitting for a morning of loafing around in your pyjamas. Doubles start at €120. 

Spend the night in a masseria, Puglia’s rendition of a farmstay. Masseria Celentano is a converted Apulian manor farm with five rooms. Other than exploring the nearby Lucera and Troia towns, you can take the masseria’s sailboat and cruise along the Gargano while seafood is freshly prepared. Doubles start at €70.

Stays at the Masseria Torre Coccaro are a sociable affair. Children get to bake panzerotti, harvest olives and bike through the country. In summer, communal tables are pulled out for dinner feasts and live Puglia music dance. Doubles start at €300.

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Umbria Travel Tips from Paolo Villani, Italian Blogger

Conversations with Locals

Umbria, Italy’s Green Heart, is fast becoming Tuscany’s rival for its lush rolling hills and medieval towns. Gubbio-based blogger Paolo Villani shares his favourite hiking trail in Umbria, the villages to go, and where to find the world’s largest Christmas tree. 

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Photo: Paolo Villani 

What should travellers know about Umbria before heading there?

Before coming to Umbria, you should know that it is the paradise of medieval villages. To enjoy it, equip yourself with sneakers and get ready for some good food!

What are some local dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Umbria without trying? 

There are so many local dishes that you absolutely must taste in Umbria, such as cappelletti, which is a closed pasta stuffed with minced meat. It’s a delicacy! Also, do not miss the friccò di pollo con crescia, which is chicken in tomato sauce with bread.

What about your favourite restaurants?

One of my favourite restaurants is here in my city, Gubbio. I’m talking about the restaurant Contessa, where you can taste all the Umbrian specialties without spending too much.

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Photo: Paolo Villani

Name one best kept secret of Umbria

Umbria is beautiful, but if you want to admire it in all its glory, you have to go up! I intend to go hiking in the mountains and enjoy the great valleys that contain several small villages. 

What are your favourite hiking trails? 

Gubbio is famous for having the largest Christmas tree in the world, which covers the whole of Mountain Ingino. You can find the best path right here. Once you reach the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo at the top of the mountain, you can take a path that will take you up to the fortress, located at the highest point of the mountain. In winter, the star of the tree is mounted there.

We heard that Umbria is famous for its wines. Where do you go for this?  

My favourite place is located in the city of Gualdo Tadino, a few minutes from Gubbio. It’s called Vineria dei Re.

What about your favourite hilltop towns? 

My favourite Umbrian town are the safe bets – Gubbio, Spello, Assisi, Perugia, and all the villages surrounding Lake Trasimeno. They are a wonder to behold! 

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Spello. Photo: Paolo Villani

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Photo: Paolo Villani

Umbria is often being compared to Tuscany. What are the biggest differences between these two regions?

They are compared because they are very similar. The biggest differences are the dialect, the food, but otherwise – they are very much alike. Maybe in Umbria, there are more medieval villages. 

Where can we go to see your favourite view of Umbria?

I could never say where my favourite view is, because in Umbria, there are so many. I could tell you about the Carducci Gardens of Perugia, Spello’s alleys, the Church of San Francesco in Assisi, or the Palazzo dei Consoli in Gubbio. The views are wonderful in all these places. 

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Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Photo: Paolo Villani

WHERE TO EAT IN UMBRIA


Ristorante Contessa
Where: Strada Contessa, 6, 06024 Gubbio PG, Italy
For: Umbrian specialties 

Vineria dei Re
Where: Via Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, 15B, 06024 Gubbio PG, Italy
For: Wine

WHERE TO GO IN UMBRIA


Mount Ingino
Where: Via della Piaggiola, 06024 Gubbio PG, Italy
For: The world’s largest Christmas tree

Carducci Gardens
Where: Corso Pietro Vannucci, 06121 Perugia, Italy
For: A view of Perugia

 

Spello
Where: Spello, 06038 Province of Perugia, Italy
For: A charming hilltop town