Located in Northern Italy bordered by the Apennine Mountains and Po River, Emilia-Romagna is jam-packed with attractions, historic and modern alike. Many travelers overlook it, heading for famous destinations like Tuscany, but it offers plenty of delights and a more authentic Italian feel without the crowds. It’s renowned for its long, sandy coastline with many alluring seaside resorts and medieval cities.
Bologna is the capital, and it hosts a university that dates back to the 11th century along with the iconic Two Towers of Bologna from the medieval era. The city reflects the region with a fabulous medieval center, squares where students swap gothic fashion tips, and a wide range of trattorias, bars, and clubs. No matter where you are you’ll find genuinely warm hospitality and a wealth of delicious foods as this region is a true gastronomic paradise with unique products like Modena’s traditional balsamic vinegar, cured meats, and Lambrusco, a semi-sparkling red wine.
The central square in Bologna, Piazza Maggiore is one of the country’s largest and oldest piazzas. It dates back to 1200 AD when the municipality began to acquire land to build a square for two reasons, one to represent the importance of the municipal institution, and the other to bring together activities such as trading and services.
From the 16th century on, it was known as Piazza Maggiore. Put it on the top of your list to visit while exploring Emilia-Romagna as it hosts many important buildings, including the Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo dei Bianchi, Palazzo Notai, and Palazzo del Podesta. It also serves as a gathering place for the city’s political and social life. One of the best places for people-watching in the city, in between sightseeing, head to one of the shady cafes to enjoy your favorite beverage or just sit on the steps of the basilica while watching the world go by.
You probably know all about the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but did you know that Bologna has its own leaning tower? It also offers one of the best views around. The Asinelli Tower leans 1.3 degrees off-center and rises to a height of nearly 319 feet. By climbing the nearly 500 wooden steps to the top, you’ll enjoy a panoramic view over the city, with the Basilica of San Luca to the west and Piazza Maggiore to the east. Look to the southwest and you’ll see via Emilia, the ancient Roman road.
The view will be even more dazzling at sunset with glorious colors splashed across the landscape. There are actually two towers here, Garisenda and Asinelli which were built during the Middle Ages. They stand next to each other, referred to collectively as Le Due Torri, and are considered symbols of Bologna, with Asinelli open to the public as the taller of the pair.
If you have any interest in the history of the region, you won’t want to miss Bologna’s archaeological museum, one of the most prestigious institutions in the city. It opened in 1881, just steps from Piazza Maggiore, and features one of Italy’s largest Egyptian collections as well as an in-depth overview of Bologna’s history, from prehistoric times through the Roman era through fascinating archaeological finds. Dedicated to ancient civilizations, the vast collection includes various themes that start with the archaic Etruscan civilization, one of the highlights of the museum.
It displays artifacts from Bologna and surrounding areas with some 4,000 grave goods, including pottery, biconical vases, and bronze tools as well as marble and terracotta urns, and Etruscan mirrors with engravings. Visitors also get an in-depth look at Gallic, Greek, and Roman heritage, with the Greek collection featuring a notable marble copy of the head of Athena Lemnia that dates to ancient Greek times.
Bologna’s porticos are famous, with nearly 25 miles of partially enclosed corridors in the city center alone. The walkway is lined with arches and columns, each of which has its own unique style and structure allowing walkers to get to know the city and its history one step at a time. The porticos also provide shade from summer’s sizzling heat and protection from the elements in the winter.
Most were constructed during Bologna’s prosperous Middle Ages and in the early 20th century to support the growth of the university. The most famous include the walkway leading to the hilltop Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca and the Bonaccorsi Arch. No matter which you stroll, it’s a great opportunity to admire the ancient architecture, with columns, lights, shadows, and unique angles. There are numerous photo ops to take advantage of for those who want to fill their Instagram feed as well.
Bologna’s impressive mix of modern and historic includes world-class modern museums that are well worth exploring like MAMbo, the Museum of Modern Art. The institution is one of the most important of its kind in Italy, holding the largest collection of contemporary and modern art in the city, which includes 85 works by Giorgio Morandi, the Bolognese master of still life painting. Morandi is known for his minimalist approach that includes meditations on form, color, and light.
It also features other important Italian works such as the 1972 I Funerali di Togliatti by Renato Guttoso which depicts the funeral of the Italian Communist Party leader, Palmiro Togliatti. The MAST Museum, which sits within a modernist cement and glass building, reveals a city at the forefront of innovation and technology through exhibits on photography, technology, and industry with two large galleries, including the Innovation Gallery, with hands-on activities, panels, and videos.
The colorful medieval town of Brisighella is nestled between Ravena and Florence at the foot of the Apennine Mountains. While it may not be well-known, it’s well worth a visit when in Emilia- Romagna as a paradise for nature and art lovers, as well as foodies and wine enthusiasts. The borgo is surrounded by three spurs which are topped by a 14th -century fortified castle, a sanctuary, and a clock tower.
From the castle, a path leads to the clock tower which offers a breathtaking view of the vineyards and olive groves that surround the town. The narrow streets and alleyways below are worth strolling as well, with pastel-hued facades and lovely little squares to discover. Be sure to walk Donkey’s Road, or Via del Borgo, which was originally a military outlook during medieval times. The arched stone walkway was later used to transport gypsum from nearby caves with the help of donkeys.
Emilia-Romagna has nearly 60 miles of shoreline with many sandy beaches and dozens of beach clubs. One of the most popular things to do in the region during the warmer months of the year is to enjoy the sea and the sand. You’ll have many resort towns to choose from, including Rimini, the most visited Italian resort along the Adriatic with a fabulous atmosphere, a rich history, and countless outstanding eateries to enjoy, combined with dozens of beaches.
There are both sandy and pebbly stretches, all with clear turquoise waters that start out shallow, ideal for families with little ones who want to splash around. Egisto 38 is particularly ideal with sunbeds available for rent along with playgrounds and changing rooms. Further north, the port town of Cesenatico is very picturesque and offers beaches with a low, sloping seabed that makes it safe for swimming. There are play areas for children and watersports equipment rentals too.
Ravenna is one of the oldest and most culturally significant cities in Italy, boasting an astounding eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites that make it a must-visit when in Emilia-Romagna. Six are right in the Old Town, including the Mausoleum of Theodoric which is the tomb of the Ostrogoth king who died in the 6th century AD, the only surviving tomb of a “barbarian” king from Late Antiquity.
Its most impressive feature is arguably the single round stone that serves as the tomb’s roof as no one knows how it was moved from Istria or how it was placed there. The early 6 th century Archbishop’s Chapel is in the Archiepiscopal Museum and is the oldest private Christian oratory that still exists today. Basilica San Vitale also dates to the 6th century and is astonishingly beautiful with mosaics that are considered to be the most important examples of Byzantine art outside of Istanbul.
While in Ravenna, not only can you see the many beautiful mosaics that decorate the city’s Byzantine churches, but you can also learn the ancient art of making mosaics. Artists use what’s known as the “Ravennese” technique which was developed during Roman times but in new ways and forms. This is a skill that was often taught in workshops, just like painting and today Ravenna proudly fosters the tradition of mosaic art through many artists and several local schools. It’s particularly flourished over the past century thanks to people like Anna who owns Annafietta.
Located near the Basilica of San Vitale, expert artisans will reveal the secrets and techniques behind mosaic art while providing you with all of the necessary materials to create your own masterpiece, from jewelry and ornaments to frames, mirrors, and more. The skill is a long, time-honored Byzantine tradition, making for one of the most useful souvenirs you can bring home.
The Emilia-Romagna region is home to the world-famous “Motor Valley” which includes Bologna, Modena, and other cities. It’s where you’ll find famous names like Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Ducati. It resembles a sprawling theme park and offers a variety of attractions and museums, celebrating the region’s passion for mechanics and style. You’ll find some of the best car museums in Modena, including Casa Enzo Ferrari Museum with its incredible collection of automobiles.
Maranello hosts the Ferrari Maranello Museum where youcan join a variety of tours, including a panoramic factory tour. It also offers the chance to enjoy some exhilarating time on the track in your own car after the requisite safety measures and instruction. Visitors can also visit the exhibition of race cars that have made Formula 1 history and experience the thrill of driving via a professional simulator. There are plenty of fun gadgets and souvenirs available for purchase in the Ferrari store too.
Parma is famous for its food, with Parmesan cheese (officially Parmigiano Reggiano) one of its biggest claims to fame. If you enjoy it, you might want to visit one of the city’s cheese factories which are open to the public for guided tours that include tastings. First, stop at Museo del Parmigiano Reggiano which is dedicated to the namesake cheese, to learn more about its history.
Afterward, you might take a guided experience at Latteria Sociale San Pier Damiani which includes a two-hour tour revealing the handmade technique that has remained largely unchanged for generations. Samples of the finished product are included. Caseifico San Bernardio offers an intriguing illustration of the importance of aging in high-quality parmesan that includes a visit to its massive storage room with wheels of cheese stacked up. You’ll get to see all the stages of production and learn the secrets to the best Parmesan making.
One of the most famous products that can be enjoyed in Emilia-Romagna is the truffle If you enjoy them, consider getting out into the forest on a truffle hunting tour that concludes with a lunch of truffle-based dishes. This unforgettable experience will take you into the hills that surround Bologna for a dive into the truffle obsession led by an expert guide who will teach you all about the different varieties of truffles that can be found here.
Once you’re deep into the woods, a local truffle hunter will arrive with a dog to show you how to find these precious treasures. You’ll experience the excitement of the foraging while learning how the dogs are trained, how the climate affects truffle growing, and much more. Following the hunt, you’ll get to sit down to enjoy your meal at a local agriturismo which will include many delicious truffle based delights.
If you like gnomes, are looking for a quirky experience, or want to keep the kids entertained, you’ll want to visit the Path of Gnomes, Sentiero degli Gnomi, where fables turn into reality. This unique theme park is located in Bagno di Romagna and features a path that begins at the public gardens and meanders into the forest, following a bubbling stream for about 1.25 miles. There are two different routes, one marked by a red gnome that’s just for kids, and another marked by a green gnome for the entire family.
There are various illustrations created by local schoolchildren that make the walk even more entertaining. The gnomes, made out of wood, along with various animal sculptures, sit under leafy trees and you’ll enjoy lake views along the way. The kids join a Printing in the Woods workshop, follow sensory paths barefoot, and enjoy a tasty picnic in the woods with the gnomes.
Casentinesi Forest National Park is a tranquil oasis with waterfalls that stretches over both Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany. It’s crossed by tributaries of the River Arno, extending from Monte Falterona to the Mandrioli Pass, and offers a network of more than 400 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Abundant wildlife can be spotted here too, including deer, wild boar, and wolves.
The park also has an interesting history as the place where St. Francis lived, walked, and received the stigmata. A less than 3-mile loop trail starting from the town of Chiusi traces entire generations of pilgrims who climbed up the mountain following the trail of St. Francis to the Sanctuary of La Verna. As you walk the ancient mule tracks, you’ll be surrounded by forest before reaching Mount della Verna, a sacred place linked to the memory of the saint that also offers a spectacular panoramic view.
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