When I first moved to Italy I quickly discovered that I am a person with natural wanderlust. Being in Italy only further encouraged my wanderlust, the best part being that I could even do it on a student's budget. When you're in a country where trains and buses make traveling to the remotest of areas easy, it's impossible not to explore, and even easier than you might think to navigate to remote areas far beyond busy cities with out a car. What makes it even better is that you quickly learn it's easy to find countless picturesque cities with at least one delicious restaurant, bar, cappuccino or pasticceria. With Emilia Romagna as my oyster and other neighboring regions close by and well connected by train, I made sure to take advantage of my days off of school, free half days, as well as long and short weekends.
What I discovered during my two year master program is that Bologna, more so than Rome is incredibly well connected to magnificent paesini and many UNESCO world heritage sights. In fact, Bologna couldn't be a more central and perfect location to explore the big town and small town parts of central/northern Italy. From Bologna Centrale you can easily hop on a train and be in Milan, Venice, Verona or Rome in just about two hours, add another hour of journey and you've nearly made it to Switzerland, or you're in Trieste or exploring the five towns of the Cinque Terre or Genova. Bologna's centrality and connectivity is undeniable and it also proves to be a perfect location to explore many small, beautiful and unique towns that can be found along your way to any nearby major city.
The first small town I urge you to explore is in the Province of Ravenna.
How to get there: 40 minute train ride from Bologna Centrale to Faenza, followed by a ten minute bus or train ride Faenza to Brisighella. Trains run hourly.
I have to admit that I would have never known about Brisighella if it weren't for my friend Julia who is a natural explorer and loves quaint Italian towns. And she hit the nail on the head with this extraordinary find. Brisighella is situated at the foot of the Appenines, a perfect point where the Appenines roll into Brisighella from the West and then East of the village, rolling fields continue towards the Adriatic Sea. The village is unique because of three structures, resting on three defining hills of the city that define it's history and panorama, L'Orologio, La Rocca, e La Chiesa. Resting just above the top of the city a stone stair pathway leads you up along the ridge to arrive first at the clocktower "L'orologio," from there you continue on the rocky path to pass La Rocca, a medieval fortress dating from the 1300s, and on to the third hill where La Chiesa sits, the "Santuario della Madonna di Monticino" dating from 1662. Apart from the three hills, Brisighella has much more to offer in architecture, nature, cuisine and culture. The beautiful small streets of the town are lined with bright colored homes creating a naturally beautiful sight for anyone wandering the streets. Beyond that, the town is affordable and has a number of top notch restaurants to enjoy at an affordable price.
What to see:
Santuario della Madonna di Monticino
La Torre dell'Orologio
L'Antica via del Borgo - A beautiful street famous for it's characteristic half moon window openings and bright colors. A unique architectural beauty!
Parco Regionale della Vena del Gesso Romagnola - Check out this site if you have a longer time to spend in Brisighella and want to check out some hiking and nature at it's best! http://www.parcovenadelgesso.it/
Where to eat:
Ristorante La Grotta, Via Metelli 1, website
Trattoria La Casetta, Via Parco Ugonia 6, website
L'Infinito, Via del Trebbio 12/14, website
If you like quaint, but also like the idea of Venice, Cesenatico is the place for you!
How to get there: Not as easy of a train ride as Brisighella, but still do-able in a day. Depending on the connection you get the train ride can be just under 2 hours or slightly over it. By car it's a simple hour and 15 minute drive.
Cesenatico drew my attention because it is a port city on the Adriatic sea. Being in Bologna, I also longed to see the sea and would happily adventure out to a town that was on the coast. A mere 2 hour train ride away, you simply can't say no to a sea breeze and fresh salty air.
When to go: If you are a fish lover, i'd suggest making your trip to Cesenatico around their fish festival "Il Pesce Fa Festa". I traveled there during this festival and it was such an amazing experience. The canal is lined with fish vendors and pop up tents selling fresh fried fish, fish risotto, fish soup etc. It's not to miss! And all of the fresh catches are super affordable. Check out their event on their page http://www.cesenatico.it/scheda_articolo.asp?id=655
What to see:
Museo della Marineria - Cesenatico's own Marine Museum, learn about fisherman and sailor history and check out the boats they host, website.
Porto Canale - The main canal of the city
Spazio Pantani - If you love cycling, check out the Spazio Pantani, an exhibit dedicated to famous cyclist Marco Pantani (a Cesena native) who won both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in 1998.
Where to eat:
fish, fish, fish, fish - that's what you eat!
Osteria del Gran Fritto - If you like fried fish, this is the place for you! Corso Garibaldi, 41, website
12 Ristorante - Higher price range, fish specialties, central location. Via Armellini, 12, website
Mare' - Great patio and outside seating, fabulous view of the sea. Molo di Levante, 74, website
Parma is a colorful, right sized, biking city, known best for it's claim to fame "Prosciutto di Parma"
How to get there: Parma is EASY to get to from Bologna Centrale. A quick hour train ride directly north west of Bologna makes it easy for you to get the real low down on Prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano. Trains run every thirty minutes!
A classmate of mine studied in Parma during his time abroad at college and ever since it has been on my "to see" list. Disclaimer: My "to see" list is actually code for "to eat". He boasted of the rich culture, the ease of movement around the city by bike, and of course the amazing proximity to some of Italy's most esteemed food products, prosciutto and parmigiano! I finally visited Parma for a quick day trip when a Botero exhibit was in town, I explored the parks of Parma, the cobblestone streets, the colorful building facades and of course, treated my taste buds. Parma like Bologna, is a smaller city, but with big city attractions. It has high fashion shopping, a plethora of delicious restaurants, parks and green space, and of course amazing museums and cultural attractions. You can't go wrong with Parma!
What to see:
Cathedral of Parma
Baptistry of Parma
If you have time and money:
Food tours - there are a number of Parma based food tours that will organize your group being picked up from the main station in Parma and then brought to various locations, ie. the parmigiano reggiano factory, or to a nearby vineyard. There are many various food tour groups all with different touring options and customizations, ie. staying local within the city walls or exploring the country side of Parma.
Food Valley Gourmet Tours - http://www.foodvalleytravel.com/en/Experience/
Parma Golosa - http://www.parmagolosa.it/
*Check out TripAdvisor for reviews on various food tours originating in Parma*
Note: If you contact the Parmigiano Reggiano factory in advance and have a car, you can arrange for free tours of their factory directly with them.
Where to eat:
Pepe'n - For a quick and crazy sandwich experience Pepen is the GO-TO! A Parma speciality is horse, so don't be afraid if you see that on the menu, and try not to craft your own sandwiches. The busy storefront likes to keep sandwiches streamlined and delicious, and they know their off the menu options are the best of the best. Borgo S. Ambrogio, 2, website
Osteria i Tre Porcellini - Borgo del Correggio, 60/A, website
Sa Marjoga - Borgo Garimberti, 27, website
Osteria dello Zingaro - Borgo del Correggio, 5/B, website
Gelato - Emilia Cremeria (Luigi Carlo Farini, 29,) & Ciacco (G. Garibaldi, 11)
Two reasons (that quite frankly are one in the same!):
2. UNESCO World Heritage site
How to get there: Another easy train ride from Bologna Centrale, however this time north east and toward the sea. Most trains are direct to Ravenna and run hourly. The best news is, the train ticket only costs 7 euro!
What to see:
UNESCO World Heritage: Byzantine Mosaics (8 locations)
- Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
- Neonian Baptistery
- Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo
- Arian Baptistery
- Archiepiscopal Chapel
- Mausoleum of Theodoric
- Church of San Vitale
- Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe
*It's worth stopping into the local tourist office to buy an integrated ticket that includes all UNESCO sites in Ravenna*
Where to eat:
As we've entered the Romagna part of Emilia Romagna, you should note that the best eats include Piadine.
Antica Bottega di Felice - Via Ponte Marino 23-25, website
Ca' de Ven - Via Corrado Ricci, 24, website
Profumo di Piadina - Via Cairoli 24
Cupido - Don't judge by it's looks! Via Cavour 43/A, website
(I think I deserve to give Ravenna another chance!)
A couple of things make Modena a must see town:
- Home to Michelin 3-star rated restaurant Osteria Francescana (Rated 2nd best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine)
- Torre della Ghirlandina
How to get there: Again the train is our friend. Modena is the closest of the five cities, a quick 20-30 minute train ride. Trains run multiple times per hour. There is no excuse to miss this gem!
What attracted me to Modena is a quick train ride from Bologna and it costs less than ten euros for a round trip ticket. Among other things, Modena is famous for it's Balsamic vinegar and like other cities on this list, it's cuisine. If anything, I was planning on hopping on the train just to try a Modenese restaurant! I also must admit the draw Modena has to those car fanatics in your life, the Ferrari museum is situated just outside the city center, but don't be fooled, if you're going to visit with a Ferrari fanatic it's not likely you'll have much time to explore the churches and monuments of the city as well!
What to see:
Duomo di Modena
Torre di Ghirlandina
Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari
Where to eat:
Osteria Francescana, Via Stella, 22, http://www.osteriafrancescana.it/ don't miss this 3 michelin star awarded restaurant of Massimo Bottura. But be aware, this is no cheap eats!
Franceschetta58, Strada Vignolese, 58 http://franceschetta58.it/menu.html if you want to try Massimo's sister restaurant, this is the place, slightly outside of the city but worth it!
Ristorante da Danilo, Via Coltellini, 31, http://www.ristorantedadanilomodena.it/#_=_
Antica Moka, Via Emilia Est, 1496, http://www.anticamoka.it/ (all I can say is read up about Gnocchi fritti and you might think it's worth the hike!)
Trattoria il Fantino, Via Donzi, 7, http://www.trattoriailfantino.it/