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A corner of Italy to wallow in food, history
2015-02-05
By Patsy Yang

THERE are two sorts of travel in Italy. Type one sees your footprints all over a map of the well-known cities like Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. Type two sees you picking a less-known region but indulging in the essence of what the country can offer.

The Emilia-Romagna region is famous among Italians as the land of true flavors, a journey to the table, and increasingly a destination for the gourmand in search of tradition, genuineness and production processes that date to ancient times.

Emilia-Romagna actually comprises two historic regions of Emilia and Romagna in northern Italy. In addition to true Italian flavors at the table, the region is full of history, culture and art and has an unassuming genuineness.

A journey to this magical land lets you discover the remains of invaluable treasures along the Via Emilia (the Roman road from Rimini to Piacenza) with 2,000 years of history. It seems that every corner of Forli and Cesena tells stories of war, love and intrigue. Bologna has the oldest university in the world. Ravenna was the capital of Italy three times.

Classic, enchanting cities and towns in the region deserve to be discovered slowly to capture their very essence and revel in their warm hospitality and unique food culture. On top of all that, the province of Emilia-Romagna remains blissfully crowd-free.

Rimini

Rimini is perhaps best-known as the birthplace of the great Italian movie director Federico Fellini. This seaside city on Italy’s northeastern coast was often the source of inspiration for Fellini and his movie scenes.

Fellini-obsessed travelers come to Rimini in search of places that inspired scenes in the director’s movies, although Fellini had romanticized the settings that are commonly associated with Rimini, such as in “Amarcord” and “I Vitelloni.”

In bygone days, the upper class would sip Champagne and dance the night away at the renowned Grand Hotel, which symbolized the Italian way of life. It’s no wonder Fellini loved the Grand Hotel so much that he immortalized it in some of his most famous films, including “Amarcord,” where the inimitable and fascinating atmosphere of the hotel are the background to some of the most memorable scenes.

Inaugurated in 1908 and badly damaged during World War II, the hotel was reconstructed in the 1950s. Today the rooms are still decorated with Venetian and French 18th-century antiques. The original wooden floor and the Venetian chandeliers have been restored while in the restaurant and the other banqueting rooms, the furniture, paintings and lights reinforce the Old World atmosphere.

Aside from being the birthplace of Fellini and one of Italy’s most famous seaside resort towns, Rimini has another, much older claim to fame. A big archaeological treasure “The Surgeon’s House,” was discovered here in the Piazza Ferrari in 1989 and presented to the city of Rimini after 18 years of excavation and conservation activities. It is an excellent example of 2nd century AD Roman architecture with its rooms decorated with mosaic floorings and polychrome frescoes. The remarkable collection of 150 surgical items unearthed in the house are considered more important than the finely decorated house.

Rimin’s most iconic monument is the Arco di Augusto (the Augustus Arch), the oldest surviving Roman triumphal archway in existence. It was built in 27 BC, dedicated to Augustus at a time when Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus was successfully consolidating his individual power. Surrounding by ruins of the demolished city walls, the arch stands tall and proud, marking the end of the famous Via Flaminia and the beginning of Via Emilia. The arch is a great reminder of the history of a glorious time, often called the Augustus Pax.

Last year, another marvelous piece of historical architecture — the Ponte di Tiberio (Tiberius’ Bridge), was celebrated for 2,000 years since the start of its construction. It remains largely as it was, with its sturdy white stone and original inscriptions, giving visitors a feeling of traveling back in time, as does much of ancient Italy.

Towns near Rimini

No trip to Rimini is complete without at least a peek into its hinterland and beautiful towns nearby, inhabited by friendly, fun-loving people. Verucchio, situated on a hill west of Rimini and bordering the Republic of San Marino, is an intensely atmospheric place to wander, with its narrow, medieval streets. The cobbled lanes wind up steps and under archways, emerging at the Malatesta Fortress, which crowns the village.

Verucchio was the cradle of the Malatesta family. In ancient times — between the ninth and seventh centuries BC, it was the center of the Villanovan civilization. Many exhibits were brought to light in the necropolises dug around the village and now are on display in the Municipal Archaeological Museum.

Another lovely place to visit is Santarcangelo di Romagna, just a 15-minute drive from Rimini. It’s a charming, friendly, walled town with an impressive fortress. It is one of the favorite holiday haunts of the locals and for tourists who prefer a voyage of discovery in the Romagna region. A network of catacombs and caves, some naturally occurring, others man-made, lie underneath the village.

A late-afternoon visit to the town is recommended so you can book a table at La Sangiovesa, a symbol of local cuisine and a stronghold of the famous piadina bread. It’s a true place of Romagna culture and culinary traditions with a strong link to Fellini’s world of dreams.

Ravenna

Of the Emilia-Romagna region’s artistic jewels, none shine brighter than Ravenna’s cascade of glorious Byzantine mosaics.

In the very beginning of the fourth century, when the Roman Empire was crumbling, the Western capital was moved from Rome to Milan and then to Ravenna, until that empire collapsed in AD 476. Emperor Honorius chose Ravenna because he thought the malarial swamps around the town would provide protection from invaders.

In the next couple of centuries, between the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire arrival in AD 540 and the Lombard capture of the city in AD 752, the city grew into a glittering showcase for Byzantine art and culture. Byzantines elevated the mosaic craft by using glass, piecing together tiny shards into a collective radiance that boggles the mind. Visitors can still view this traditional art in the local workshop.

Check Basilica of S. Vitale for the crown jewel of Ravenna’s collection of mosaics, a sheer visual luxury. Consecrated in AD 547, this is one of the most significant centrally planned Byzantine churches to survive, and much of its interior decoration remains intact. In contrast to the somber exterior, its interior gives off a “wow” effect, awash with color as the rich greens, golds and blues of the mosaics are bathed in soft yellow sunlight. Inside the chancel, two magnificent mosaics depict the court of emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora on the opposite wall.

Modena

You might be not so familiar with this former medieval ducal capital, but you must have heard of two Modena natives — opera singer Luciano Pavorotti and Enzo Ferrari, who founded the racing team that became the world’s most famous sports-car manufacturer.

The Modenese pride for the automobile as art becomes clear at the Enzo Ferrari House Museum, opened in 2012. This restored structure commemorates Ferrari in the house where he was born. The space dedicated to Ferrari manages to combine truly unique elements: In the futuristic 2,500 square meter hall, visitors get close and personal to the many cars exhibited. They can also take in a show that, through an immersive biopic screened using 19 projectors, tells Ferrari’s incredible story.

Car aficionados come to Emilia-Romagna because it is perhaps the most important region in the history of the Italian motor industry. Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Ducati are all produced along the region’s “Motor Valley.”

The region is home to an impressive 14 museums dedicated to the motor industry, including Galleria Ferrari and the Ducati museum and factory. In addition to the museums, dotted across the area are 11 private collections, housing extremely rare exhibits. One example is the Righini collection, set up in the medieval castle of Panzano at Castelfranco Emilia. Among the collection is the legendary 815 from 1940, known as the first car built by Enzo Ferrari, and the remarkable Flat Chiribiri from 1912, a very high “cigar” on four wheels, which could reach incredible speeds for that time.


The Taste of Emilia-Romagna

The Emilia-Romagna region is considered by many to be the heart of northern Italian food, offering the best world famous Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, culatello, handmade pasta, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

The region’s foods are constantly enriched with new quality products that are recognized by the European Union, cementing Emilia-Romagna’s world-class culinary reputation. To date, the region boasts 38 Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) products, including Parmesan cheese, cured pork from Zibello and traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena, in addition to great quality DOC and IGT wines, 15 slow food presidia and more than 200 traditional products registered in the ministerial register.

Brisighella, an old village of medieval origin on the foothill spurs of the Tuscan-Romagnolo Appennines, has a long history of cultivating olive trees on the hillsides protected from the cold winds. In 1972, the 300 or so olive growers formed a cooperative and built a local olive press to safeguard and make the most of local production. They aim to ensure that the qualitative and organoleptic characteristics of the oil are always of the highest standards.

Modena is well known for its production of balsamic vinegar. Visiting Leonardi and walking through the aging rooms you can experience the tradition of balsamic vinegar with the intense aroma coming from the barrels. Leonardi has been dedicated to aging balsamic vinegar of Modena since the 18th century.

Where to stay

Grand Hotel in Rimini:

The historic Grand Hotel was Fellini’s own choice of lodgings in Rimini. This romantic monument basks in fresh sea air and lavish decor, graciously evoking an air of nostalgia, while the range of services guarantees every modern-day comfort. Its “La Dolce Vita” restaurant, decorated in Liberty Style and adorned by sumptuous Venetian lamps and frescoed ceilings, serves international, Mediterranean and regional cuisines.

 

Locanda del Re Guerriero:

In the heart of Emilia-Romagna’s countryside, a charming inn has been recreated in the houses and stables of an enchanted castle deep in a big, green park five centuries old. A night’s stay is like a trip back to the 16th century, an authentic experience for a relaxing and exclusive stay among the beauty of nature.

Where to shop

Shopping is one of the key motivations for traveling in Italy, particularly for Chinese tourists. Fidenza Village near the city of Parma is one of the most well-designed outlet shopping centers in Italy. Shoppers can access the world’s leading brands for up to 60 percent off the recommended retail price. For visitors from outside the European Union, the village offers a first-class retail experience, with a selection of services including tax-free shopping and an international delivery service


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