Two weeks in Emilia-Romagna: share your itinerary!
I just finished reading Jessica Lee's thread which was filled with amazing amount of insight, information, and most of all unrelentingly heart-felt support till the last minute to satisfy fellow CH'er -with occasional on-location live report from her that made it more exciting than CNN World News!
So, here's the question: if you had two weeks to spend in Emilia-Romagna region, how would your itineraries look like? Where would you fly in & out of? Where would you base yourself, or not? What cities are must-visits to you, and for what unforgettable restaurants/dishes? What was your best after meal activities - fumbling over to the next restaurant, for example. Would you do it with a car or train? Unusual but memorable food-related experiences - visit to that cheese farm? When would be the ideal month to visit? Lastly, who would be the dream person to take this trip with if you could pick anyone in the world, dead or alive? (Following Pavarotti to a restaurant -then to a bar after- would guaranty a nice evening!)
We just spend 3 days in Emilia Romagna, mainly in Bologna. We didn't do any research about places to eat, deciding to wing it after all Bologna is touted as one of Italy's food capitals), but we were a tad disappointed, both restaurants were ate at were set up for tourists in our opinion, both were very good by any standard, for example they would have been superb in London or New York, but for a Piemontese we were expecting to have our socks knocked off. I am sorry we missed the market as it was a holiday and we wanted to get out early the next day. However we found one gem in Scandiano, near to Modena, where we stopped to visit DiScandiano (www.discandiano.it) an acetaia for Balsamico who we had encountered at Salone del Gusto, well worth the visit, plus the Osterie di Scandiano next to the castle was a real treat, as good as anywhere in Piedmont. If I had two weeks, what luxury, I would spend at least 4 days in Bologna, so many things to see and do, maybe a couple near Reggia (you can go to both Parma and Modena from here), and some in Romagna, I would have loved to have gone to Ravenna and Ferrara too. I would definitely drive, otherwise you are stuck in the cities and remember city folks like to go out to the country to eat out. And don't forget your copy of Slow Food Osterie, when we checked it after we came home, the Scandiano Osterie was listed, but none of their listings for Bologna were in the official tourist guide book. And check this board - we didn't!
We arrived at the Al Vecchio Convento in the small town of Portico di Romagna to be embraced by the warm and lively hospitality of Marisa and her family. The food (slow food) was amazing and every night was a treat. The meals consist of local produce and hence the menu changes everyday. Marisa's husband and son are the talented cooks.
Dinners are elaborate 4 course meals that take over 2 hours. The homemade pasta and ravioli is to die for and the desserts are unbelievably light.
For breakfast they have a huge selection from quiches to Marisa's lemon tart to freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit, cheese, prosciutto, eggs...
Chowhound limits us to food discussion only, but for the past three months, I have spend one day/night every week in Emilia-Romagna, almost always in Bologna, but I also traveled to Ferrara, Parma and Rimini.
The best meals I had, start to finish, were in Ferrara and Parma. I found Bologna's restaurants to be extremely inconsistent, the quality varying from course to course (in food preparation, not ingredients), and sometimes even varying from one side of the plate to the other!
I had much better experiences shopping in Bologna's markets for foods to take home and cook, rather than prepared foods. (A notable exception is the prepared foods of Bruno e Franco on the via Oberdan, and the Bolognese cake called "pinza" sold by Tamburini, and mostarde sold the shop Melega). So I would want to stay in an apartment in Bologna where I could some of my own cooking.
Parma cheese and parma ham, to my tastebuds, is amazingly better in Parma than even just a few miles away. It can be a revelation to eat Parma ham in Parma. It simply of the highest quality. Likewise Parma cheese has a great delicacy.
Among the best restaurants I ate were Volano in Ferrara, Cocchi in Parma (in the Hotel Daniel, where the speciality is bollito misto), and Da Gianni in Bologna on the via Claveture. (The grilled mortadella is fun.) If you are looking to try passatelli in brodo, which is unique and divine, I ate an exemplary version at Ristorante Diana, on the via dell'indipenza (but don't eat bollito misto there). A consistently good restaurant in Bologna is Teresina, on the via Oberdan, but it veers away from the classics (it mainly specializes in fish). In my opinion, Trattoria Serghei, on the via Piella, is a good place to try the Bolognese meaty mainstays.
Cafe Terzi on the via Oberdan serves delicious coffee and ethereal cappucino that is worth seeking out.
My dream date for Emilia-Romagna would be Fred Plotkin.
I second Da Gianni in Bologna. We had an excellent meal there in December 2009 and even got to meet the pastry chef because I raved about our dessert so much and asked questions about them. Also, we had an amazing anolini in brodo at Trattoria del Tribunale in Parma. I ordered the eggplant parmagiana just to see how it would taste (I am not a fan of it here in the States) and it turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of a three-week trip in Italy that year. This restaurant is wonderful. Buon appetito!
PS: I wanted to add that if you are in a position to go market shopping and cook in Bologna, the fresh pasta at Paola Atti & Figli are simply wonderful -- whether long or stuffed -- and often require nothing more than a bit of melted butter and sage, or to swim in a good brodo. Passatelli that I purchesed here were wonderful, as were many tortellini and tortellone. Best to ask when you buy for precise cooking time.