Scenes From Emilia Romagna
Emilia Romagna is slightly off the radar for most tourists, but after spending a little over a week there, I can say this region has just as much to offer as any other part of Italy. The food, the history, the landscapes, are all wonderful reasons to visit. My time there was jam-packed because Andy and I over scheduled ourselves, but we still only got to see a fraction of what there is to do here.
Our first stop in Emilia Romagna was the beach-side town of Rimini. While we didn’t really spend much time in the town itself, we did use it as a base to visit the tiny republic of San Marino, which is the third smallest country in Europe. Since this is an independent country, it’s technically not part of Italy, but it is completely surrounded by the Emilia Romagna region. I was fascinated by the history of such a small country that has managed to remain independent since 301 AD. The gorgeous views were well worth a visit as well.
Bologna was our base for a week as part of BlogVille. It’s a college town with a fun atmosphere, centuries of history, and delicious food. We often found ourselves just wandering through the streets or relaxing in Piazza Maggiore.
If it’s your first time in Bologna, start with Piazza Maggiore, where you’ll find a fountain and statue of the god Neptune. It was created in the mid 1500s and ended up being rather controversial. When you stand behind the statue and a bit to his right, the thumb on his outstretched left hand ends up in an oddly deceiving position. Neptune ends up looking extremely well endowed from that angle. Apparently this did not go over so well with the Catholic Church, but by the time they saw the finished statue, it could not be changed.
Another thing we like to do in other cities is explore local markets. Bologna’s market was lively and colorful, with just about any type of fruit, vegetable, meat, or fish you might want. Check out more of the best places to eat and shop in Bologna.
While we were in Bologna, Andy and I learned about gelato and sorbet at Gelato University. It was such a fun experience, and we continued making our own sorbet once we got home.
Bologna is also where I learned how to make pasta and Bolognese sauce, or what is actually called Ragu. I was happy to cook (and of course eat) the real thing, which is a bit different from the meat sauce I’m used to.
Andy and I didn’t plan much for our day in Ferrara. I mostly wanted to see the castle, which I loved because it has a moat. We spent the rest of the day just wandering through the streets and soaking up the atmosphere of this medieval town.
The town of Modena is famous for its balsamic vinegar. I never really thought about a vinegar tasting before, but it turned out to be really interesting. We learned just how much time and care goes into making high end balsamic vinegar, and the different tastes were incredible. We also learned that we’re not fancy enough to be able to taste juniper or oak in the vinegar, though that didn’t diminish our enjoyment of the different varieties.
This small coastal town not only had a laid back beach scene, but also a long history of maritime culture. The canal running through the town is actually an open air museum showcasing old fishing boats. It was fun to explore Cesenatico and see a place I had never even heard of.
When we arrived in the hilltop town of San Leo, the first thing we did was tour the two churches in the center of town. Our guide told us stories of how they were built on top of pagan churches in the middle ages. In the newer church, he pointed out various things about the architecture and statues, including one statue that is said to help women get pregnant. Lucie, one of the other bloggers in our group, and I both took a step back from this particular statue, looked at each other and said we needed to stay away from that one.
Then we set off to explore the castle. This was a good one, with great views, historical information without being too museum-y, and the look of a typical medieval castle. The guide’s stories of the castle’s prisoners was enhanced by the threatening storm clouds gathering in the sky.
After all the great castles we saw this summer, I’m not sure I could ever pick a favorite. But the one in the tiny village of Petrella Guidi was certainly unique. This 13th century castle was pretty much left as it was, so you can really imagine what it was like hundreds of years ago. The surrounding village is now an artist community with just a handful of residents. The director Federico Fellini supposedly spent time there admiring the views, and there is now a memorial to him and his wife.
I can’t say I was surprised by how gorgeous Emilia Romagna is, or by how much fun I had while I was there. I mean, it’s Italy, so if anything my time in this region just confirmed my opinion that Italy is an all-around wonderful country. But I was more than happy to explore a region I had never been to. With fewer tourists than some other parts of Italy, it felt less crowded and more relaxed. Definitely the kind of travel I like!
Thank you to BlogVille, Emilia-Romagna Tourism and Visit San Marino for helping me explore this wonderful part of the world. As always, all opinions are my own.
You might also enjoy:
- How Much We Spent Traveling in Rome
- Unconventional Italy Guidebook: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In
- Which Food Tour in Rome Should You Take?
- Early Entry Vatican City and Sistine Chapel Tour
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
October 14, 2013 @ 9:04 AM
Wow! So, so gorgeous! From the amazing looking food (I know I already talked about the gelato before when you talked about Gelato U, but it seriously looks heavenly!), to the beautiful countryside, to the incredibly atmospheric towns you visited this looks like the best of Italy in one overlooked region. I had heard of Bologna, but most of the other places are completely new to me; I’ll definitely have to research this region more heavily when we start planning our Italy leg.
Also, I laughed at your story about the fertility statue. I too had a similar experience here in Kathmandu, though it was when we were taken to a little Buddhist courtyard where families apparently go to pray for a son. Our guide kept trying to get me to make an offering, and I kept saying I would only make an offering to something that would keep me baby-free! He was so confused by why I was 30 and not a mother, and moreover, happy about my failings as a woman. 🙂
October 14, 2013 @ 11:13 AM
Thanks Steph! Emilia Romagna really is gorgeous, and there are so many towns and cities to explore. And yes, the food was amazing! You should definitely check out this region when you get to Italy, I think you’ll enjoy it!
Yeah, the fertility statue thing was weird. Especially in Asian countries, people thought it was weird that I was traveling on my own and that I don’t have kids. I didn’t even explain that I don’t ever want kids, I think that would’ve pushed them over the edge!
October 14, 2013 @ 9:16 AM
I’m so glad that you discovered this region! I had been living there for couple years and I think that you can never get bored with it! There is always something to see and explore around you. I’m so happy that you tried the traditional food and that you touched this region’s history and tradition through cooking! Great Ali, this is just great!
And you also went to Ferrara! This is my favorite Italian town! I just LOVE it!
October 14, 2013 @ 12:35 PM
Thanks Agata, I’m so glad you enjoyed my post! Emilia Romagna really is gorgeous, I just wish I had been able to spend more time there! Ferrara was really nice, I can see why it’s your favorite!
October 14, 2013 @ 9:57 PM
Gorgeous photos! I need to get myself back to Italy sometime soon. 🙂
October 15, 2013 @ 3:04 PM
Thanks Cheryl! During that trip, I told Andy we need to find a way to go to Italy every year!
October 15, 2013 @ 6:47 AM
What a gorgeous region! You captured Emilia Romagna beautifully. Thanks for sharing 🙂
October 15, 2013 @ 3:04 PM
Thank you Lauren!
October 15, 2013 @ 9:39 PM
October 16, 2013 @ 12:36 PM
Mary @ Green Global Travel
October 16, 2013 @ 2:15 AM
Beautiful! Everything looks absolutely stunning, from the architecture to the fabulous meals, and from the landscape to the extraordinary cliff-top castle! Thank you so much for sharing inspiration to travel to and slowly explore this breathtaking region!!
October 16, 2013 @ 12:37 PM
Thanks Mary! Emilia Romagna is such a wonderful part of Italy, and I only scratched the surface!
October 17, 2013 @ 1:16 AM
Emilia Romanga is one of our neighbor regions and we enjoy going there. I definitely think it has less tourists than other parts like the Veneto. Looks like you got to see quite a bit while there!
October 18, 2013 @ 10:35 AM
We did see a lot! But there were even a few things we had to cut (like Parma) because we scheduled ourselves too much. But it’s definitely an area we’ll go back to.
October 17, 2013 @ 5:07 AM
I really wanted to add Bologna to our Italy trip last year, but spending more time in Cinque Terre won. This post makes me want to visit that area even more. Italy is just too gorgeous.
October 18, 2013 @ 10:36 AM
Maybe you’ll get to Emilia Romagna next time! I’ve never been to Cinque Terre but I’d love to. Italy really is a beautiful country!
October 18, 2013 @ 4:30 PM
Amazing pictures from Romagna!! Would love to do an Europe tour one day in my lifetime!! 🙂
October 19, 2013 @ 2:12 PM
Thanks Arti! I hope you make it over here someday, Europe (especially Italy!) is a really wonderful part of the world.
October 27, 2013 @ 6:13 PM
Wow, such much wonderful history, beautiful scenery, lovely towns…looks like such an amazing place to visit! Thank you for the views into this part of the world!
October 28, 2013 @ 11:14 AM
Emilia Romagna really is a fantastic part of Italy, I hope you make it there someday! Thanks Lauren!
October 29, 2013 @ 12:28 PM
Romagna looks so beautiful, I had no idea. Definitely adding it to the Europe bucket list.
October 30, 2013 @ 3:19 PM
Yep, Emilia Romagna is a gorgeous part of Italy, well worth a visit!
November 7, 2013 @ 11:26 PM
Oh wow, never even heard of this region. I will have to check it out. Your photos are amazing. Ahhh now I miss being on the road even more and discovering new places.
November 10, 2013 @ 4:50 PM
If you ever get back to Italy, go to Bologna for awhile and do some day trips to some of the surrounding cities. Gorgeous region!
February 24, 2015 @ 4:47 AM
I love your blog! I just recently discovered it and am enjoying devouring your archives. A logistical question for you — how did you handle transportation between all of these smaller towns? Did you rent a car, or did you find that buses and trains were pretty comprehensive? If you rented a car, how did that go as a non-Italian? Thanks!
February 24, 2015 @ 3:12 PM
Thanks Caroline, I appreciate that! For most of that week, we were based in Bologna and we took trains. The trains were really easy to use to reach Modena, Ferrara, plus several other towns we didn’t make it to, like Parma. Just about any decent sized town has a train station. We stayed in Rimini on the coast for a couple of nights, and from there we took a bus to San Marino. The bus pick-up was right out front of the train station, so also easy. We took the train from Rimini to Bologna. We were with a group for our week in Bologna, so the trip to Cesenatico, San Leo, and Petrella Guidi was all arranged for us. But there is a train station in Cesenatico, so that would be easy to reach as well. San Leo and Petrella Guidi don’t have train stations (they are really tiny) but it looks like there is a bus from Rimini. Petrella Guidi was *tiny* and the word “village” even feels like exaggeration. That would probably be easier to reach by car. But honestly, as neat as it was to see, there isn’t really anything to do there. The whole thing took about 5 minutes to walk through. If you’re planning a trip to Emilia Romagna, or anywhere in Italy really, I’d stick to the trains. Driving in Italy looks stressful to me, though I’ve never actually tried it. There are also plenty of tours, including ones that are half or full day, that would make it really easy to see some of these out of the way places. But the cities and bigger towns are very accessible by train. I hope this helps, but let me know if you have any other questions!
February 26, 2015 @ 12:49 AM
Hi Ali! Thanks so much for your quick response and this helpful information. I’m dreaming of a trip to Italy this summer (fingers crossed that it happens!), and it’s hard to make sense of all the on-the-ground options without hearing from somebody who’s been there.
February 26, 2015 @ 11:02 PM
No problem! Feel free to email me if you have any other questions. My husband and I just recently spent 3 more weeks traveling in Italy, plus a month based in Pisa and traveling around Tuscany.