Emilia-Romagna is a large region with many fabulous cities and villages. It runs like a picturesque band nearly all the way across Northern Italy, bordered by the Po River and the Apennine Mountains while stretching to the Adriatic coast. While it’s often overlooked by tourists who frequently head to more famous destinations like Tuscany, it’s the ideal place for a rural getaway or a historical one.
Foodies will love it too, with many local products featured in the dishes here, from Parma’s renowned cheese and ham to traditional balsamic vinegar in Modena. It’s home to the medieval capital of Bologna, home to the world’s oldest university, with an enticing mix of historic and modern, while the Motor Valley is sure to please lovers of fine cars and racetracks with great names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati. Before booking your accommodation, you’ll want to determine the best place to stay according to your interests and travel style.
The capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna has a lot to offer while providing an ideal base for exploring other destinations on day trips. It’s a great city for walking, with a flat historical center that’s closed to car traffic on the weekends, while the sidewalks are covered with arched porticoes, providing pedestrians with shade from summer’s searing heat and protection from inclement weather. It’s home to Europe’s oldest university, boasts a thriving food scene, and many impressive landmarks from Piazza Maggiore, one of the grandest squares on the continent, to its pair of tall medieval watchtowers.
First-time visitors will do well to stay in the city’s historic center as the wide range of hotels from budget-friendly to luxurious, along with other accommodation options like apartment rentals, all just steps from the top attractions. There are numerous venues for shopping ‘til you drop, including top Italian designers along the main shopping street, Via dell’Indipendenza, too.
There are delicious eats throughout the region, but the countryside surrounding Parma makes it a breadbasket for two of the most beloved foods in all of Italy, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma (cured ham). It can be enjoyed in many restaurants and well beyond. Visitors will find some 500 authorized producers of the famous prosciutto di Parma in the Langhirano Valley just south of the city, many of which are open for tastings.
Guided tours and tastings are available at the multiple cheese factories too. Parma also has a picturesque, compact historic center with a gorgeous main cathedral and 12 th -century baptistery along with a number of important churches. Palazzo di Pilotta is home to multiple museums and a 17 th – century theater too. Modena is the birthplace of balsamic vinegar and offers lots of places to sample and purchase the authentic product, as well as being home to one of the world’s highest-rated restaurants, Osteria Francescana.
Bologna offers lots for culture vultures, but Ravenna deserves a special section of its own, with so much to see and do it’s worth spending more time in by making it your base, at least part of the time while visiting Emilia-Romagna. It once served as the Western capital and afterward, it was the Ostrogoth Empire capital before being conquered by Byzantium.
During the Middle Ages it was an important center of exchange between Eastern and Western cultures, a past that’s left it with the remarkable artistic heritage visitors can delve into today. It’s famous for its magnificent mosaics and its early Christian basilicas, as well as being home to an astounding eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Its geographical position means that it’s easy to reach the beaches from here as well as explore a number of charming towns from elegant Ferrara to medieval Brisighella at the foot of the Apennine Mountains.
Rimini is considered one of Europe’s best beach resorts. Facing the Adriatic Sea, it’s renowned for its wide, sandy beaches that edge shallow cobalt waters as well as offering great nightlife for visitors of all ages. There are nearly 10 miles of fine sands here while the seafront is lined with shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels.
Visitors can enjoy free stretches for tossing down a beach towel or blanket and soaking up the sun, including the beach near the port by Piazzale Boscovich which faces the pier. Much of the beach is licensed for establishments that have specific areas that are maintained and available for a fee, with loungers, umbrellas, activities for kids, changing rooms, and showers. Budget, mid-range, and luxury hotels are all available, such as a 5-star property with a sea-view spa that includes
Emilia-Romagna offers a number of picturesque hamlets that are ideal for romance-seekers, including Brisighella which lies at the foot of three hills on which its castle/fortress, clock tower, and a sanctuary all stand. This hidden medieval village is one you’ll fall in love with at first sight with pastel-painted homes while surrounded by rolling vineyards.
Other than weekends during the peak summer months, you’ll be able to enjoy it practically all to yourselves, strolling hand-in-hand through the maze of cobbled streets and stairs carved in the rock which encloses the ancient Donkey’s Road, Via degli Asini, an elevated covered street once used for the birocciai (two-wheel carts) to transport goods. You’ll also want to climb the stairs to Rocca Manfrediana and the Clock Tower with a dazzling panoramic view the reward for your effort. A wide range of delicious eats awaits, while accommodation includes everything from elegant manor houses and boutique hotels to charming B&Bs.
Although it’s often overlooked by tourists who head to Rome, Venice, or Florence instead, Bologna has lots to offer as one of the most influential and important cities in Italy. The capital of Emilia-Romagna, it has a very rich history and lots of culture to explore. Its historic center is the best place for tourists to stay, particularly first-time visitors who will be perfectly situated for enjoying one of the best squares in Europe, Piazza Maggiore.
Shopping enthusiasts will find many small shops selling everything from antiques to souvenirs, and top Italian designer names along Via dell’Indipendenza, the main shopping street, along with lively markets and food stalls. Bologna also makes a great base for exploring other places with the train station and bus easily reached within a 20-minute walk of the historic center. When it comes to accommodation, you’ll find family-run guesthouses, B&Bs, and hotels for nearly every budget, including some great value-priced, four-star properties.
Parma is the second-largest city behind Bologna, famous for its ham and cheese as well as boasting an enchanting historical center. It has a large student population as the home of the University of Parma, which means you’ll find a wide range of shopping, dining, and nightlife venues. For those most interested in sightseeing, you’ll want to stay in one of the historic boutique hotels, modern hotels with contemporary art, or apartment rentals around Piazza Duomo where all the main sites are centered, including the magnificently ornate cathedral, unique baptistery, and the elegant bishop’s palace. After admiring impressive works of art and facades, you might delve into the city’s famed foods. Not only can you try locally produced prosciutto and Parmesan cheese in the restaurants, but you can enjoy touring and tasting at the cheese factories and visiting prosciutto producers in the Langhirano Valley just south of the city, many of which are open for tastings.
The magnificent city of Modena is known for its fast cars and its fine food. Tucked between Bologna and Parma, it’s the birthplace of Luciano Pavarotti and Enzo Ferrari as well as boasting a rich, more than 2,000-year-old history. The historical center is home to many picturesque palazzi and atmospheric churches, including the 17th -century Ducal Palace.
It’s an architectural treasure trove. Of course, you’ll have to sample its food – balsamic vinegar was birthed here and you’ll find many places to sample and purchase a bottle of the authentic stuff. Tortellini and traditional meats can be tried at the Mercato Albinelli market or the highly acclaimed Osteria Francescana, often named among the world’s best restaurants. Those interested in automobiles will find lots to explore, with automobile manufacturing and legends of speed an integral part of Modena’s culture – don’t miss the automobile museums, with the Ferrari Museum a crown jewel.
Arguably the most important city historically in Emilia-Romagna, anyone interested in the region’s culture and history will want to spend time in Ravenna. Exploring its streets is like taking a stroll into the past, with incredibly well-preserved Roman and Byzantine architecture. The compact historic center is filled with a wide range of architectural and artistic treasures, many of which date to the 6th century.
In fact, there are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna, six of which you’ll find right here like the Basilica San Vitale with its stunning mosaics – it’s considered to be one of the most important examples of Byzantine art outside of Istanbul. There are countless grand palazzi and lovely churches to visit too. Those who also want to spend some time at the beach during the warmer months will find beautiful stretches of sand just a short jaunt away, including the beaches at Marina di Ravenna.
Refined Ferrara is the capital of the province of the same name. While it’s usually passed over in favor of Bologna, Ravenna, and Parma, it’s well worth visiting or staying in with so many spectacular Renaissance piazzas, churches, and palazzi, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ferrara has hosted some of the most important contemporary literary and artistic figures over the years and it’s also home to the 14th -century Este Castle which symbolizes the balanced power of one of the most important European families.
Under the patronage of the Este family, the city became a thriving center of arts and architecture in Italy. Known as the “city of bicycles” it’s the place to go for cyclists with miles and miles of routes for your pedaling pleasure, including right atop the city walls that surround the historic center. After working up an appetite try Ferrara’s signature cappellacci di zucca, enjoyed since the Este era.
Rimini is a lively beach resort town that’s long been a popular vacation destination for beach getaways in the heart of the riviera of the same name. Spread alongside the Adriatic, it offers nearly 10 miles of wide sandy beaches with lots of seafood eateries, bars, nightclubs, and beachfront hotels.
The turquoise sea is calm and shallow here, ideal for swimming as well as being safe for kids to splash around. In the summer, it gets very busy with both Italians and foreign tourists visiting, but if you come in early June or late September you can soak up the sun and enjoy swimming in warm water without the crowds. Other than relaxing on the sun-kissed sands and taking refreshing dips, the town also offers centuries-old historic sites and museums, including the Arch of Augustus dating to 27 BC, ruins of a Roman amphitheater, and the Tiberius Bridge.
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