Lonely Planet Pathfinder, Hayley Lewis of A Lovely Planet, recently packed up her healthy appetite and embarked upon a culinary journey through Emilia Romagna, our top European destination to visit in 2018…
Italy has always been a favourite destination of mine, and this is largely due to its incredible cuisine. Emilia Romagna is often considered the king of Italian gastronomy, so I set out to explore the region’s historical cities, beautiful landscapes and of course, all of its delicious food!
Beautiful towns and cities
The region is made up of nine provinces and there is no shortage of charming towns, villages and cities to discover. The largest of these follow the ancient Roman road, Via Emilia, from Piacenza through to Rimini. I loved the leafy town of Reggio Emilia, considered to be the birthplace of the Italian tricolore flag, and of a delicious snack – Erbazzone. A savoury pastry filled with chard, spinach, onions, cured lard, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs and Parmigiano Reggiano, it was simply buonissimo!
History and world heritage
Emilia Romagna has a rich and diverse history, and boasts the world’s oldest university in Bologna, as well as a number of Unesco World Heritage sites. These include the stunning mosaics and monuments of Ravenna, Ferrara (city of the Renaissance) and the beautiful cathedral and Piazza Grande in Modena. While in Modena, I sampled some of the city’s famous aged balsamic vinegar DOP, which makes for a delicious accompaniment to cheese or strawberries.
Countryside and agriculture
One of Italy’s main agricultural regions, Emilia Romagna has rolling countryside in abundance, framed by the Apennine Mountains in the south and the River Po in the north. This landscape also includes plenty of vineyards, plus olive and fruit trees, which are best experienced by staying in an agriturismo, where you can sample yet more of the region’s delicious produce.
Cheese and cured meats
Many of Italy’s famous food exports come from Emilia Romagna, including the mouth-watering Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. While there are many imitations, true Parmigiano Reggiano can only be produced within the provinces of Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia (and parts of Bologna and Mantova). To achieve DOP status, cheese makers must stick to traditional production methods, strictly regulated by the Parmigiano Reggiano consortium! Equally famous is Parma di Prosciutto (another DOP product), delicate cured ham produced in and around the city of Parma.
If you like pasta, then this is the place for you. As well as tagliatelle al ragù (a dish that is often mistaken for spaghetti bolognaise), delicious filled pastas are made here. Tortellini, tortelli, cappelletti and many more are stuffed with cheese, vegetables, eggs and meat in a variety of combinations. These can be served with a sauce or in a broth.
Luciano Pavarotti, possibly the world’s most famous tenor, was born in Modena, a city with a rich musical heritage. There are beautiful theatres and opera houses all over the region, which was also the birthplace of celebrated composer Giuseppe Verdi.
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