Vernasca - Emilia Romagna (Report)
Wanted to give a report from a recent stay in Emilia Romagna. Stayed in the small town of Vernasca so got to know it quite well. This is not a heavily touristed area, so English is spotty, if spoken at all, but it’s well worth a side trip if you’re passing through to Parma or Bologna, etc.
Hotel Bel Soggiorno – this is *the* spot in town to hang out as the outdoor tables are usually filled from morning until night with mostly older residents, talking and/or playing cards. We had a cappuccino and croissant there every morning (for 1 euro each – best deal in town…or anywhere for that matter). The proprietor, Stefano, doesn’t speak much English, but with your meager Italian, you’ll get the point across. He’s exceedingly nice and the food is excellent. I highly recommend doing dinner there. The waitress, with very limited English but who will nonetheless try very hard, will read you off the day’s menu. I had the region’s specialty, which she called ravioli, but is more like homemade dumplings, filled with ricotta and spinach, and then the chicken cacciatore. Almost every table in the dining room was filled with the town’s aforementioned older residents engrossed in what looked to be “Italy’s Funniest Home Videos.” We got 2 courses plus dessert, with wine, for about 15 euro each. I can’t guarantee everyone will get this price as there is no menu/price list, and we were wondering if it was because of the poor economy or this is what locals pay (we were there for quite some time and maybe got locals’ status). Nevertheless, it was a true Italian experience.
Aldopolavoro – also on the piazza in Vernasca. Simple yet excellent pizza place. Charming and very reasonable.
Pia’s – great food but probably not worth it for the surly waitress who clearly has no time for foreigners (a true rarity in our time in Italy).
Also in Vernasca but not on the piazza:
Botteghino (on Franchini) – lovely, homey trattoria right on the main road facing the fields. Again, very little English here, but the proprietor will read you a few dishes and you’ll get by. It was served family style – a big plate of salumi and torte fritta (fried bread), a stuffed pasta/dumpling dish and a roasted meats dish. He even bottles his own wine – the lambrusco of the region. (Even if it’s not your thing, you should try it when in ER.) Also amazingly reasonably priced for what you get. Come hungry.
And nearby in Castell’Arquato – another beautiful medieval town
dominated by a castle (these are ubiquitous in the region), try Trattoria del Voltone. Family run (of course) and fantastic. Great service & food.
Thank you so much for posting all this! I spent a night once in Salsomaggiore Terme, and then leaving the next morning took a wrong turn, and ended up driving around in much of that area, along what turned out to be part of the via Francigena, which was was really very interesting and certainly felt a million miles from conventional tourism. I ended up stopping for lunch in Castelmaggiore, which is only about a half hour from Vernasca.
I'm having a hard time pinning down these stuffed dumplings. A lot of ravioli that is hand-made really don't resemble the nice neat packages with pinking-shear edges. Was it a rolled pasta purse, or was it more like gnocchi?
There is a popular rolled and stuffed pasta from that Piacenza area which is stuffed with ricotta and spinach, but it is generally called tortelli con la coda
But if it was more like a dumpling it almost sounds like a form of the pisarei of pisarei e faso, which is a staple of that area, but which is most typically served with beans (and usually not stuffed):
Was your two course 15e meal at lunchtime? That is typical in many small towns.
Re: the pasta dish - the first blog post's picture looks very similar, so I guess that's it. (I'm sure all the shapes vary slightly since they're handmade.) We had these at pretty much every restaurant in the region, but they honestly looked more like what you'd get at in Asian cuisine with the shape & paper-thin dough.
And no, the 15e was for dinner. By comparison, we went to lunch in Cremona (another fantastic city well off the tourist track) and our lunch was 55e. Obviously that's a city instead of a small town, but it was fairly quiet as cities go and we got even less at that meal than the aforementioned dinner. So I guess the moral of the story is ... prices will vary. :)
Thanks! Those 15e dinners do sound like fun. I guess I am not suprised by the price tag for lunch in Cremona. How was it? Which one was it?
I want to go back to that area and spend more time. Funny thing is, the only reason I ended up in the countryside was because I wasn't able to stay in Cremona as I had hoped, so I do want to pay a visit there. I also think the view of the blue hills and mountains in that area is very, very lovely.
People who are from Piacenza and that area are very proud of their local specialties, but I don't think those dishes much migrate out of the immediate area.