“Via Emilia, Experience the Italian Lifestyle” – with a slogan like this, you can’t help but being intrigued to find out more.
The 260-km long Via Emilia, built by Roman emperor Marco Emilio Lepido in 187 BC (2,200 years old!), traverses Emilia-Romagna diagonally, connecting Piacenza in the north-western tip of the region, midway between Milan and Bologna, the region’s capital, to Rimini in the south-eastern corner on the Adriatic coast. In conjunction with the Milan Expo, which began May 1 and continues until October 31, the region, which sits just south of Lombardy where Milan is located, is promoting a series of itineraries along and around this ancient road (detours are a must!) to experience the best Italy is known for, from food to fashion, from cars to art and more – all things for which Emilia-Romagna has made a name for itself (hence, the catchphrase above).
The 80 themed itineraries include tastings of typical food products, visits to UNESCO World Heritage sites and to historic abbeys, palaces, monasteries, castles and museums, meetings with local producers, walking and biking tours, cooking classes and wine tasting. And with more than 4,400 hotels, 25 spas, 43 amusement parks, 17 ski resorts, 700 museums, historical palaces and villas, visitors to Emilia-Romagna have plenty to keep themselves entertained.
And of course, if you have to choose where to start from, you can’t but begin with the Food Valley itinerary, not just because the theme of this year’s Expo focuses on nutrition issues, but also because Emilia-Romagna produces some of the most renowned Italian food products in the world: Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma Ham, balsamic vinegar… but wait, there’s more! 41 PDO and PGI products, the largest number in Europe; 50 DOC e DOCG wines; 15 Slow Food presidia; 19 “Museums of Taste” (Musei del Gusto), featuring Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, Prosciutto di Parma, Salame di Felino, Formaggio di Fossa, Sale di Cervia, just to name a few; and let’s not forget Casa Artusi in Forlimpopoli, a museum of Italian cookery established in 2007 in memory of Pellegrino Artusi, who is considered the father of Italian home cooking; the Enoteca Regionale in Dozza, which houses all of the fantastic white and red wines produced in the region; and even a Gelato Museum in Anzola dell'Emilia near Bologna, next to the University of Gelato, tracing the history of this classic sweet Italian delicacy.
From food to cars… Ferrari, Ducati, Lamborghini, Maserati, Dallara: these world-famous brands all originate in Emilia-Romagna, and for the motor lover, this is definitely a good place to be! Through the so-called Motor Valley itinerary, you will be able to discover several sports cars-related museums, like the Enzo Ferrari Museum, or go for a ride on the Fiorano Circuit, a private racetrack owned by Ferrari. A convenient package related to this theme is the “Discover Ferrari & Pavarotti Land”: by purchasing a two-day pass, you will be able to ride on shuttles stopping at the train stations of Reggio-Emilia, Modena or Bologna, and visit Ferrari and its museums, the Pavarotti House and Museum, producers of traditional gourmet balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, Lambrusco wine, and cured meats, as well as Modena and the nearby towns of Maranello, Sassuolo, Nonantola and Carpi. [More info on how to take advantage of this offer here.]
Another itinerary worth checking out is the one that focuses on Art and Culture, where you can pick among the 10 art cities of Emilia-Romagna. Perhaps medieval Bologna, or Ravenna with its Byzantine mosaics and 8 monuments designated UNESCO sites; Rimini, the birthplace of Fellini, which dates back to Etruscan times and still preserves its rich Roman heritage with impressive monuments like the Tiberius bridge; Romanesque Parma and Modena, Ferrara, with its intact medieval center and beautiful Castello Estense; and the splendor of Renaissance Piacenza. [Check what special events and deals are available for this itinerary here.]
Once you’re done with art and culture, how about some seaside fun, especially since the summer season is around the corner: head to the Adriatic Riviera, 110 km of fun at the beach (yes, the ones with umbrella and chairs and bars and facilities) - and beyond. Here, you can take side trips to historic charming borghi, like Gradara, San Leo and San Marino, enjoy several theme parks and spas, and immerse yourself in the renowned local nightlife (it’s never too late to go to sleep here!). Some of the most famous beach resorts include Rimini, Riccione, Marina di Ravenna, Milano Marittima and Cervia. You could also take advantage of the promotion “Riviera gives you Expo”, where, if you book a room at any of the participating hotels, you get free tickets to the Expo.
And if you feel that you haven’t been active enough, or want to try to burn off some of the calories from all the delicious food you’ll be eating, consider the itineraries offered by the Cycling and Wellness packages. Emilia-Romagna boasts the largest number of cycling paths in Italy, and is home to Technogym, a leading manufacturer of fitness equipment worldwide, whose founder - in what sounds like a very American-style success story - started building fitness equipment in the garage of his parents’ house. The company is very committed to promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, starting locally. [More info on how to get moving here.]
The Expo may be the perfect chance to venture beyond Milan and discover the beauty of Emilia-Romagna, but if you don't make it in the next six months, just know this is a region that calls - and rewards - for exploration anytime!
For more information on the Via Emilia project and the itineraries available in the region, click here.