One year ago I visited Italy for the third time, my first in the Emilia Romagna region. While attending a conference with other travel professionals, I fell in love with the area. Part of my love affair was with the beauty of the land and its incredible Roman history. I also loved the richness of the cuisine and food culture. Shortly after, I created a trip for my clients to visit with me this fall. We very recently returned, and I can tell you that my love affair is intact!
Our group was 8 women, meeting in Bologna (two had toured the south, and 6 of us visited Venice briefly.) I called the Active Travel Pro 5 night itinerary “An Active Foodie Tour of Emilia Romagna”, and boy, did we move!
One stop in Bologna and you will understand how rich the culture is. Don’t be alarmed by the graffiti on the city walls; it is a college town, reputedly the oldest university in the world! The Pope was visiting while we were there for a 3 night stay, and our hotel housed the President of the Italian Parliament. Guards were standing in our hallway as I went to my room the first two nights…exciting!
I planned several fun tours for this “Active Foodie” group. The four star hotel (with 5 star service!) Corona D’Oro will delight you in every way, although some of their deluxe rooms are quite small, so be aware of that. The hotel was a family palace once upon a time…the house of Azzo Guidi and that dates back to the 14th century. The portico is one of the oldest remaining in Bologna. There are about 20 miles of porticos in Bologna! We loved the welcome reception at the D-Oro. They also provided a car service at the rail station for a small fee.
Historical Tour of Bologna
Photos will help tell the story: The city was a very important center of commerce in ancient Roman times, situated on the road from the sea (Ravenna) to Modena and beyond. Check out this link if you’d love more of the historical facts. There are still 21 towers, built by important families as a sign of power and wealth, standing from medieval times. We strolled to the site of Seven Churches at the Piazza Santo Stefano, although there are not really seven there any longer; There are four. Our guide shared many fascinating stories of life in Bologna during our walk, and we peeked inside the university buildings as we made our way back to the hotel.
Do you know how this famous cheese is made and stored? The ladies loved learning about what makes Parmigiano Reggiano so special. The vat holds a wheel that weighs about 200 pounds! Here’s more about the process.
The best part is the tasting! In Italy they love to pair jams and honey with the Parmigiano…Mmmm!
Balsamic Farmhouse Tour and lunch
This was fantastico! Everyone was so surprised to learn how balsamic is made (some didn’t even know they were made from grapes!) Here’s a fun post about making balsamic if you want to consider making your own. What fascinates me is how long it takes, and that many farms use a multitude of different wood for the casks, and that they are used over and over, unlike wine barrels. We visited Acetaia. Lunch was amazing, and made even more fun by the presence of a large Italian family celebrating the baptism of little Sophia.
This winery was just around the corner from the balsamic farm, so it was very convenient! They produce only bubbly wines, which are not really my “thing”, but our guide was grandson of the owners, studying to be an engineer but sharing his knowledge for the family business on occasion. Here’s more about their small vinery. Garuti Cantina Dal 1920.
Well worth a look, this is the one in the location Maranello. Just across the street, you could test drive a hot car for about 90E (or show your bank account for a freebie!), inside was a 75E simulator where you could choose your famous track, and down the street a bit is a REAL track where 90E gets you a ten minute run around the track. I really wanted to do this, but decided to save the money this time because none of the other ladies were up for it. Ferrari, I’ll be back!
Okay, so the tasting was a full lunch with wine! Our hotel serves the most luxurious buffet breakfast EVER, so I was hardly hungry when we reached the Eataly store for the tasting, but we managed somehow! You may see this store in major cities in the US, too, but they are all over Italy. This is a great place for authentic Italian products.
Our lovely local guide Catia charmed the pants off of us, and shared so much great information about all things Italiano cuisine. We saw organic shops, The “Market of Herbs” Mercato dell Erbe, and learned about the new “Italy World” opening November 15 just outside Bologna. Think of it as the Disney world of Italian food. Should be a fascinating attraction!
One of the fun food stories was about the invention centuries ago of Tortellini. There is typically meat inside (sometimes cheese). Legend has it that “it originated in medieval Italy and …Venus and Jupiter arrived at a tavern on the outskirts of Bologna one night, weary from their involvement in a battle between Modena and Bologna. After much food and drink, they shared a room. The innkeeper, captivated by the two, followed them and peeked through the keyhole. All he could see was Venus’s navel. Spellbound, he rushed to the kitchen and created tortellini in its image.” (From Wikipedia.)
After our delicious tasting we made our way to a beautiful store for some chocolate. Majani was a stunning store, and the chocolates were delicious! We tasted one that looked just like a tortellini, and a few others as well. I think all 8 of us bought at least a little something. Mine was gone quickly. We said goodbye to our new friend Catia at a lovely cafe for a cappuccino. Both my drink and the server were beautiful! Grin.
Well, I promised a photo journal…enjoy! And remember that I can arrange one of these tours for you if you visit the area of Bologna and Modena. Peace, Bobbie