Every so often we are able to spend just enough time in a place to fall in love with it and immediately start planning our trip back. This mini Emilia Romagna travel guide started with our trip to Italy in 2019, continued on our Christmas / New Year’s trip that ended in 2020, and truly picked up again in June 2021. We returned over Thanksgiving in 2021 and in April 2022. This Emilia Romagna travel guide will be like our Puglia travel guide – a work in progress as we return because there’s just not enough information available in guidebooks. It’s my hope that it helps save you time in your own research.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for tours and products I love at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
How to Get to Emilia Romagna
The most direct way to get to the Emilia Romagna region is to fly directly into Bologna (BLQ). Bologna is probably the most popular city in Emilia Romagna, not only because of Stanley Tucci’s Finding Italy, but also because it is one of the larger cities in the region. In addition to an airport that serves both low-cost and legacy carriers, it has easy train connections between Venice and Florence, too.
Ultimately, we decided to start in Parma because it worked best with the Milan quarantine-free flight and hotel availability worked in our favor. If you have enough time, I recommend staying in more than one place in the Emilia Romagna region. I find that each area has certain regional specialties foods that you will want to try and each place has its own feel. The nice thing is that nothing is too terrible far apart, though it is very helpful to have a rental car. (Again roads are pretty flat and fairly easy to navigate, so if this is your first time driving in Italy, you’ll be fine.) We rented from Sixt and had no issues. They were great to work with when we need to change our drop off location, too!
Where to Stay in Emilia Romagna
The Emilia Romagna region exemplifies Italian hospitality in so many ways. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but honestly, the warmth of the people in Emilia Romagna blew me away. There are so many examples to share, but I almost have to go through each of them one by one because they were each so very unique.
Ultimately, we ended up staying overnight in Parma and Bologna on our trip to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. You won’t find a lot of luxury hotels in this area, but I definitely feel like I found some of the best places to stay in Emilia Romagna and both places were very well situated for sightseeing (and finding good food). I could have been happy spending all of our trip at either one of these places. While I’m sure that I will stay other places to add to this Emilia Romagna travel guide, I can confidently say that I will be staying at both of these hotels again. We’ve already booked one of them for November 2021.
Where to Stay in Parma – Palazzo Gozzi
Palazzo Gozzi is the first place we stayed at on our summer trip to Italy. It calls itself a B&B: Bed & Beauty. What does that mean? It means that every guest who stays overnight can have a free shampoo and style at the Aveda salon on the ground floor of the hotel. How’s that for hospitality?
Honestly, when I booked it, it felt too good to be true. I was very dubious. (I can’t help it. I’ve been steered wrong by perfect 5-star ratings in the past.) I was wrong. So wrong. From the moment we pulled up at Palazzo Gozzi, the staff made us feel extremely welcome. (You check in at the salon and they will schedule your blowout right away!) They did everything from helping to stop traffic so we could unload our bags, to parking the car when we weren’t sure if we could navigate such a tight space, to delivering an apertivo to our rooms while we were at dinner. No detail was overlooked. We sincerely could not have felt more welcome.
We booked two rooms and those were upgraded those as well. Tom and I had an adjacent room to my mom on the 2nd floor (3rd for my fellow Americans). (My mom had room 2.2 and we had 2.3) In contrast with the traditional Italian building, the rooms were sleek and modern with dark walls and very modern design elements and art. The bathroom was fairly large with a walk-in shower and Aveda bath amenities. (The strong rosemary mint scent is perfect for combatting jet lag!)
Our room had a retractable skylight (amazing) and air-conditioning, both of which were very helpful in the early summer when days are longer and temperature are higher. The room includes a Nespresso machine, and they provide a voucher for breakfast at a nearby cafe. Other sweet amenities included an aluminum water bottle, as well as a nylon backpack, which the owner pointed out is perfect for packing shoes. (How many of these have colleges given me that I didn’t even know what to do with!?)
It’s an easy 7-10 minute walk to the Parma city center from Palazzo Gozzi.
Where to Stay in Bologna – 051 Suites
Our second destination in Emilia Romagna was Bologna. Tom and I have wandered through Bologna before flying out, and I wandered through it a few times when I studied abroad, but this was the first time that we’ve stayed overnight. I was really excited when I found 051 Suites because it seemed like it would be centrally located. (Bologna Centrale isn’t far, but it can be a 15-20 minute walk to some areas of Bologna.)
I knew I was going to love 051 Suites from our first email interactions. I emailed them to link my mom’s reservation with ours, and Baddy responded that Italians love mamas and they would make sure mine was well taken care of. (They did and she was.) They sent us turn-by-turn directions to get to the hotel parking area, which was very much appreciated since navigating the ZTL zones and tiny streets can be very challenging in some of these smaller Italian city centers.
The hotel is housed over several floors in an apartment building in the heart of Bologna. This means it is very quiet, which is nice because Bologna is a busy place! There is a central reception area that serves as a living room and dining room. Breakfast is served each morning, and it also has a refrigerator available for guest use. (We stored our delicious treats from Parma in there with no issue.)
Similar to Palazzo Gozzi, 051 Suites put our two rooms next to each other on the same floor. 051 Suites did have an elevator, much to my mom’s appreciation. Tom and I had the Mandarin Suite, which was quite large. Our room was at the end of a long hallway and had plenty of room for a desk and an ottoman for storage. We also had a small walk-in closet and a very large bathroom with plenty of light. The walk-in shower was a little smaller, but the water pressure was good.
Overall, I found the rooms at 051 Suites to have plenty of character and some luxurious touches, like the rich blue bedding. Each suite of rooms also had a small lounge with cookies, chocolate, and coffee or tea available all day and all evening. Everything and everyone at Suites051 is very, very hospitable. We have already made reservations to return in November for a family Thanksgiving trip.
Emilia Romagna Travel Guide – Where to Eat
If I’m being completely honest, part of the driving force to visit Emilia Romagna was for the food. The Emilia Romagna region is known for so many delicious regional specialties that we were interested in trying. It did not disappoint. At all. The only disappointment was that we didn’t have more meals or stomach space available. All that means is that we will definitely be back. One of the things I definitely recommend if you’re traveling with others is ordering family style. We found that many restaurants understood that we want to try a myriad of dishes, so they helped us by splitting the dishes to share. There are also restaurants that will allow you to order “bis,” which will allow you to try two (or three) pastas on one plate.
What to Eat in Parma
Parma is known for parmesan cheese, prosciutto di Parma and (my favorite) culatello. Culatello is perhaps the most tender cut of prosciutto I’ve ever tried, and it’s impossible to find the US. I found culatta at Central Market this summer, and it’s good, but it doesn’t compare to the real thing in Parma.
As far as pasta goes, the most famous are tortelli d’erbetta and anolini in brodo. The tortelli is generally ricotta and spinach with a butter and parmesan sauce. Anolini is very similar to tortellini in brodo (broth), which is usually eaten during the Christmas holidays in the Bologna area.
Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine. I found it to be very refreshing during the summer, and I really enjoyed it in situ, but I don’t know if I would go out of my way to order it outside of the region. I do think you should try it at least once to see if you like it though!
Where to Eat in Parma
Our first stop on our first night was for apertivo at Enoteca Fontana. This delightful wine bar is in the middle of one of the main pedestrian streets in Parma. There were plenty of tables outside so we could watch the world go by, and the people watching was delightful! We ordered a plate of assorted panini, a Lambrusco for me, a Malvasia white wine for my mom, and a beer for Tom. The panini were grilled and absolutely delicious. When in doubt, ask your waiter for recommendations. The prices were beyond fair fair.
Fun Fact: I posted a photo of our appetizer on twitter and several people correctly identified the enoteca because the food is that recognizable.
Since we arrived in Parma with no reservations and plenty of jet lag, Tom headed to a couple of restaurants that we had saved to see if they could accommodate us for dinner. Romani was happy to do so, so after apertivo, we made our way to a small side street off the main pedestrian street in Parma. From our outside table, we had a view of the kitchen and could see all the deliciousness being cooked in there. It did not disappoint.
We started with a misto platter of salumi, parmesan (because when in Parma!), and polenta, all of which was sliced fresh in the kitchen. We split two pastas – the lasagna bolognese (incredible) and a gnocchi that was a daily specialty. I don’t even like gnocchi, and this was delicious. The lasagna was definitely my favorite though. The three of us polished off a bottle of rose before pushing our stomaches home for the evening.
If you have limited time in Parma but truly want to get a taste of Parma, head to Salumeria Garibaldi. This is the place to truly learn more about the food in Parma. With just a few tables outside, we were happy to snag one and have Nic teach us all about meat and cheese in Parma. We were able to try the different meats – with a full explanation of where they came from – and parmesan ranging from 24-120 months. That’s 10-year-old parmesan! In some cases, Nic would top it off with a bit of balsamic vinegar from Modena so that we could get another taste. Oh, I can’t forget the fried bread. Those dough pockets were served piping hot and were delicious. We had him recommend a bottle of wine to accompany our tasting, and we were not disappointed. (Again, when in doubt, ask the experts.)
Once we were done eating, it was time to head inside to buy some souvenirs. We purchased vacuum-sealed packages of meat (that were all finished before we left Italy) and cheeses that were aged 24, 48, and 120 months. They vacuum-sealed them and wrapped them in paper, and we’ve been able to use them for tastings and celebrations ever since we got home. I highly recommend bringing food from Parma home – the stuff we have in the United States doesn’t even compare to the real thing!
What to Eat in Bologna
One of the things I love most about the Emilia Romagna region is that there are so many local specialties to try. Obviously, you can try anything with bolognese or a ragu sauce, but I think there’s so much more that is delicious! Let’s start with my favorite pasta dish: gramigna alla salsiccia. These short, curly noodles are tossed with sausage, cream, wine, parmesan, and just a little bit of tomato. It’s amazing. I can’t describe it. I just want to eat more of it.
Tortellini in brodo is hard to make if you’re making the pasta by hand, but it’s actually delicious. Tortellini filling usually has a couple of different meats in it (prosciutto, mortadella, etc.), and it’s served in a flavorful broth that enhances the flavor of the meat. I know that I’m really going to enjoy this in November!
Where to Eat in Bologna
Reminder, this is a mini Emilia Romagna travel guide. It’s my intention to only provide recommendations that are good. We didn’t spend nearly enough time here (yet). One of my biggest travel challenges is that I am rarely hungry after a food tour and cooking class. This post, like many of my restaurant posts and travel guides, will be continually updated as we try more places that are worth recommending. I highly recommend utilizing your tour guides and hotel staff for further recommendations and reservations. (Reservations are super helpful and very necessary in Emilia Romagna.) There is a lot of good food in Bologna, and I’m not going to recommend places that I can’t personally vouch for. (Similarly, I will also take restaurants off if I revisit them and leave disappointed.)
Trattoria Oberdan da Mario
There is so much good food in Bologna. We didn’t have nearly enough meals in Bologna, and when we added in a cooking class, the only thing we knew is that we would need to return. On our first evening in Bologna, my mom wanted us to find somewhere near our hotel. Oberdan da Mario was relatively close and at a quieter end of a very busy street filled with students. Like always, we started with a affetto misto platter of salumi, including the famous mortadella. (It doesn’t taste like baloney.) The carpaccio with parmesan was tasty as well, but there’s just no replacing culatello in my mind. As far as local specialties, I really enjoyed the tigelle, a round flatbread, too.
Our waiter was fantastic and happily served our pastas bis, so that we could split them three ways. We ordered the lasagna bolognese, the gramigna con salsicca (pasta with sausage), and the tortelloni with a sage-butter sauce. (The butter-sage sauce is a Tuscany specialty.) Personally, I think my gramigna stole the show. It’s not something I’ve ever seen on the menu outside Bologna, so I knew it was the right choice. I wasn’t disappointed.
Il Passatello Di Bologna
When we went to Bologna in November 2021, we asked the amazing staff at 051 Suites for recommendations on where we should eat. Tom went around to all of their recommendations and secured us reservations wherever he could find them. We had dinner at Il Passatello on the first night. They squeezed us into a table in the main dining room and treated us so very well!
Our group was a little bit tired of pasta (coming from Rome), so Il Passatello ended up being a great choice because they had some delicious regional secondi. (The primi pastas are outstanding. Get my favorite gramigna and the lasagne.) We ordered a veal scallopini with white wine sauce and the cotoletta alla Bolognese. I loved the cotoletta. It was exceptional! The roasted potatoes are also some of my favorite in Italy.
The staff was really lovely and was very proud of their food. My photos don’t do it justice (it’s hard to photograph food when people are ready to eat), but trust me – it’s delicious!
Oh Cesarina. This is another one of our most memorable meals in Bologna. It carried one of the strongest recommendations from our hotel. We were a little dubious when the restaurant was empty when we arrived, but it quickly filled up with Italians. Italians dining alone. Italians dining in groups. We were just… early.
It seems impossible that I didn’t get photos of our dinner at Cesarina because it was so good. I’ll have to search the memory cards. The primis, the secondi, the vino – it was all delicious. The only part of the meal that was slightly disappointing were the desserts, but they were good. We just expected them to be better since everything else was so good.
We skipped the antipasti to order the balsamic risotto, the ravioli, and the gramigna as our first courses. The ravioli and the risotto got rave reviews from the entire table. (I remain partial to my gramigna since I can’t get it anywhere else.) We ordered the filetto and the filetto al pepe verde as our entrees. With my favorite restaurant in Venice no longer open, Cesarina’s filetto al pepe verde is my new favorite. It was perfectly cooked and the sauce was delicious. I have got to figure out how to make that at home!
Gelato in Bologna
Hands down my favorite was Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla. It’s in the middle of the city center and easy to get to. Cremeria Santo Stefano comes in at a close second for me. I loved that they had a list of flavors of the month. I had a Sicilian orange that was outstanding.
Things to Do in Emilia Romagna
It goes without saying that food should be a central part of any itinerary in Emilia Romagna. Whether you take a cooking class, a food tour, or visit a couple of producers to try the regional specialties, your trip should revolve around the region’s culinary delights.
The next thing I would tell you to do is go into every church you find. Seriously. There are some absolutely breathtaking churches in the Emilia Romagna region. Very few of them are covered in the guidebooks. It also makes a nice diversion from all the eating that you will do.
Cooking Classes in Bologna
Ignore the strikethrough and click the links anyway. It’s a setting on the Delicious Bologna website that I can’t fix, but I want to make sure you can book this amazing cooking class in Bologna!
We booked a cooking class with Delicious Bologna, and it was incredible! The pasta factory, which provides pasta to a local shop, is located a short walk from all the major sites. Martina, Consuela, and Mattia made us feel extraordinarily welcome and we shared a lot of laughs. (I’m definitely booking a Bologna food tour with them in November!)
In this class, you’ll learn how to make and roll the pasta dough by hand, fill and shape tortellini and tortelli, and cut tagliatelle (also by hand). Yep, you read that right – no pasta machines here! While we worked, Martina explained how the various fillings work for the different pasta shapes. We used a classic ricotta and Spinach for the tortelli and a blend of local meats and cheese for the tortellini. Tortellini are the small filled pasta; tortelli is its larger version.
Once we had made the tortellini, Martina set to putting it in brodo (broth). This is a typical holiday meal in Bologna, and it is delicious. It’s actually surpassing. The flavors were so rich and absolutely delicious. For the tortelli, Martina created an easy butter and tomato sauce and sprinkled it with parmesan. It’s incredible how something so simple can taste so rich and delicious. Lastly, we enjoyed a tagliatelle al ragu, which was incredibly savory. Our meal was served with Pignoletto, the sparkling white wine from the region. It paired perfectly on a warm summer day.
The best part about taking cooking classes in Italy is that you learn how to make light, flavorful sauces, so it’s impossible to feel overly full, even when you try three different pastas for lunch!
Take a Food Tour in Bologna
As I mentioned above, there are so many culinary delights to try in each area of Emilia Romagna. You will definitely want to book a food tour to try everything. We have taken a number of food tours in various cities (Florence, Rome, Paris just to name a few), and they are always incredible experiences. One, you have the opportunity to try things you might not have ordered. Two, you get to visit a number of restaurants and shops. (We have found many a tasty souvenir through food tours!) Three, it’s generally a social and more intimate experience with a local. Food has a way of opening up all kinds of interesting conversations.
I can confidently recommend Delicious Bologna and Curious Appetite for food tours in Bologna, as I have purchased from each company.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Tasting in Modena
A few years ago, we booked an official balsamic vinegar tasting while driving to Venice. It was remarkable how different the “real” thing is and what we can purchase in the supermarket. When I planned our June 2021 itinerary, I reached out to the acetate to see if they would be able to accommodate us for a tasting. Monica was happy to schedule a free private tasting at Acetaia Malpighi! She was an incredible hostess and took a lot of time to answer our questions and let us try everything, even though we were the only guests!
I highly recommend visiting Malpighi if you are going to be in the area. It’s really fascinating to see the barrels, learn more about how balsamic vinegar is produced, and try several variations of the product. This acataia produces the traditional 25-year-old balsamic, as well as variations of 8-year, 12-year, and white and flavored balsamic vinegars. We brought home a lot of balsamic vinegar, both for personal use and for gifts. This is one of those products that is far more cost effective to purchase in Italy and bring home. (It makes for a really fun party, too.)
Personal recommendations: The 8-year balsamic for “every day” use, the orange balsamic for use on fruit, the fig balsamic vinegar because it’s a crowd favorite (especially on ice cream), and a bottle of white balsamic vinegar. That said, make sure to do a balsamic vinegar tasting in Modena and find what YOU like. Don’t just take it from me.
Visit all of the Markets
In January 2020, while waiting for a late evening flight, we stumbled upon a small open-air food market in Bologna that had the best damn focaccia I’ve ever put in my mouth. I think Tom had some fresh arancini, and I might have had some fried olives, but the focaccia is what I remember most.
The food markets in Emilia Romagna are some of my favorites because they clearly serve locals. There is an abundance of fresh food in both the covered marketplaces and the open-air markets. Add these to your itineraries, particularly if you’re thinking about making your own meals while traveling. We purchased a few vacuumed-sealed salumi that we were able to enjoy throughout our trip (and even on the flight home). The quality of the food we purchased at the markets in Modena and Bologna far exceeded anything we could purchase at the grocery store.
If you take anything from those post, I hope you’ll understand that buying from local shops and markets is the best way to go. Grocery stores are great an pinch, but local markets and delis are where it is at in Italy.
Word to the wise: Most markets are open in the morning and close by the early afternoon, so you’ll want to plan appropriately.
Visit the 7 Churches of Bologna
The Santo Stefano church complex is completely fascinating to me. Every single person at our hotel in Bologna told us to make sure we saw the 7 churches of Bologna. Our guidebooks didn’t mention this at all. We kept trying to make sense of what they meant, but we couldn’t find any information on it. (We definitely weren’t googling it correctly.) Finally, one evening, Tom and I set off on foot, following the map created for us by the hotel, to try and figure out what they meant.
Oh. Here was the (literal) triangular piazza they meant. Oh. Here were the footprints of the seven churches that they were referencing. There was a service going on (because it is still a living church), so we weren’t able to see the Basilica di Santo Stefano, but we were able to see the earlier churches. It is a remarkable look at the evolution of architecture and definitely worth seeing. In many ways, it reminded me of the Eurphrasian Basilica in Porec, Croatia. The area around the church is very lively as well, so you might plan your visit and then grab an apertivo nearby. It is as beautiful as Baddy said it was!