EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY – that could be the maxim of Emilia-Romagna, stretching from the Rimini coast to the borders of Liguria. Home to some of Italy’s greatest cities – Bologna, Parma, Modena and Ferrara – this is the region famous for Parma ham, Parmesan cheese, Mortadella sausage, tortelloni and balsamic vinegar. No wonder it’s nicknamed the belly of Italy.

Softened by the Appenine hills and home to mile after mile of farms, vineyards and food producers, Emilia-Romagna is the place for gastro-tours. Come here to visit wine cellars, cheese producers, pasta factories and working farms, tasting as you go. Truffles, porcini mushrooms and pasta every which way you like it are part of the region’s celebrated cuisine. There are wine routes to follow, food markets to drool over and gourmet festivals to join in.

Start your gourmet journey in the foodies’ mecca of Bologna. Not for nothing is this great city known as La Grassa (the fat lady). You can spend hours browsing its markets, delis and food halls, stocking up with exquisitely presented goodies to take home in the warren of narrow streets beyond the arches of via dell’Archiginnasio. There’s an excellent indoor food hall on via Ugo Bassi, and the daily street market starting in via Clavature is a must. And at night, of course, you can dine like a medieval duke or duchess.

Naturally there’s more to Bologna than all things edible. Start your discoveries in the twin squares of Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno in the heart of the city – perfect places for people-watching. You’re surrounded by medieval palazzi (many now turned into sleek boutiques), old men in earnest discussion and children chasing pigeons around the ornate Neptune fountain.

Be sure to see Le Due Torre – the old leaning towers – and if you have a spring in your step trot up the 498 creaky wooden stairs of Torre degli Asinelli for an unbeatable view of terracotta rooftops and a host of basilicas and towers. Don’t miss Basilica di San Petronio, the city’s grand but unfinished cathedral, and pop into some of the irresistible shoe shops on via Indipendenza. You can always put on your dancing shoes later and boogie under the stars at one of the city’s outdoor nightclubs.

Other great cities also await exploration. Rimini has its beaches and nightlife while sleepy Ravenna, home to one of Italy’s top music festivals, is a treasure house of history, monuments and mosaics. Ferrara has its fascinating cathedral, Parma its superb cheeses and Modena a superb and unspoiled centro storico.

Once you’ve had your city fix there are plenty of reasons to head for the hills. The Tuscan-Emilia hills south of Bologna are just the place to get back to nature and unwind. Potter round local markets and medieval villages, go truffle-hunting in season and set off on breezy country treks.

You’re within reach of three national parks here, not to mention working farms where Parmesan cheeses, balsamic vinegar and fine Appenine wines are produced. Go biking, hiking or riding, cosy up by a wood fire at night and tuck into traditional Emilian specialities like tigelle montanare, tortelloni alle ortiche and torta di riso. And drink a toast to the region’s great gastronomy with a zesty, frothy glass of local frizzante.



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