Sandwiched between the cultural giants of Venice and Florence is a region of northeastern Italy that’s still comparatively under the radar. Yet for the discerning traveller, Emilia-Romagna offers a treasure trove of delights just waiting to be discovered. Our base for this fascinating short break is its beautiful capital, Bologna, which is known in Italy as La Dotta, La Rossa e La Grassa: The Learned – home of the Western world’s oldest university; The Red – after its many terracotta-coloured rooftops; and The Fat – the city has been at the heart of a rich agricultural region since Etruscan times and has evolved into the capital of Italy’s well-loved culinary heritage.
Food and wine are revered throughout Italy, but take on an almost religious fervour here. Emilia-Romagna is the home of iconic culinary delights, including dark balsamic vinegar from Modena, and rich and nutty Parmigiano Reggiano. You’ll visit traditional artisan producers to see how they’re made and understand why they’re so prized.
Italian history, art, architecture and cuisine at its most authentic – this exceptionally well-balanced tour is a true recipe for success.
You will be met by a member of the Riviera Travel team before your flight to Bologna. On arrival we transfer by coach to the four-star Royal Hotel Carlton, set on manicured grounds in Bologna’s old town close to many fine restaurants. Settle in before joining your tour manager this evening for an informal welcome drinks reception, followed by a dinner of typical Bolognese dishes at the hotel’s restaurant – the perfect setting for getting acquainted with your group.
This morning enjoy a sightseeing tour of Bologna to fully appreciate this attractive city. Beautifully preserved over the centuries, its original Roman street plan is still discernible and 10 of the 12 original gates that encircle the historic centre still stand. At Bologna’s heart is the majestic main square, the Piazza Maggiore, surrounded by grand Renaissance palaces and dominated by the enormous church of San Petronio. Despite being one of Europe’s largest churches, the Gothic basilica remains unfinished as ambitious plans to surpass Rome’s St Peter’s were halted by Pope Pius IV. Adjacent is another impressive square, where medieval civic buildings frame a bronze statue and fountain dedicated to Neptune, god of the sea. One of Bologna’s many surprises is that it can ‘outdo’ Pisa, boasting not just one but two 12th-century leaning towers!
After the tour, the rest of the day is free for you to explore. Why not follow whichever delicious smells take your fancy through the city’s maze of tiny alleys and streets, lined by tempting food shops filled with locals sampling the fine produce. As you soak up some of the wonderful ambience, remember you’re off the main tourist trail here, so the enthusiasm for these culinary pleasures is heartfelt and refreshing in its authenticity.
Home to the Western world’s oldest university, Bologna has for over a millennium been an academic hub, and public dissections used to be held in the intriguing 17th-century Anatomical Theatre, where detailed wooden carvings of two skinless figures flank the lecturer’s chair. Another ‘must see’ is the pretty Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, proudly perched on a hilltop overlooking the red-hued city. It is renowned for its black icon of the Virgin Mary, supposedly painted by St Luke, as well as the world’s longest portico, so if you’re feeling energetic you may wish to stroll under this covered walkway, which is supported by 666 arches, to the very top.
Tonight is another opportunity to discover why Bologna is so aptly nicknamed la grassa. Dinner is at your leisure, which gives you the chance to sample a recommended restaurant with some of your travelling companions. Absorb the rustic atmosphere of a modest trattoria over pear-stuffed tortellini, dig into earthy porcini risotto in a cosy osteria, or savour a multi-course degustation prepared lovingly with local ingredients in a century-old palazzo. Then walk it off with a gentle wander through charming side streets until you find a gelateria for a satisfying finale to the evening’s culinary affair.
After breakfast, the morning is free for you to further explore. Bologna’s skyline is dominated by the sky-piercing Two Towers – at nearly 319 feet, Torre degli Asinelli is the tallest leaning medieval tower in the world and a symbol of the city. Despite being some 900 years old with a noticeable lean, you can safely climb to the top – there are 498 steps, but the views are tremendous! A stone’s throw away, La Macchina del Tempo offers a very different museum experience with its virtual reality feature, which takes you on an immersive tour of Bologna during medieval times.
As lunch inches closer, follow the narrow alleys to the Quadrilatero, the commercial heart of the old town. Butchers, bakers and grocers have their little shops here, alongside jewellers and craft stalls. Perhaps pick up some edible souvenirs such as cheeses, wines, dried pasta and cured meats. Or simply relax at a café with a hot chocolate and freshly baked torta di riso, a traditional cake made with rice and lemon zest. By the end of your trip, you’ll have mastered the art of dolce far niente – pleasantly doing nothing.
The fertile region of Emilia-Romagna has been an agricultural powerhouse since Roman times and this afternoon, we discover its culinary superstars. We drive through bucolic countryside and endless waves of green hills to visit a renowned producer of Parmigiano Reggiano. True Italian parmesan bears the Parmigiano Reggiano name and is produced only in a small area. We’ll learn the painstaking processes and techniques necessary to make this ‘king of cheeses’.
We then visit a local maker of Modena’s famous balsamic vinegar and discover the centuries-old process of creating the perfect bottle. Unlike the pale imitation sold at supermarkets, traditional balsamic vinegar is delightfully complex. During our tasting, you can try to discern the flavours of oak, cherry and other woods, depending on the barrels in which the grape concentrate is left to age.
Our last visit is to an award-winning winery, which produces superb organic wines where, after a tour of the wine-making process, we will sit down to a four-course farewell dinner accompanied by matching house wines – a perfect end to our day of gastronomic discovery.
Transfer to the airport for your flight home.
The price of this holiday is per person based on sole occupancy of a twin/double room. The price includes three nights’ accommodation with breakfast and two dinners, including a welcome dinner and drinks on the first night, all tours as mentioned, airport departure taxes, all local accommodation taxes, transfers and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.
The use of air-conditioning in hotels in Italy is at the hotel’s discretion and is normally restricted to the summer months (mid-May to mid-September), depending on the temperature.
There is no specific health advice for this tour, though it is always advisable to contact your GP six to eight weeks prior to travel.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Airport||Hotel location||Transfer time|
|Bologna Airport||Bologna||20 mins|