Tag Archives: Emilia-Romagna

Escape to Emilia-Romagna

8 Jun
The heat built fast in Roma. Ten days prior we were putting on our fleece jackets in the morning because it was cold in the apartment, but by the time my brother and sister-in-law arrived June 1, that was no longer a problem: it was getting warm. Luckily for us – if not for our cat sitters – we were leaving Roma. We also left behind the tourist hoards.
Lunch on the veranda at Corte d'Aibo is a family affair.

Lunch on the veranda at Corte d’Aibo is a family affair.

Heading to Emilia-Romagna on June 2 (the Festival of the Republic which celebrates the election in 1946 when the monarchy was rejected in favor of a republic), we left behind the Roma tourists only to find throngs of Italians. At least they were at lunch when we arrived at Agriturismo Corte d’AiboBut that was the holiday and the last day of the Italian four-day weekend. Continuing on to our mountain destination of Montese, we found ourselves the only tourists at the very pleasant Hotel Belvedere .
This is not your average balsamico. This is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, another thing entirely.

This is not your average balsamico. This is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, another thing entirely.

I found Hotel Belvedere and Corte d’Aibo thanks to Riccardo of Trekking Emilia-Romagna. Somehow my SIL Jane and I hit on going to E-R and hiking, and I was fortunate to stumble upon Riccardo’s company. He put together a great itinerary for us including a tasting and tour at an acetaio called Ca’ dal Non,  lunch at the agriturismo, and a guided hike through the mountains, which saw significant action in World War II. The arrangements also included our hotel, breakfasts and dinners. All we had to do was show up and sweat a little on the hike.
Stefano, foreground, explains a fountain in the mountains to Jane, Rick and Ric. Multiple basins allowed people to use one for drnking water, the next for washing, and a final one for watering livestock.

Stefano, foreground, explains a fountain in the mountains to Jane, Rick and Ric. Multiple basins allowed people to use one for drinking water, the next for washing, and a final one for watering livestock.

During our hike, we learned about the flora, fauna and history of the area. The Gothic Line was here, a place where Germany was making a last stance in the north of Italy as the Allied Armies, having fought their way north through the boot, bombed the heck out of them, and unfortunately, also bombed the Italian villages.
We met an older man – he said he was 80 – who upon learning we were Americans said, “The Germans went away, the Americans left, and now there are no porcini.” He was jesting, but memories are long: although we “liberated” the area, the old growth forest was destroyed by both the German occupiers and the liberating armies, so the treasured porcini no longer grow there. We chatted in Italian for a while and when we commented on his good health and energy (after all he was taking the same long hike that was wearing out us 60-somethings) he said “They gave me an organ donor card and I told them ‘take anything you want; none of it works anyway!’”
Ric in our woodsy picnic spot, an area frequented by families on Sundays. This one surrounded a church that commemorated the civilians killed in the area.

Ric in our woodsy picnic spot, an area frequented by families on Sundays. This one surrounded a church that commemorated the civilians killed in the area.

Stefano, our guide, was a font of information and knew the area well, having grown up nearby in the famous cherry town of Vignola. He speaks excellent English having lived in the U.S. (He loves Seattle!) We lugged along Parmegiano-Reggiano, salume, bread, and fruit for a picnic, along with local Lambrusco and a homemade crostata, all supplied by the hotel. At the end of the trek, my pedometer wrongly said the hike was about 8 km, Stefano said 11, my brother estimated 12. It felt like 18.
We were then treated to a tour of a caseificio or cheese factory at Dal Contadino.  This was a multi-generational farm operation producing the famous parmigiano-reggiano as well as ricotta, marmalade, and more. It was fun to visit a typical small family operation and see the incredible labor that goes into making this cheese. The artigianale beers they served with the cheese really hit the spot after hiking. If you ever get a chance to drink White Dog Beer, do it.
At the top of Mount Belvedere there is a monument honoring the 10th Mountain Division.

At the top of Mount Belvedere there is a monument honoring the 10th Mountain Division.

I have to say that, whatever the length, the trek barely dented the calories we were consuming. The kind owners of Hotel Belvedere looked after us well. Clean, comfortable rooms with good showers, incredible food from classic pastas for primi to roasted rabbit, pork and steak for secondi. They were also experts in recommending local wines to complement their food and served some of the best grappa around. Compare this with an American town of 3400 people where your choice of wine with dinner might be beer.
Montese has a castle dating back to the 13th century.

Montese has a castle dating back to the 13th century.

This was not high tourist season. In fact, it seems only August gets pretty busy. Otherwise Montese is off the radar of folks headed to more famous destinations. Nearby one can visit the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, the town of Modena, and even Parma is within reach.
After three nights we somewhat reluctantly said good-bye to Montese and the lovely folks at the hotel, as this was part one of a three-part trip. On to Lago di Garda!
Piazza in Montese, in front of the Hotel Belvedere.

Piazza in Montese, in front of the Hotel Belvedere.

We took one day away from Montese to journey to Maranello and the Ferrari Museum. Quite a collection!

We took one day away from Montese to journey to Maranello and the Ferrari Museum. Quite a collection!

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore

23 Jan
Iconic symbols of the city, dating back to the 12th or 13th century, there were once as many as 180 towers.

Iconic symbols of the city, dating back to the 12th or 13th century, there were once as many as 180 towers.

We’re not in Kansas Roma anymore. We stepped off the train in Bologna (pronounced “bow-LONE-ya”) and I thought perhaps we had left Italy entirely. In fact it looked like we had arrived in a newly constructed airport facility, but we were in the new “High Speed Bologna Centrale.”  There was a noticeable freshness to the facility, good signage, wide walkways, no cigarette butts, and plenty of escalators: until we reached the end of the new facility and had to lug our cases up a steep flight of depression-era station steps.
Bologna's high-speed train terminal. Clean, bright, chairs available! We're not in r\Roma any more.

Bologna’s high-speed train terminal. Clean, bright, chairs available! We’re not in Roma any more.

The differences between Bologna and Roma continued to astound us. Beautiful porticoes dating back centuries separate pedestrian traffic from automotive. Clean streets, no overflowing waste bins. People walk in more-or-less straight lines and keep to the right except to pass. Oncoming pedestrians do not block the sidewalks: they make way for you! This is truly not like Roma, where walking down the sidewalk is like a game of chicken and when you swerve to avoid an oncoming body, you may very well step in dog poop. 
Bologna is a lovely city if not one full of E-ticket sites. Sitting in the bread-basket of Italy, it is known for its cuisine and we worked hard at sampling as much of that as possible.
Another notable difference in Bologna: little or no double-parking and no one parks in the pedestrian crosswalks. In Roma there is hardly a pedestrian crosswalk that has not been turned into parking.
We had lovely weather, so rather than spend time indoors, we took a phenomenal urban trek, the Percorso della Madonna di San Luca. This is a walk of about 4 km (2.4 miles), 2.3 km of which is steadily uphill. The walk is entirely covered by the famous porticos of Bologna, and is the longest continuous section of portico-covered walkway in the world. There are 666 arches. In that final 2.3 km, the altitude gain is a respectable 722 feet (220m), a workout indeed! We were impressed by the number of people doing the percorso on a cold but sunny Sunday. Afterwards we of course rewarded ourselves with a fine tagliere and wine, accompanied by a salad for the health of it.
Many run up the 2 km. to the sanctuary. Show-offs.

Many run up the 2 km. to the sanctuary. Show-offs.

Interesting view showing inside and outside of the extraordinary covered walkway.

Interesting view showing inside and outside of the world’s longest covered walkway.

Not only does the path go up over 700 feet in altitude over 2.3 km, there are in excess of 300 stairs. Ugh!

Not only does the path go up over 700 feet in altitude over 2.3 km, there are in excess of 300 stairs. Ugh!

A view from the sanctuary looking toward the mountains of Emilia-Romagna.

A view from the sanctuary looking toward the mountains of Emilia-Romagna.

If I had seen this view before making the trek, I might not have done it. :-)

If I had seen this view before making the trek, I might not have done it. 🙂

The food was great, although we like Ligurian and Sicilian food better overall. But the Bolognese are justifiably proud of the quality of food. We had four meals there and each was a winner. We did not research restaurants ahead of time, but merely wandered into what looked good. One cannot do that everywhere. Of course we – actually Ric – ate mortadella, which is the Bologna delicacy that has been transformed into the unfortunate American “bologna.” And so the Oscar Meyer song is now stuck in my head. (Personally I am not a fan of either the Bolognese delicacy nor the American lunch meat.)
A typical Bolognese "tagliere" or cutting board of assorted salumi.  Mortadella on the left.

A typical Bolognese “tagliere” or cutting board of assorted salumi. Mortadella on the left.

Street performers are everywhere in Italy. Bologna is the first place we have seen bubble blowers. Kids had a great time running after them.

Street performers are everywhere in Italy. Bologna is the first place we have seen bubble blowers. Kids had a great time running after them.

Aperitivi are a huge thing in Bologna, like in Milano. The cafes are crowded even in winter.

Aperitivi are a huge thing in Bologna, like in Milano. The cafes are crowded even in winter.

The only fault we found with Bologna is that it’s a little lacking in charm. The porticoes that are elegant also make for a sameness. (Actually there was a second flaw: people still do not scoop the poop.) We will be back in June on a trek through the area, heading to the hills outside of Bologna for some hiking. We’ll see what she’s like in summer when the trees and flowers are blooming!
N.B. – I have decided to use Italian city names from now on, therefore Roma and Firenze not Rome and Florence. I think it is rather bizarre of any language to change a perfectly pronounceable city name from the original language, an idiosyncrasy driven home to me when my hometown of St. Paul Minnesota was referred to as “Sao Paolo” by an Italian bureaucrat.
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