Emilia-Romagna, located in the northeast of the Italian peninsula, is one of our favorite places in Italy. With its rich heritage, centuries-old towns, and some of the best food, this region is a gem that should be checked out when in Italy. Emilia-Romagna is home to some of the culinary specialities that have led to Italy’s worldwide fame: Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from Regio Emilia, Ham and Culatello from Parma, Balsamic vinegar from Modena, and Tagliatelle pasta from Bologna. If you ask any Italian what their favorite place to eat is — the first answer would be “mamma’s kitchen”, and the second, “Emilia-Romagna”. We love food as much as we love travel, and to enjoy the local food when we travel makes it a dream vacation.
With its stunning medieval towns, amazing cultural heritage and incredible cuisine, Emilia-Romagna is a treasure trove that just begs to be explored. There’s no better route to follow than the Via Emilia, a road that has its origins in Roman times. Via Emilia is an ancient route that runs the length of Emilia-Romagna, completed by the Roman consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in 187 BC. Along the way are 10 fine cities — Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, Ferrara, Ravenna, Forlì-Cesena, Rimini — all rich in art, architecture, history and some of the best food in Italy. Bologna is the epicentre of the region, but venture out and you’ll discover medieval towns, countless farms and vineyards.
“In Italy, food is an expression of love, it is how you show those around you that you care for them.” — Joe Bastianich
Each of these cities is a stopping-off point to discover the finest regional cuisine, the traditional wines such as Lambrusco and Sangiovese, the best balsamico vinegar, the best Parmigiano Reggiano, UNESCO world heritage sites, and the best automotive brands in the world. We carefully picked the best towns on this route, and started our adventure in Parma, followed by Modena and Bologna. This road trip was inspired by a book we got for Christmas from a very good friend. This is our ultimate foodie road trip from Parma to Modena to Bologna!
Which cities to visit during your road trip?
- Parma — Parma is a great foodie destination in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, that’s also rich in culture and history. The city is filled with romanesque buildings, cathedrals, beautiful piazzas, plethora of fantastic buildings and museums. Parma is the birthplace of two of Italy’s most famous musicians, composer Giuseppe Verdi and conductor Arturo Toscanini. You can spend your evenings listening to classical music in architecturally dramatic opera houses in a city that’s known for classical music.
Piazza Garibaldi is the historical center of the City of Parma, which dates back to the 13th century. On the square, you will find the Garibaldi statue and Pallazo Del Governatore, a major government building for hundreds of years. From here you can visit Parma’s top attractions. Cattedrale di Parma is a stunning masterpiece from the 11th century that is breathtakingly beautiful. The frescoed Duomo di Parma or the Parma Cathedral is a stunning example of Romanesque architecture. Benedetto Antelami’s 12th century, octagonal Baptistery is another major attraction in Parma. It is made of pink marble from Verona, and shows elements of both Romanesque and Gothic styles, with incredible frescoes from 13th and 14th-century paintings that cover the interior.
If you’re a foodie, you’re in for a treat… Parma is famous for its food and rich gastronomical tradition: two of its specialties are Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and Prosciutto di Parma, and it is the first Italian city in history to become UNESCO’s heritage site for Gastronomy. Parma cuisine is legendary all over the world. This is a destination where you can truly understand Italian food culture. From meat to cheese, the food in Parma Italy is legendary. Some of our recommended restaurants in this city are — Trattoria Corrieri, Ristorante Cocchi, Osteria dello Zingaro, Osteria Virgilio, Gatta Matta, Tabarro, Borgo 20, La Greppia, Parizzi, and Romani.
- Modena — Modena is home to good food and fast cars. The food you eat here will redefine your understanding, and appreciation of Italian food. They say, if Italy were a meal, Modena would be the main course, so this is something you definitely want to add to your itinerary. Modena’s city center, Piazza Grande is a great place to stroll around, where you can visit the magnificent 12th-century cathedral, Duomo di Modena. Together with the Cathedral and the tower Ghirlandina, Piazza Grande has been declared UNESCO World Heritage site. It has always been the heart of the town, the place where the religious and civil powers meet.
Modena is the creative force behind real balsamic vinegar — balsamico di Modena. Authentic balsamico tradizionale made in Modena is aged up to 25 years. Only about 6 local families in Modena make what is considered the traditional balsamico di Modena. It is made using the age old tradition of producing balsamic in the attics of their family homes. The rather unique aging process which takes decades turns it into a sweet, thick syrupy food that adds a perfect flavor to traditional Italian dishes. We visited La Consorteria 1966 for a tasting of the authentic balsamico di Modena. Each bottle has about 300 drops, and can range between €85 to €400. We bought a few bottles made by different families in the region, and this is something you cherish forever.
We also make it a point to visit local markets when we travel. Mercato di Abinelli is a farmer’s market in Modena, where you’ll find farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, Parma ham, Parmigiano Reggiano, and so many other cheeses as you peruse down aisles of a warehouse-like market.
Modena is also home to the best Italian restaurant in the world — Chef Massimo Bottura’s, Osteria Francescana. This restaurant has three Michelin stars, and it has made the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list several times. To eat at this restaurant is truly a bucket list item, as you need to reserve your table at least 6 months in advance, and plan your trip around your reservation. We didn’t get to visit this restaurant, but we were lucky to get a table at Franceschetta 58, which is a sister restaurant to Massimo Bottura’s fabled Osteria Francescana. You’ll get to taste some of this amazing chef’s creations here.
Some of our recommended restaurants in this city are — Osteria Francescana (Chef Massimo Bottura’s three Michelin star restaurant and one of the world’s best restaurants), Franceschetta 58, Hosteria Giusti Modena, Restaurante Uva d’Oro Modena, and Trattoria Aldina Modena.
- Bologna — Bologna is one of the best food cities in Italy. Its amazing food and historic architecture are major highlights. Bologna’s Italian nickname La Dotta, la Grassa e la Rossa — The Educated, the Fat, and the Red just about sums up the very best of what this city has to offer. La Dotta honors the University of Bologna, La Grassa honors Bologna’s cuisine, and La Rossa for the stunning red rooftops.
One of the most unique things to do in Bologna, Italy, is to check out its very unique porticos, almost 40 kms of porticos or covered arcades. The porticos are fun to stroll during the day, and they are beautifully lit at night. The city comes alive with its bustling markets, and cafes on the streets filled with people enjoying the most delicious food made with locally produced meats and cheeses. Bologna’s food features great products like Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano and mortadella. It is known for its hand-rolled, fresh pasta served with complex, meat-laden ragus that many around the world define as bolognese sauce.
The heart of Bologna is the Piazza Maggiore. The huge piazza with its medieval buildings including the main cathedral, Basilica di San Petronio, is a place where you can stroll around for hours admiring the architecture. Few steps from the Piazza Maggiore is the Quadrilatero, which is the oldest food market in Bologna. The beautiful narrow cobblestone streets, and the bustling food and wine scene is something you will enjoy for sure!
Restaurants in Bologna serve all types of pasta, but local favorites include Tortellini in Brodo, Tagliatelle al Ragu, Gramigna with Sausage, Lasagne Verdi al Forno and Tortellini in Brodo. Some of our recommended restaurants in this city are — Trattoria di Via Serra, Osteria Vini D’Italia, Ristorante da Cesari, and Trattoria Il Portico.
“The commonplace about Italian cooking is that it’s very simple; in practice, the simplicity needs to be learned, and the best way to learn it is to go to Italy and see it firsthand.” — Bill Buford
There’s no better way to get to know a region than by exploring the local cuisine and dishes. Emilia-Romagna region, and specifically the towns of Parma, Modena and Bologna are the ultimate foodie destination. You can explore the artisan producers of prosciutto crudo and mortadella, intense balsamic vinegar and Italy’s king of cheeses, parmesan here. No other place can combine medieval history, beautiful towns with cobble streets and friendly piazzas, the best Italian food, and the best wines like the towns in Emilia-Romagna, so make this your next dream destination!
Always remember… Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!