Compared with Italy’s more famous tourist attractions, Emilia-Romagna, the region in central Italy just north of Tuscany and south of Lombardy and the Veneto, has hovered under the radar. But in recent years, its excellent cuisine, generous hospitality and the art cities of Parma, Modena, Bologna and Ravenna have won over increasing numbers of travelers.
The area around Modena offers something else, particularly if you’re a fan of performance cars. Known as terra dei motori (land of motors), it is the birthplace of racing icons Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati Motorcycles (in Bologna) as well as the smaller racecar manufacturers Stanguellini, De Tomaso, Pagani and Bugatti.
If you love fast cars as well as the rewards of the slow lane—such as long lunches and meandering country roads—there is no better vacation destination in the world. That seemingly irreconcilable combination is only the most salient of Emilia-Romagna’s many singular qualities.
Like much of the rest of Italy, food and wine are a source of pride to the region, which comprises two historic provinces—Emilia to the north and west of Bologna, and Romagna to the south and east. Bounded by the Adriatic Sea on the east and the Apennines on the west, Emilia-Romagna’s long tradition of farming and artisanal food production fuels such regional specialties as Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto di Parma, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and various categories of wine.
“Fast cars are in our DNA,” says Cristina Guizzardi of the Lamborghini Museum. “This was a poor area after World War II and as a result it produced great farmers and great technicians.”
The Land of Motors
Roughly in the center of Emilia-Romagna, the city of Modena is the best base from which to visit terra dei motori. You’ll find Maserati, while Lamborghini is about 20 minutes away in Sant’Agata and Ferrari is 30 minutes away in Maranello. The factories are closed to the public and test drives are for trade only, but there are excellent museums and exhibits.
Maranello is also home to the popular Galleria Ferrari. The Lamborghini Museum showcases classic models and a fascinating collection of concept cars—designs that were never put in full production. Maserati doesn’t have an official museum, but on the outskirts of Modena there is a collection of Umberto Panini’s classic Maseratis on the grounds of his Hombre Parmigiano Reggiano organic farm. Also in Modena is the Museo Stanguellini with a collection of classic sportsters. And if you love motorcycles, don’t miss a tour in English of the Ducati plant and museum.
If you are planning a visit to Emilia-Romagna you can do it in style by renting a luxury car for the duration of your visit. Tour operator Modenatur can arrange for a lease of a current Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini model or can secure a classic Italian car from the 1950s or 1960s. The company can also organize tours, in English, of the many sports car destinations and museums to be seen in the Modena area.
What to eat
Emilia-Romagna is one of the best places on earth for eating. That’s no exaggeration. In a country known for its food, many regions claim to have the best, but Emilia-Romagna most often wins the title.
Pasta is taken very seriously (and rigorously hand-kneaded). Both Bologna and Modena claim to have invented tortellini, the region’s trademark pasta dish. Pork is much loved here too; the best-known pork product is prosciutto di Parma, the famous air-cured ham whose distinctive flavor is said to derive from the cheesemaking byproducts fed to the happy pigs. Parmigiano Reggiano is another product famous the world over; this hand-formed cow’s milk cheese is aged between 12 and 24 months so it can achieve its characteristic nutty, sweet flavor. And then there’s Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, made fromgrape juice that is aged in wooden barrels, much like wine. If you buy balsamic vinegar, make sure the word “tradizionale” appears on the bottle. It is used to flavor a wide array of foods; drops are sprinkled over Parmigiano, fresh fruit and even vanilla ice cream.
What to drink
Rivals Emilia and Romagna consider themselves separate cultural entities and nowhere are their differences more evident than in their wine traditions. Emilia has Lambrusco, which is recognized internationally, while Romagna makes excellent wines that few people have ever heard of.
Many locals prefer to pair buttery tortellini dishes with bubbly red Lambrusco; its high acidity keeps the palate clean and fresh—the quality is often far better than wine made for export in years past. Regional wines can be tried at the Enoteca Regionale Emilia-Romagna in Dozza, near Imola.
The rolling hills that gradually meet the sandy shores of Rimini and the Adriatic coast are home to high-density vineyards and high-tech wineries. International varieties thrive in this sunny land, along with Sangiovese di Romagna, with distinct notes of cherry fruit and spice and unique saline or mineral tones from the nearby coastline.
Members of the Convito di Romagna, an association of producers, are happy to organize winery tours and tastings if you make an appointment. Highlights include the wines of Tre Monti, Agricola Ferrucci, Calonga, Poderi Morini, Fattoria Zerbina, Drei Donà Tenuta La Palazza, San Patrignano and San Valentino.
Emilia-Romagna offers touring itineraries spanning sixth to first gear: One minute you’re whip-lashed in g-force acceleration and the next you are quietly contemplating the gelatinous drips of 25-year-old Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.
E-R Dining Guide
The area around Modena boasts wonderful restaurants. Here are some to keep in mind while you tour.
Caffé Concert: A hip showcase for regional food and wine. Chic without being pretentious.
Hosteria Giusti: Book weeks in advance. Giusti is a boutique grocery that closes down for lunch (and dinner) to become a five-table restaurant. Wonderful food, wine and atmosphere.
L’Erba del Re: Traditional Emiliano fare with distant Tuscan influences. Thebest suckling pig ever.
Osteria di Rubbiara: Excellent homemade food and a colorfully cantankerous owner.
Osteria della Sghisa: Run by a troupe of young, enterprising gastronomes bent on having a good time.
Ristorante Cavallino: Across the street from the Ferrari factory, frequented by both Ferrari staff and Ferrari enthusiasts.
Ristorante Montana: No fixed menu but enough pasta dishes and carbohydrates to power any driver’s engine.
In Castrocaro Terme
La Frasca: Has earned top honors thanks to its careful selection of primary ingredients and elegant presentation.
In Santarcangelo Di Romagna
La Sangiovesa: A must-see wine bar and eatery that serves heaping plates of handmade pastas.