Emilia-Romagna in Italy…how I loved it!

When my sister-in-law, Perry said she was going to Italy last June and did I want to meet her there…obviously I jumped at the chance. Silly not to.

She was swimming in the World Masters Championships (yes, she’s a seriously good swimmer) in Riccione in the Emilia-Romagna area in North-East Italy. The region is one of the most fertile in Italy, responsible for classic Italian produce like Parmesan, Parma ham, all kinds of stuffed pasta, Mortadella and Balsamic vinegar. And Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, so plenty of culture and history to look forward to, too.

A short flight to Bologna from London, a rather hectic train journey to Riccione and there we were, ready for the first leg of our adventure – some swimming, sun, sea and sand…and of course plenty of delicious Italian morsels. Riccione is a typical seaside resort – it exists for beach babies like me. There’s about 14km of beach, lined with restaurants, umbrellas and sunbeds. And it’s hot! Perfect.

Eat at one of the many restaurants along the beach and this will be your view

There’s even a special area for doggies

The food is so good and so fresh, that you’re guaranteed a tasty meal wherever you stop off. Our lunch on the beach in Rimini (just up the road from Riccione) consisted of a mix of salads and the ever-present selection of irresistible hams and everything tasted heavenly. Order loads and share and marvel at how low the bill is!

Bresaola with rocket and Parmesan on the beach

Tomato, Mozzarella and basil, the perfect combination

After three days in Riccione the swimming sadly came to an end, it was so much fun and I met so many new people, I’m definitely up for going again – Perry are you listening?! So, time to move on to our next destination…Bologna. Back on the train, and again, pretty hectic. Italian trains are fabulous – cheap and mostly on-time – but they can be packed so it’s not much fun travelling on them with heavy suitcases. And as I can’t really speak any Italian (being able to reel off dishes off menus isn’t a great help in everyday situations), the communication under pressure was problematic to say the least! We needed to settle in and unpack, leaving us free to explore the area unencumbered. So that’s what we did.

Bologna is a big, busy city with masses of eating and shopping opportunities. The food market off the main square was my favourite place. It’s packed with goodies from the region, with the aroma of ham and cheese in the air. If I lived in Bologna I’d go there for coffee every day and be happy!

Pasta heaven in the market

Hams as far as the eye can see. One day I’m going to bring one of these home!

While we were planning our Italian odyssey an email popped up in my inbox – telling me about the latest ratings for the top-50 restaurants in the world. And guess what, number five, Osteria Francescana was just down the road in Modena – a short train journey from Bologna. I anxiously emailed to book a table for lunch and was thrilled to get in. It was a fabulous experience, worth a visit to Modena on its own, and I had what is my favourite dish of the year (so far) – an amazing guinea hen masterpiece.

Modena is home to Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati, so we popped into the new Ferrari museum (worth a visit for any petrolheads out there) and it’s also the birthplace of Pavarotti. So there’s plenty happening there!

The amazing Parmesan starter at Osteria Francescana

My dish of the year guinea hen in all its splendour

We also paid a visit to Parma which is a slightly longer train journey away. It has a more relaxed air with wide streets and plenty of trees and green spaces. And as home to two of the  most classic and perfect ingredients in the world, Parmesan and Parma ham has to be the ideal place for lunch. Once you’ve eaten them in their home town the flavours will stay with you forever.

When in Parma…eat ham…and other Italian meaty deliciousness

My idea of total heaven – tomatoes in all shapes and sizes

Of the restaurants we went to in Bologna, I’d recommend Teresina. We sat in their little courtyard-type space (well kind of a dead-end alley, but with charm) and feasted on amazing local dishes. The fritto misto (which I also ordered in Riccione) was delightful as was the tagliata.

Fritto Misto is a must-have in this part of Italy

Just writing about this again has inspired me to organise another trip to Italy. And it’s also reminded me that I didn’t do nearly enough shopping when I was there last time! I love all the things I bought (shoes, bags, jewellery, belts). The question is where to next??

We stayed at the Royal Carlton Hotel in Bologna which was very comfortable and welcoming, as well as being perfectly positioned for our odyssey, close to the centre of town and the train station. It also had a lovely outdoor area with little gazebos where we polished off plenty of glasses of Prosecco and other beverages.

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