Emilia Romagna may very well be one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
Sure, you may have heard about Modena, Bologna and the other cities in the region, and you may be aware that Emilia Romagna is home to amazing cuisine, and the best cars in the country.
Yet, the region is a lot more than just a cradle of excellent produce and supercars. The region offers beaches, nature, culture and locals among the friendliest and most welcoming in Italy. Not to mention the Po Delta, one of the best places in Italy for birdwatching.
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Here are the 7 best places to visit in Emilia Romagna, roughly listed from north to south:
Home to Parmigiano Reggiano and Parma ham, two of the best-known Emilia Romagna products, a Parma food tour should be a must for all foodies. If you don’t have enough time for a tour, head to Salumeria Grisenti for some food shopping and don’t miss ice cream at Gelateria K2, a short distance away. For a truly local street snack, opt for ‘pesto di cavallo’, a raw horse burger sandwich (yes, really). If you're a cheese lover, then a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese tasting is also a must! And for the aspiring chefs, a hands on traditional cooking class is also a really awesome experience.
Parma is also a lovely place to wander around - the Duomo (Cathedral) and Battistero are worth a visit.
If Parma is the home of fine food, then Modena is the home of fine cars – how about Ferrari, anyone? Those that want to get to know more about the past, present and future of the historic car manufacturer should make a beeline for the Ferrari Museum in Maranello and book a test drive on the track just in front of it. In Modena itself, the Enzo Ferrari museum is also worth a visit for its exhibits focusing on the life and times of Enzo Ferrari, and for the unusual shape of the museum building itself, looking like a car bonnet.
Not far from Bologna, Ferrara makes a wonderful day trip. The highlight is massive Castello Estense, a moated castle located right in the centre of the city where you can visit the former apartments and prisons. The Duomo, city walls and ancient Jewish neighbourhood are also worth a visit. If you’re having lunch in Ferrara don’t miss trying salama da sugo, a huge stewed sausage usually served with mashed potatoes.
4. Po Delta
The delta of the Po, Italy’s longest river, is located between northern Emilia Romagna and Veneto, and can easily be visited on a day trip from Bologna or Ferrara. Excursions include the small islands of the delta, with lighthouses and wild parties in summer, some excellent birdwatching and sunsets among the best in Italy.
Very few first-time visitors include Bologna in their Italy itineraries, but those who do usually end up having an awesome time and often list Bologna among their Italy highlights. So, why is Bologna so cool? It’s the largest university city in Italy, with a lively nightlife scene and a very chilled vibe.
Three must-dos in Bologna include climbing Torre degli Asinelli, one of Bologna’s ‘Twin Towers’ from where you’ll get a great view over the city, lunch at Past Fresca Naldi for some delicious home made pasta and a walk to San Luca Sanctuary just out of the city.
Just be careful, though – if you’re still at university, don’t climb Torre degli Asinelli. Locals believe you’ll never graduate otherwise!
Ravenna used to be the capital of the Western Roman Empire and one of the main cities in Byzantine times, and nowadays a wealth of historic and cultural sights survives in the city. Ravenna is famous for its early Christian churches with stunning mosaics, part of the reason why the city is UNESCO-listed. It's worth doing a Ravenna guided tour to learn more about all of the churches.
7. Romagna Apennines
Normally when you say ‘Italy’ and ‘Mountains’, everybody thinks of the Alps – even though the Apennines also offer stunning landscapes and crazy adventures. One of the best walks in the Romagna Apennines is the Sentiero delle Foreste Sacre, a 7-day hike including remote stretches of forest where St Francis of Assisi was believed to come to pray and meditate. Other notable sights in the Romagna Apennines include the Republic of San Marino, a tiny independent state, and the Ridracoli Dam where you can kayak around.