Before this year I had only been to Italy a handful of times and had never truly immersed myself in Italian food culture. Sure, I would rave on about how amazing Italian pizza is and how pasta in Italy is in “a world of its own”, but it was all weightless words that held no meaning for me. This summer, however, I had the opportunity to travel to the foodie province of Emilia Romagna Italy not once but twice, and it’s only after these two visits that I’ve finally understood that secret ingredient that makes Italian quite so magical.
My first trip to Emilia Romagna was in June, as part of a unique campaign that allowed food and travel bloggers to stay for free in a beautiful apartment in Bologna overlooking the historic Piazza Maggiore, in return for writing about their wonderful foodie experiences in Bologna. I got to spend the week with two amazing friends, eating our way around the city, discovering tiny super-local tavernas, eating more gelato than I ever thought mt stomach could handle and attempting to find the best pizza slice in Bologna while getting lost in on of the most beautiful cities in the world.
When the opportunity to return to Emilia Romagna for a second time popped up at the end of the summer, I’m sure you can imagine my delight. This time the trip was part of a 3-country tour of some of Europe’s top food and cultural destinations including Emilia Romagna, Italy, Costa Brava in Spain and Graz in Austria.
We would not be spending yet another week eating our way around Bologna but would instead be discovering some of Emilia Romagna’s top cultural and historic destinations which I’m going to share with you here. Don’t worry, there will also be food…there’s always food in Italy!
Get ready to be taken on a beautiful journey through history…
Rimini: Largest Beach Resort in Italy
One of the reasons I was so excited to spend some time in the famous beach resort town of Rimini, is that my Aunt Rachel and Uncle Leslie actually went on their honeymoon to Rimini over 40 years ago. It was fun to walk on that same beach, with the sand between my toes, and imagine how they must have felt traveling here in the ’70s, and to imagine how much the city has changed since then.
Rimini is often known as Capital of Italian Seaside Tourism and remains one of the largest and most popular seaside resorts in Europe. Reading this, I was a little apprehensive about visiting, imagining chaotic scenes with thousands of people overcrowding the beach, rubbish everywhere, loud music blasting from loudspeakers and not relaxed holidaymaker in sight!
While this may well be the case in the middle of the summer, by the time the kids have gone back to school in early September the beaches here are deserted – and yet the water is still beautifully warm and the sun gloriously hot.
The afternoon I arrived, having flown in from Kyrgyzstan (possibly one of the most random destinations anyone has ever flown into Rimini from!), walking down that beach with the afternoon sun illuminating the Ferris Wheel, the old pier and the late summer bathers floating in the calm sea, I couldn’t help but fall a little in love with Europe’s largest resort!
That evening we set out for a sunset sail on a catamaran, enjoying cold champagne, lounging on a hammock-like net overhanging the ocean, and getting our first taste of the Italian food we all so much desired. It was that peaceful, relaxing and ultimately dreamy start to our trip.
Rimini Old Town
Most holidaymakers visiting Rimini will actually never leave the beach – in town for the nude bathing and the nightlife! They fail to discover the Old Town of Rimini, which comes with a history that makes Rimini such a fascinating place to visit.
After a perfect nights sleep in The Grand Hotel Rimini, the oldest hotel in the city and one of Rimini’s most historic buildings, we set off on bikes with a local guide to learn about the history of the city and its place in Italy’s history.
Some of the most important sites in the city include the Arch of Augustus, dating back to 27BC, the 9th Century Malatesta Temple, the 2,000-year-old Tiberio Bridge (which we had fun cycling across) and Piazza Tre Martiri, a square full of many of the cities most important buildings.
While you can easily find the cities main attractions, listed above, it was the secret murals that seemed to be hidden down winding laneways in a residential area that I loved the most. Many are dedicated to Italy’s most famous film director, Federico Fellini, who also happened to be a regular guest at the Grand Hotel Rimini mentioned above.
You’ll find cute and colorful fishermen’s houses with murals with scenes from his most famous movies painted over doorways or across boarded up windows. We must have spent at least an hour exploring this part of Old Rimini, finding murals old and new, and trying to depict which movies they came from.
We spent the afternoon in Santarcangelo, a small but absolutely beautiful town in the outskirts of Rimini – just a short 15-minute drive from our hotel. This charming town, with panoramic views of the entire area stretching back as far as Rimini, is a fun place to go shopping with cute boutique stores and colorful streets and buildings.
We also stopped off at a traditional printing mill, La Stamperia Marchi, where the same family has been printing beautiful designs on canvas for hundreds of years. They own one of the oldest printing wheels in the world, dating back to 1633.
Santarcangelo is also the perfect place for a late lunch – which is exactly what we enjoyed, sharing plates of cold meat, various types of cheese and bruschetta with assorted toppings. Oh and a bottle of wine, of course!
Ravenna: A City of Mosaics
You can’t visit Emilia Romagna without stopping for a few days in historic Ravenna. Most of the city, which is home to eight Early Christian monuments, has been a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. These historic monuments, which hold outstanding significance in the area of mosaic art, are still today what draws so many people to this colorful city.
While I had heard a lot about Ravenna’s famous mosaics, I could never have prepared myself for just how beautiful they would be. We’re talking about entire walls, floors, roofs, entire buildings made up of the tiniest pieces of broken glass, all perfectly positioned to make these incredible works of art.
I could describe it to you, explain how I felt, what I saw, the kaleidoscope of color – but you simply have to visit for yourself to truly experience these famous works of art.
The tradition of mosaic art has long since continued in the city of Ravenna, and today you can visit artists putting their own creative slant on the art of mosaics. You can even do courses where you learn to do it yourself or watch on as famous mosaic artists work their magic to make modern-day masterpieces.
Ferrara: Hot Air Balloon Adventure
Another historic city in Emilia Romagna, most famous for Castello Estense, its ancient fort dating back to 1385, is Ferrara. Home to many buildings of historic importance and a magical medieval road called the Via Delle Volte that is now a top tourist attraction and photo spot, Ferrara is also famous for its annual Balloon Festival.
We were lucky enough to visit during the Ferrara Balloon Festival this year and even got to do a sunrise balloon ride over the Emilia Romagna countryside – one of the definite highlights of our trip. We were totally blessed with the weather, the views were spectacular and our hilarious landing which involved two local policemen pointing up and shouting as we flew down scarily close to the main highway, was the perfect ending to a sweet trip!
NOTE: This post was written as part of a campaign with Emilia Romagna Tourism and iAmbassador as part of #EuroCultureTrip 2018. As always, all opinions and photos are my own.