Emilia-Romagna just might be my favorite region in all of Italy yet. I loved it even better than Tuscany. Of course I say that because I haven't yet been to Piedmont or Puglia. But I'm working on it!
I'm a geek for finding out where our food comes from and there's no other better classroom to learn about the roots of some of the greatest in Italian gastronomy than in the Emilia-Romagna itself. Here's a few things that originate in this region:
Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan from Parma
Prosciuitto or Parma Ham from Parma
Balsamico di Modena or balsamic vinegar from Modena
Bolognese or meat sauce from Bologna
Here's a poster I snapped a photo of in the Quadrilatero in Bologna. It shows the depth of gastronomic delights found in the Emilia Romagna region.
Obscurity in Regnano
We were shown around the surrounding hills of Regnano by Enrico, an impossible Italian who after a couple days of his company, we had fallen in love with. We climbed hills on our tiny Fiat 500 with Enrico at the wheel. We had no idea where we were and could not point where we were on a map. But we somehow ended up at this beautiful monastery. I loved surprises like this.
We were able to explore the hills and countryside around northwest of Emilia-Romagna because we had a car. I am not sure how easy it would be to explore without one.
When driving in Italy, keep in mind that most cars are small and they are oftentimes stick shift. They charge a premium for automatic. We had a Fiat 500 (the small one - not the Large or XL's you find in the US) and even with luggage, we managed fine.
Be mindful of traffic signals, speed limits and pedestrian only zones. A couple months later, we got an expensive traffic ticket in the mail. Cops might not be visible, but cameras and radar are out there, so beware!
We loved our stay with Mariapia and Mario in their home in the hills of Regnano. The house was beautifully decorated and had the modern comforts. The views were stunning as well.
But the best part about our stay was the integrating with gregarious, hospitable Italians and la dolce vita lived large. We dined with them every night (extra $), and we were served best, local cuisine made from scratch. I even learned how to make tagliatelle with Mario!
Here is a link to Mariapia and Mario's Airbnb. If you've never used Airbnb before, click here for a $25 discount.