My time in the beautifully glamorous Italian Lakes and Tuscany, detailed in Part One of My Italian Odyssey: The Lakes and Tuscany, had sadly come to an end and it was time to pull myself away and 'solidier' on through my Italian road trip on to the seriously under-rated Emilia Romagna followed by the timeless Rome, and boy did my stomach get one treat after the other..!
Emilia Romagna...Food, Glorious, Food!
Emilia Romagna is one of the most underrated regions of Italy (although Umbria and Abruzzo fight for the title) and takes you right to the heart (or stomach) of what Italy is most famous for... food. This is the home of Verdi, Balsamic Vinegar, cosy Enoteca's, and tasty Piadine's filled with locally made meat and cheese - what's not to love? Even if you are just passing through on your way to Tuscany, a stop at Antica Corte Pallavacina for lunch won't disappoint- a rural idyll with 11 rooms and two fantastic restaurants filled with produce from its kitchen garden. Your host Giovanni (think Mario and Luigi's brother) will take you on a tour of the farmhouse cellars where hundreds of Culatello hang being primed and wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano glint at you. Whilst the accompanying 'porky' smell does not go unnoticed, you are flooded with a genuine and wholesome feeling of real local Italy.
Bologna, the region's capital, teems with life and even on a rainy Saturday afternoon, you can't fail to amuse yourself by meandering through its winding quadrants off the Piazza Maggiore, dipping and diving between Enoteca's and Deli's sampling morsels of ham or Squacquerone cheese. This city has the western world's oldest university as well as the Gelato University, where true aficionados, or those looking for a career change, can learn to taste Gelato like wine. Currently fennel and mortadella is the Gelato flavour of the month! With a largely pedestrianised centre, Bologna's slow pace makes it the perfect place for an amble, past pretty historic facades, excellent shops and it is blissfully (almost) tourist-free. The Grand Hotel Majestic nestled on the Via dell'Indipendenza makes for a great base for exploring the city and the region as a whole. Bologna is well linked by train to Florence which is just 40 minutes away and is a spring board for visiting Parma, Modena, Ferrara, Ravenna, San Marino and the Adriatic Coast.
Finally after 2000km of driving, we headed into the Eternal City. Having a local guide made navigating this hot, bustling hive a veritable breeze. It's hard to believe Rome is a functioning city with so much history present but it is the Roman way of life which was for me the most enviable part of this city. The humble Osteria's serving delicious Cacio e Pepe (try Da Felice), Aperitivo at the buzzy bars of Trastevere on a Friday night and the pretty streets of Monti with its little boutiques and bars like Urbana 47 spilling out onto the streets make this city truly Italian.