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Discovering the Via Emilia

The so-called “Land of Motors” in Emilia-Romagna is an area that stretches along the Via Emilia, a millennium-old Roman road that gave its name to the whole region.

 

This ancient road running across the Emilia-Romagna region from Piacenza to Rimini has often heard the ear-splitting roar of some of the most beautiful and iconic racing cars of the Motor Valley.

Built on the initiative of Roman consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in 187 BC to link the Via Flaminia, a consular road leading from Rome to Rimini, to the Via Postumia, running from Piacenza to Aquileia, today the Via Emilia (also known as State highway SS9) has become the ultimate travel guide for a slow-paced holiday.

During your journey, you will discover the most important cities in Emilia-Romagna, each of them adding to the mix of culture, nature, and fine dining that defines this beautiful region.

The City of 100 Churches and 100 Castles truly exists: its name is Piacenza. It is always a pleasure to go for a walk and marvel at the city’s royal palace, Palazzo Farnese. In its halls, where Margaret of Parma would hold magnificent balls, today you can visit the City Museums, including the Museum of Coaches. In Piazza Cavalli, dominated by the medieval Palazzo Gotico, you can almost feel the wind gently caressing the cheeks of the Farnese Dukes as they ride their stone steeds. Fancy some thrill? Try climbing to the top of the 20-metre Dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria di Campagna, frescoed by painter Pordenone (virtual tour), and reaching the top of the Dome of the Cathedral, frescoed by painter Guercino (virtual tour). After getting your fill of modern art at Galleria Ricci Oddi, you can head for the Trebbia Valley and visit the mystical hamlet of Bobbio, crossed by the Via Francigena (video). Hungry? Make sure to try some local cold cuts and tortelli con la coda, fresh pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach and folded into a cocoon-like shape. And don’t forget to enjoy some good Gutturnio red wine. Continue reading
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Parma is a refined city rich in art and culture, with a museum complex (Palazzo della Pilotta) hosting one of the most precious collections in Italy and a splendid theatre (Teatro Farnese) dating back to the 17th century. The city is also home to a world-famous opera house: Teatro Regio, built during the reign of Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma (Immersive 360). Here music is king: after all, right now you are in the land of Giuseppe Verdi and in the home town of Arturo Toscanini. Then there is the marvellous Piazza Duomo, a medieval square featuring the Cathedral, Baptistery and Palazzo Vescovile. The Dome of the Cathedral was frescoed by painter Correggio, whose “Assumption of the Virgin” seems to break the physical boundaries of the dome, giving visitors a glimpse of Heaven through a vortex of clouds, putti and Saints. The surrounding area is scattered with many castles and hamlets that are definitely worth a visit (e.g. the Reggia di Colorno, also known as the "little Versailles", which is now home to ALMA, a world-renowned culinary school), but also natural parks and thermals baths for relaxation. If you like a challenge then you must explore the labyrinth in Fontanellato (Labirinto della Masone), built by art publisher and magazine editor Franco Maria Ricci. Last but not least, it is worthwhile mentioning that Parma was the first Italian city to be designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. So, be sure to fully enjoy what the Food Valley has to offer, starting from the Food Museums of PDO Parma raw ham and PDO Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Continue reading
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Picture this: men and women cycling along the Via Emilia, which divides the city centre in half. The scent of freshly baked erbazzone that fills the air along the porticos. The cheerful chattering of Piazza Prampolini, which is home to the Sala and Museo del Tricolore, the place where the Flag of Italy was created. Reggio Emilia is truly a nice place to live in. You can also get here by train, thanks to the modern High-Speed Railway Station designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. Some must-see hotspots are the majestic Basilica della Madonna della Ghiara, which was built in response to an alleged miracle, and Collezione Maramotti (video), which is housed in the former premises of the Max Mara fashion house: it contains 200 works of modern and contemporary art and is open to visitors free of charge. In the area surrounding the city, there is a whole world waiting for you: from the calm countryside of the Po River (today a UNESCO MaB Reserve) to Brescello, the filming location of “Peppone e Don Camillo”; from the paintings by naive artist Antonio Ligabue, housed in Museo Gualtieri, up to the Apennines in the Appennino Tosco-Emiliano National Park, another UNESCO MaB Reserve; last but not least, high-altitude meadows, the mysterious Pietra di Bismantova and the Via Matildica del Volto Santo path. But what about the food? Don’t worry: cheese factories, vinegar cellars and wineries welcome visitors on tasting tours. Continue reading
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A city of stunning beauty, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List: this is Modena. Piazza Grande is a triumph of Romanesque Art, with its Cathedral and 87-metre high Ghirlandina Bell Tower, the traditional symbol of the city. You can look for traces of the House of Este by visiting the Ducal Palace, now home to the Military Academy of Modena, the Estense Galleries, the Museum Palace, the AGO project sites and the Ducal Palace of Sassuolo, the centre of the Italian tile industry. Take some time to visit the castles and hamlets of the area, such as Vignola, Carpi, Formigine, Spezzano, Castelvetro, Levizzano, and Maranello. Then explore the Romanesque pievi, century-old abbeys like Nonantola (virtual tour), the pristine nature of the Sassi di Roccamalatina and Mount Cimone, the Salvarola thermal baths and the Salse di Nirano Natural Reserve. Modena is also the city of Bel Canto, with Luciano Pavarotti’s House Museum, and of world-famous celebrity chef Massimo Bottura, the ambassador of Modena’s cuisine (video) in the world. As a matter of fact, the city is renowned for its many PDO and PGI products, such as the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, which you can learn all about at the Spilamberto Museum. In Castelnuovo Rangone (Modena) there is the MuSa, Museo della Salumeria Villani, an exhibition area that pays tribute to the history, crafts, traditions of the art of salami and gastronomic excellences of the territory. In Formigine, the city of many Formula 1 mechanics, you can admire the "behind the scenes" protagonists of a stable, in the exhibition : "Paolino and his friends : The Formiginesi of Formula 1".   Continue reading
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Besides its medieval roads, Renaissance palaces, monumental squares and maze of porticos (the longest in the world), Bologna is home to a renowned ancient university. 
The city also stands out for its rich network of museums, such as the Pinacoteca Nazionale (the national art gallery of Bologna), the MAMbo - Museum of Modern Art, the MAST foundation, and singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla’s house. Last but not least, Bologna hides breathtaking treasures like “Compianto sul Cristo Morto” (Lamentation over the Dead Christ) by Niccolò dell’Arca, a terracotta group in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita. Bologna is also known all over the world for its cinematic history thanks to the Cineteca film archive and Il Cinema Ritrovato, a movie festival that presents a selection of classic films restored. Outside the city, Rocchetta Mattei is a fortress that seems to have come straight out of One Thousand and One Nights. Here you will find yourself surrounded by nature: take the ancient routes known as Via degli Dei (video) and Via della Lana e della Seta to either reach the Apennines or the protected natural area with Oasi La Rizza, a former paddy field located in Bentivoglio. Then there is Dozza, a picturesque hamlet a few miles away from Imola which preserves the wine heritage of the whole Emilia-Romagna region in its Enoteca Regionale. Food is not just about taste, but also about culture and tradition. Foodies will fall in love with the Gelato Museum Carpigiani, the historical markets in the city centre and FICO Eataly World - the world’s largest food park. Continue reading
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Ferrara owes its charm to the House of Este, which ruled over the city for 300 years (1200-1598), turning it into one of the most spectacular Renaissance city in Europe. Boasting medieval alleys like the Via delle Volte, stunning palaces like Palazzo dei Diamanti, green areas and cycling lanes, Ferrara is still as beautiful today, so much so that it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The moated Estense Castle towers over the city; in 1502, the Cathedral became a wedding venue when Lucrezia Borgia married Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara; last but not least, the surrounding area is dotted with the so-called Delizie, i.e. the summer residences of the House of Este. From the dock you can go up the Po river and then reach the sea, until you see the Gorino Lighthouse. Now you find yourself in the Po Delta Park protected area: the municipality of Comacchio, the “capital city” of the Po delta, is also known as the “little Venice” because of its canals and monumental bridges. The province of Ferrara also offers beaches, seaside towns and fresh fish markets, where you will have a chance to taste eels and coppia ferrarese, Ferrara’s PGI bread. Continue reading
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Ravenna, which became the capital city of three empires, boasts 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites (virtual tours). With its spectacular early Christian and Byzantine mosaics, it is not a stretch to say that Ravenna is a city covered in gold. Ravenna is also home to the tomb of Dante Alighieri, who died here on 14 September 1321. In 2021 the city will celebrate the 700th anniversary of his death. Just outside the city are the badlands of the Vena del Gesso Romagnola Regional Park and Riolo Terme, best known for its popular Art Nouveau thermal baths and for the Cave of King Tiberius, which has a long history going back to prehistoric times. Another famous karst cave is Grotta Tanaccia, a stone’s throw away from Brisighella, one of the most beautiful Italian hamlets: we definitely recommend taking a stroll along the Via degli Asini (Donkeys’ Alley) and reaching the Fortress and the Clock Tower. Close by is the city of Faenza, the ceramics capital of Italy, where you can visit the MIC - International Museum of Ceramics. Then, there are the coastal town of Milano Marittima, nestled in a lush pine forest, and Cervia, where they have been producing sweet salt for thousands of years and great flocks of flamingos nest; why not explore the area by bike, cycling along the Salt Route? Continue reading
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You must climb 274 steps—no shortcuts!— to reach the top of the bell tower of the Abbey of San Mercuriale, which overlooks Piazza Saffi. The breathtaking view of the city from a height of 75 metres will be well worth the effort. The Romanesque church is very peculiar in that it is much smaller than its tall and impressive bell tower. Not too far from there are the Musei di San Domenico, a set of museums located in a renovated Dominican convent that now houses a picture gallery and exhibitions of international prominence. Castrocaro Terme, best known for its Art Nouveau and Art Deco thermal baths, is just 20 minutes away from Forlì. If you are a fan of spas, Fratta Terme, in the municipality of Bertinoro, is also worth a visit: historic taverns, warm hospitality and some of the best sceneries the region has to offer. What more could you ask for? Along the Via Emilia you will also come across Forlimpopoli, the city of Pellegrino Artusi, who in 1891, only two decades after the unification of Italy, was the first to include recipes from all the different regions in a single cookbook. His book, titled “La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene”, established a truly national Italian cuisine and is still an international best-seller. Continue reading
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Cesena is a small city full of art and charm. Here, you can learn more about the fascinating heritage of the House of Malatesta, which ruled over many lands and towns in Romagna from 1295 to 1500. 
The Malatestiana Library (1454) is a one-of-a-kind monastic library. This wooden library has been preserved as it was for 600 years: in order not to damage its 340 ancient manuscripts, the use of electricity and even candles is strictly prohibited here. The natural light coming from the windows is the only light source. Only small groups of people are allowed inside, and must walk around in silence, in semi-darkness. In the surrounding area you may want to explore the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona e Campigna, a national park (consisting mainly of woodland) located on the two sides of the Apennine watershed between Romagna and Tuscany. You may admire its crystal clear waterfalls, medieval abbeys, and wilderness area, just like the Sasso Fratino one: its primeval beech forests have become part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Apennines hide many treasures: Bagno di Romagna, which was awarded the Orange Flag by the Touring Club, is one of them. The cycling tracks in the Park will appeal to all mountain-bike enthusiasts. You cannot leave without visiting Cesenatico, a fishing village overlooking a port canal that was drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, where you will have the chance to see the colourful boats of the Maritime Museum floating on water. The neighbouring town of Gatteo Mare is the world capital of liscio romagnolo, a genre of ballroom music. Continue reading
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If you feel like discovering the ancient Roman town of Ariminum, just take a stroll through the city centre: you will find the Bridge of Tiberius, the Arch of Augustus, the Surgeon’s Domus, the ancient forum in Piazza Tre Martiri, and the Amphitheatre. You may also want to explore a different side of Rimini and search for the signs of its Renaissance past, starting with Tempio Malatestiano, the cathedral church that houses a fresco by Piero della Francesca portraying Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta and the famous Crucifix by Giotto, and Castel Sismondo, which will soon house the new museum devoted to Federico Fellini. As a matter of fact, the legendary Italian director was born in Rimini and in 2020 the city will celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth with an exhibition (virtual tour). Outside the city you may enjoy the quiet of Val Marecchia and Montefeltro with their stunning views (the background of many well-known Renaissance paintings) and lovely villages, including San Leo, Verucchio, and Pennabilli. And what about the coastal towns of Cattolica, Misano, Riccione, Borgo San Giuliano (with its evocative murals) and Bellaria Igea Marina? So grab a piadina and a glass of Sangiovese wine and enjoy your vacation! Continue reading
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