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Emilia-Romagna to Marche, then onto Rome via Umbria, take 2

As many of you know, I was to attend a work conference the last week of April in Jesi (near Ancona in the Marche). Prior to the conference, I was planning a few days in Emilia-Romagna. After the conference, I was to drive to Rome for a final weekend (with a quick stop in Assisi). I got great feedback on this board, had an itinerary and restaurant reservations.

Unfortunately, the day before I was to leave, the conference was postponed due to the ash cloud affecting travel throughout Europe.

The conference has been rescheduled for June. I have new plane tickets. So here I go again. I have a lot more info than I had before, but would still appreciate feedback.

Day 1 - Thu: Arrive at Milan-Linate at 18:00. Looking for a place on the way to Bologna, where I will have an excellent Emilian meal and a comfortable room. Leading candidates:
* Arnaldo's Clinica Gastronomica - http://www.clinicagastronomica.com
* Il Cavallino Bianco - http://www.acpallavicina.com/relais
* Hosteria Da Ivan - http://www.hostariadaivan.it/

Day 2 - Fri: Drive to Bologna (see the sites and markets of Parma/Modena along the way). Eat dinner at Trattoria della Gigina in Bologna. - Originally, I planned on eating in Modena on Day 2, and Gigina on Day 3. But Gigina is closed on Saturday.

Day 3 - Sat: Spend morning in Bologna at Piazza Maggiore and surrounding markets recommended in 'Italy for the Gourmet Traveler'. I haven't decided whether to look for another restaurant in Bologna, or to back track and eat at one of:
* Hosteria Guisti
* Osteria di Rubbiara
Saturday evening drive to Jesi in Le Marches

Days 4-8 (Sun-Thu) @ conference in Jesi. Not sure how much choice I will have on dining locations, but I have some good recommendations thanks to ghiottone.

I've added an extra day for my drive to Rome, so I will be able to spend the night in Umbria and not feel too rushed in Assisi

Day 9 - Fri: I drive to Norcia. Stay at Palazzo Seneca. Fred Plotkin recommends eating at the sister property, Hotel Grotta Azzurra. Does anyone have feedback on these two hotels/ristorantes? Should I eat at my own hotel, or is Grotta Azzura a must eat? Is there anything else I must try in Norcia?

Day 10 - Sat: Tour Assissi for a few hours before heading to Rome. Not going out of my way for a meal, and will be happy with any cafe or pizzeria. Arrive at Rome Sat evening

Days 10-13 (Sat night thru Tue morning): Rome. Not seeking rec`s for Rome - plenty of other threads already on this board about Rome.

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  1. If you havent already, you might want to read CH poster hornvvixen's blog entries about Emilia Romagna where she discusses Gigina and Arnaldo's.i

    If food is not your only priority, you might want to stop at Ravenna on your way down the coast - rather than passing it in the dark.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jen kalb

      Thanks again, Jen, for another useful reply.

      hornwixen's blog on Emilian restaurants was really excellent. The most detailed (and enticing) reviews I've yet read. It confirmed my decision to dine at Gigina on Friday, and tilted my decision for Thursday night dinner and lodging to Arnaldo's, for which I now have reservations.

      So Saturday is my only real dilemma. Though having to choose between many great options isn't really a dilemma to complain about!

      My inclination is to back-track to Osteria di Rubbiara. I'm drawn to this Osteria most by your recommendations in other posts. I've come to highly value your opinions, and you've written you would prefer to eat at Osteria di Rubbiara over the fames Hosteria Guisti. It's also on my list due to the fact that the proprietor also operates an acetaia on the location. Visiting an Acaetaia in, or around, Modena is on my list. With my tight schedule, coupling the visit with a lunch makes sense.

      This problem is that this is a bigger back-track than I originally anticipated. According to viamichelin, backtracking to Rubbiara add almost 2 hours to my drive from Bologna to Jesi.

      I guess I could stop at Rubbiara on my way to Bologna on Friday. I've been avoiding scheduling more than one meal per day. Maybe it wouldn't be too much to do Osteria di Rubbiara and Gigina in the same day if I eat lightly at Rubbiara. Maybe?

      I am also tempted to plan nothing at all for Saturday. Maybe keep a day for spontaneity, rather than make reservations for each day of my trip. A day to relax and explore Bologna would be nice: visit the markets, pick up something at Antica Salsamenteria di Bologna and enjoy in Piazza Maggiore. This also leaves open time for a stop at Ravenna.

      Thanks Jen for all your input thus far...

      1. re: jen kalb

        Oh. One more thing about hornwixen's blog. Just before reading your reply with the link to her blog, I had discovered an archive of the Splendid Table show.

        The host, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, revisited Emilia-Romagna. She visits Trattoria La Buca in Zibello (Parma) and interviews the owner. It sounded so go, my first thought was to ask you if you were familiar with this restaurant.

        Ten minutes later, I read your reply with the link to thepinkpeppercorn. In her blog, hornwixen raves about the same restaurant. What a weird coincidence.


        If you haven't already, I highly recommend listening to The Splendid Table's Emilia-Romagna episodes:

      2. I ate at Grotta Azzura several years ago. Rustic fare, heavy on grilled meats, in a charming dining room. I distinctly remember the pureed lentil soup (lentils, of course, being a well-known staple in the area), which was fantastic.

        1 Reply
        1. If you're driving from Jesi to Norcia, you can either take the coastal route or go in land. In the former case, you should think about stopping in Ascoli-Piceno. Really a delightful city, very few tourists. In fact, no matter which route you take, you will be passing through a number of extremely nice small cities of the Marche. Personally, I might choose to skip Assisi on this trip and have a little mini-tour of the countryside. If you stayed in Ascoli-Piceno you'd be about the same distance from Rome as Assisi. But I guess that's not what you asked!

          Also, Jesi is about a half-hour drive from a very sweet town called Serra San Quirico, which has a nice restaurant called Le Copertelle. Not fancy, but good and authentic.

          3 Replies
          1. re: visciole

            visciole - I hadn't considered Ascoli-Piceno. (hadn't actually heard of it). A little bit of research suggests that, after Urbino, Ascoli-Piceno is one of the most rewarding towns to visit in the Marche.

            I have hotel reservations for Norcia. According to viamichelin, the drive from Jesi to Norcia (via Ascoli-Piceno) is only 2.5 hours. Even if I take it slow, I should have plenty of time for a leisurely stop in Ascoli-Piceno.

            Maybe even get to sample the famous stuffed and fried olives.

            1. re: thomco

              If you do take that route, I second visciole's recommendation for a stop in Ascoli. It is indeed quite charming.

              For the olives you mention, olive all'ascolana, Migliori offers an outstanding version, perhaps the best. It's located just off the wonderful Piazza Arringo.

              Also while in Ascoli, be sure to have a house-made anisetta (or, if you prefer, an amaro) at Caffè Meletti, on the nearby (and likewise delightful) Piazza del Popolo. The outdoor seating is great for people-watching.

              1. re: thomco

                The Piazza del Popolo in Ascoli is one of the very nicest piazze I've ever seen. I hope you do go and stop by.

            2. If you're going to be in Norcia you should definitely get some good Norcia Pecorino. It can be nutty, almost like an aged gouda. Amazing cheese.

              Also, if you're going through Umbria, I would order cingale (wild boar) if you come across it. And of course truffles, though they're not in season now.

              1. I am afraid that cafè food in Assisi is more often than not a disappointing experience. Same for most pizza places around the main attraction with may be the Pizzeria Duomo being a reasonable exception if you really need to keep it simple. Otherwise take a simple pasta at Trattoria degli Umbri on the Piazza del Comune, it's a friendly place. The Slow Food Trattoria Pallotta across the Piazza is better known but also more expensive. The do pigeon if you want something really local.

                1. Thanks to everyone for your suggestions.

                  I've firmed up my dining/lodging for the first three days and have reservations. Thanks to Jen for suggesting I double check Gigina's hours. They are open Saturday, which greatly simplified my planning.
                  Day 1 Thu: Dinner and lodging at Arnaldo's Clinica Gastronomica in Rubiera
                  Day 2 Fri: Explore Parma & Modena, Lunch at Osteria di Rubbiara, sleep in Bologna
                  Day 3 Sat: Morning in Bologna, Lunch at Trattoria della Gigina, on to Jesi.

                  After my conference in Jesi, I will drive via Ascoli-Piceno in route to Norcia (thanks to the advice of visciole and ghiottone). Certainly I will try Migliori for the olive all'ascolana.

                  After Norcia, I will drive to Rome. Probably stopping for lunch in Assisi, though some recommend simply enjoying the Umbrian countryside and smaller towns.

                  I am seeking recommendations for two Marchigian specialties: vincisgrassi and brodetto. I know vincisgrassi is a specialty of Macerata, but I probably won't make it to that town. I'll be in Jesi/Ancona for five days, and an afternoon in Ascoli Piceno. In which location should I expect to have a better vincisgrassi experience? I assume I can find good brodetto in Ancona. Any recommendations?

                  Thanks again!

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: thomco

                    did you see this Mimi Sheraton bit?

                    I imagine the Hosteria Santa Lucia she mentions is the Jesi restaurant that was previously recommended to you. Brodetto is great stuff.

                    1. re: jen kalb


                      ghiottone had previously mentioned this article. I tried to read it, but initially couldn't because it was only available by subscription. I DID note Hosteria Santa Lucia as a place to try while in Jesi, but I didn't realize previously that the article was about Brodetto.

                      I've now read the whole article. I'll definitely be dining at Hosteria Santa Lucia

                    2. re: thomco

                      I'm glad you're going to Ascoli-Piceno (though I'm jealous)!

                      If you'd like to bring home some fabulous jarred truffle product, and you're not afraid of checking it in your bag, there's a nice truffle shop about 20 minutes outside of Ascoli. We went in, emptied our wallets, and went out with a large bag of salsa di tartuffo. I'd spend it again in a heartbeat. Let me know if you're interested and I'll post the details.

                      Personally I wouldn't go out of my way to lunch in Assisi. You'll be near so many nice places it would seem a waste to drive extra time. The route to Rome takes you right through Spoleto, for example.

                      You know, I keep editing this because I keep thinking of all the places near there you should see. I don't know if you're interested in natural beauty, but you'll be right near the Piano Grande, which is a sight to see, and the surrounding mountains of the Sibillini are gorgeous as well. It truly is an embarrassment of riches in that area.

                      1. re: thomco


                        The anisette at Caffe Melitti in Ascoli Piceno is too strong to drink if you will subsequently be driving, but the Caffe sells it is small bottles, and I highly recommend you purchase one.

                        I'm also chiming in to say that I had a poor dinner at Grotto Azzuro in Norcia. The dining room is huge. They serve bus groups. My feeling was that any dishes were par-cooked to handle the crowds. I was there about 3 years ago. If you can't track down a more recent review, stick your head in before sitting down to a table. Perhaps if the place isn't crowded the food shines. But I would have a back-up recommendation.

                        Also, the trout of the Nera river is a wonderful treat. I much preferred it to all the meat and truffle dishes I had in Norcia and anywhere in Umbria. In truth, I don't think Umbrian black truffles are all that special.

                        If you like wine, you should make a stop in Montefalco in Umbrai to purchase Sagrantino. In lieu of lunch in Assisi, consider a lunch at Coccorone in Montefalco.

                        Why don't you ask the locals in le Marche where to have a great vincigrassi experience?

                        1. re: barberinibee

                          PS: Someplace else you might consider stopping for lunch on your way to Rome is Amatrice. Need I say more? It's on your way. Plotkin has a recommended restaurant.

                        2. re: thomco

                          Vincisgrassi: just lasagna by another name -- not worth going out of your way for, and not really the season.
                          Brodetto: forget Ancona (unless you want stoccafisso instead) and head south (as did Mimi) to Porto Recananti. I, however, prefer Il Voce del Mare (mentioned on your other thread).
                          Assisi: agree with the other posters -- it's quite a bit out of your way. I'd guess it would add at least 90 minutes to your driving time, plus getting into and out of Assisi.
                          Local lunch: Try Osteria del Matto at the top of Spoleto. He is kinda crazy. He had this article in his press-clippings book, to give you an idea: http://www.thestar.com/travel/article...

                          As for the the anisette being so strong as to impair driving -- well, I'd have to differ. It's not high-proof, it's served as a small portion in a small glass, and it's consumed pretty much throughout the day here by drivers and non-drivers alike, usually as a caffè corretto.

                          1. re: ghiottone

                            ghiottone. I've heard (read) so many indicate vincisgrassi as a culinary must-experience for Marche, that I'm suprised to hear a Marchigianan as yourself dismiss it as "just lasagna." Nevertheless, I'll accept your point that I should not need to go out of my way to seek it out.

                            I am definitely leaning toward skipping Assisi - even though I added a day to my Jesi-to-Rome drive. Looks like I may be using that time to include Ascoli Piceno, Norcia and Spoleto. It may be a game-day decision.

                            I've read about Osteria del Matto in Umbria. Sounds interesting, I've added it to my itinerary. Do you think I'll need reservations?

                            The Spoleto Festival (dance, theater, and art) starts the weekend I'd be passing thru. Has anyone been? I understand that hotels and festival events sell out months in advance. How will this affect my plans for a casual stop for lunch? Will Spoleto be crazy busy, and should be avoided? Or will it something I should schedule a few extra hours for and experience Spoleto during festival days?

                        3. Thanks again to everyone for the help and recommendations. I wish I had time to check out all of the places mentioned.

                          I have created a google map showing my route and stopping points along the route. At this point, it is dominated by the restaurants and hotels. In the next couple of days, I will be adding more of the sites I want to visit as well.

                          For restaurants, I credited in the notes where I received the recommendation. Most of those recommendations came from you all here on CH.

                          7 Replies
                            1. re: thomco

                              I don't know if Matto accepts reservations. The room is small, though, so best to call ahead and try to get a table. Filippo speak excellent English in a charming manner -- and clearly enjoys it: he responded to all of my (obviously accented) Italian in English.

                              1. re: ghiottone

                                yes, Filippo il Matto accepts reservation, just call a couple of days ahead

                              2. re: thomco

                                Given the effort you've put into your dining options in Emilia Romagna, Le Marche and Umbria, I'm a bit surprised to see Der Pallaro on your (very short) Rome list. I don't think the menu has changed since the place opened: antipasto misto, pasta with tomato sauce, roast pork or veal (you get a prize for correctly identifying the meat), a tart of some kind. Unless you want the "folksy" experience of being bossed around by a woman with a kerchief on her head, I can't think of a reason for eating there.

                                La Campana is a reliable Roman trattoria, better in my experience at (weekday) lunch than at dinner.

                                1. re: zerlina

                                  Your observation is correct, zerlina. I have not put much effort into Rome.

                                  I've focused more on the first part of my trip, figuring I would have time to read up on Rome before I get there. Also, the first half of my trip (Emilia-Romagna) is very much food focused. The Rome portion, less so. While there is great food in Rome, I didn't add Rome to my trip for the food.

                                  Der Pallaro was recommended to me by a friend, who also sent me a link to an article in National Geographic Traveler. It was also recommended by Rick Steves.

                                  I've noticed that Rick Steves restaurant recommendation often have more to do with the experience of the people and place as the quality of the food. This leans the other way. Both perspectives are valid for tourists.

                                  1. re: thomco

                                    Altho many years ago I did get some good recs out of Rick Steves for backwater UK, I think he is generally a bad source for Italy, both because food is not a priority for him and also because anything he recommends tend to get overrun with his followers..

                                    We are looking forward to your reports, bon voyage!

                                    1. re: jen kalb

                                      Cinque Terre being a prime example.

                                      While I like his "through the backdoor" philosophy, for Italy, he seems to focus on the heavy tourist spots. Venice, Tuscany, Rome, and Cinque Terre. In his Italy 2010 book, not a mention of Emilia Romagna.

                                      Nevertheless, I found his books and tv show very valuable before I went to Salzburg and Lisbon, and his "walks" and maps are nice. Listening to his radio show inspires me to want to travel.

                            2. Thomco, please fulfill my desire for vicarious gratification by giving us a trip report when you have the time. If I can't go to Italy myself, I love to read about other peoples' trips. Hope you had a great time!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: visciole

                                Just return from a 24 day trip to Italy, 2 weeks in Tuscany, 1 week in Romagna, and a weekend in Rome. Didn't go to many restaurants that I researched before the trip as I found it unnecessary just after a few days. Will write some reports over the time. The best surprise is the region of Romagna, food is much lighter than Tuscany and, IMO, better. And you can eat very well at 10 euro a person, never had a bad meal there. Local wines are cheap and lack complexity, but nonetheless, delicious.

                                Rome, surprisingly, not as expensive as I thought. Although prices vary depend on the location, the food is nonetheless consistently good.

                                Biggest disappointments:
                                1. Steaks. Veal, on the other hand, very good.
                                2. Hosteria Giusti. Drove 2.5 hour there, was the only table for the day. Every dish was over salty, I barely touched my pasta, and none of the dishes was impressive. Either the kitchen has a bad day or the lady lost her touch after losing her husband.

                                1. re: kyeblue

                                  sorry about Giusti, looking forward very much to your report.

                                  1. re: kyeblue

                                    sorry about Giusti. I have been there myself after the husband passed away, and have also heard from others whom I sent there, as late as in May, all positive. Let's hope it was a bad day, she was not in the kitchen or something!
                                    Looking forward to the reports.

                                  2. re: visciole

                                    I am back from my trip. Exhausted and jet-lagged.

                                    Thank you all for you excellent recommendations. I will be posting a detailed report as soon as I can get to it (hopefully this weekend).

                                    I lesson I learned from this trip is to trust the recommendations of chowhounds over the recommendations of friends. My most disappointing meal was at the recommendation of a friend. I went to the restaurant even after a chowhound called the selection in to question. I should have listened to CH!

                                    Report and pictures to follow!

                                    1. re: thomco

                                      (Foot tapping impatiently.... ;)