In a country renowned for its home cooking, Emilia Romagna is the region that stands out even among Italians for its soul-satisfying dishes. It is also the birthplace of many foods that lie at the heart of Italian cuisine and that are the most famous outside of Italy: tortellini, prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar, and “The King of Cheeses,” Parmigiano-Reggiano, to name a few. Massimo Bottura, a world-renowned chef from Modena, has said that balsamic vinegar runs through his veins and that his muscles are made of Parmigiano-Reggiano!
The CNN original series around Italian food - Searching for Italy - hosted by Stanley Tucci, highlighted Bologna and the Food Valley of Italy. Get inspired.
While Bologna is known as the food capital of Italy, Tucci discovered culinary wonders throughout the area.
At Tourissimo we believe that you cannot explore and understand the gastronomy of a region without considering its history, culture, landscape, and climate. And on our Emilia Romagna Chef Bike Tour we want to go further. From spa towns with healing thermal waters to the splendid Apennines, we ride to taste, and we taste to understand. We’ll nourish our body and mind and we'll discover the soul of Italy.
The riding is different each day, with a varied landscape that stretches between the Po River and the Apennines. We’ll pass small villages that are rich in history and vitality and view several hilltop castles, each with a story to tell. The rides are fully supported and participants can ride just part of the stage.
Tabiano - 20 miles - Hilly
After an airport transfer we arrive at our hotel in Tabiano, a restored medieval castle that was built on the ruins of an old Roman settlement. We’ll enjoy a light lunch, make introductions and go over the details of the tour. After lunch there will be a bike fitting and warmup ride over small, rolling hills in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains. Spend the afternoon at the hotel’s spa, lounging by the pool or just taking in the stunning views.
Dinner is at the hotel in “The Old Dairy” which used to be a cheese factory that produced Parmigiano-Reggiano for over 200 years.
Dish of the stage: torta fritta and spalla cotta
Tabiano - Reggio Emilia - 28 or 48 miles - Hilly
After breakfast, we leave the province of Piacenza and enter the province of Parma. The riding is relaxing on mostly secondary roads. This area is known for its cured meats, including Prosciutto di Parma, and of course for the famous Parmigiano-Reggiano, known as the “King of Cheese.” Our lunch in Torrechiara - a site known for its impressive castle - will include these local specialties.
Hilltops dotted with fortresses and castles surround us and hold stories of fascinating people, such as Matilde di Canossa, a powerful feudal ruler of Tuscany.
We’ll end our ride in the countryside of Reggio Emilia in Roncolo, to be precise, and we settle in at the Venturini Baldini Wine Estate. Enjoy the peaceful site and the pool before getting ready for a hands-on cooking experience. Venturini Baldini is one of the most important wine producers in this province (mostly Lambrusco in its several variants - try the rosè) and their hospitality is unparalleled. We are at the very center of the so-called "Food Valley of Italy" and for good reasons. We’ll have the opportunity to work hands-on with the ingredients to make our own pasta. Federica, along with the local chef and all of you will create a memorable dinner. There’s no better place to learn about pasta making and the tradition of "la sfoglia" than in the region of Emilia Romagna!
Dish of the stage: Fresh Pasta
This morning we’ll stop at Fattoria Rossi, a dairy farm from the 1800’s, to learn more about the process of making Parmigiano-Reggiano. The nearby town of Bibbiano is said to be the place where the cheese was created at least 900 years ago.
The “King of Cheese" is one of the pillars of Emiliana traditional cuisine. You’ll find out that it is often used but never abused. There’s not much room for creativity or distortions - unless you hold at least one Michelin star - and it’s usually served over pasta, as one of the ingredients of the pasta filling and nowadays as an appetizer served in chunks and drizzled with real balsamic vinegar. We are sure that Federica will tell you everything there is to know about its best use!
The last part of the ride is short but hilly. We'll spend the afternoon at our hotel, which is also an agriturismo and resort with a spa and infinity pool overlooking the Modena hills. They produce their own wine and balsamic vinegar on-site. We’ll visit the traditional balsamic vinegar aging rooms to learn about the history, tradition, and elaborate production process of this unique product. It’s slow to make and surely not economical, but no one around here would ever dream of cutting corners when it comes to traditional balsamic vinegar!
Dish of the stage: Parmigiano Reggiano
Modena hills – 20 or 30 miles - Rolling
Today is the day of fast cars and slow food! We'll ride a loop around the hills of Modena and Maranello, home of Ferrari, before arriving at the iconic museum where you will have time to admire both the race cars and the historical collection of production cars, as well as learn about Enzo Ferrari and his philosophy around work ethic, car racing, and big dreams. Note that this activity is optional and you can choose to stay at the hotel and enjoy the pool and spa.
The group will come together again for a quick visit to the wine cellar followed by a cooking class. In this peaceful setting in the Emilia hills, glass in your hands, you’ll learn the secrets of some of the iconic dishes of the region such as the tortelli.
Dish of the stage: Tortelli
Today will be a challenging day, riding up towards the Apennines of Bologna. We are rewarded with changing scenery and a wealth of natural products. The day starts in the production area of ciliege di Vignola (Vignola cherries). The area began specializing in cherries around 200 years ago and the locals say that cherry season (May-July) represents the coming of summer. The cherries are sweet and thirst-quenching. They are packed with vitamin C, and studies have shown that they can improve one’s mood and blood circulation. You can test that out for yourself by sampling the cherries during our regroups! As we climb towards Porretta Terme we leave the cherries behind and instead find more oak trees and mostly chestnut forests. In June the smell in the air of chestnut trees blooming is so sweet, and we’ll be accompanied by this enchanting scent for most of the way up. Though not as well-known as other products from the area, we want to pay homage to the chestnuts which for generations (especially during times of famine and war) provided the base for healthy food for the families of this area. Porretta Terme is known for its thermal waters and our hotel has a beautiful spa. Chef Franco Santoli will present his dishes made exclusively with local ingredients and by following the traditional recipes of the Bologna Apennines. Do you want to help out?
Dish of the stage: Tagliatelle ragu’ or mushroom
Our last ride will wind along the Appennino Bolognese to take us to the city of Bologna. We leave our hotel in the morning to immerse ourselves in a gorgeous landscape up in the forest and down along Lake Suviana. We continue downward along the Reno River Valley to Sassomarconi where we stop for lunch in a typical trattoria to refuel before the afternoon climb on the Colli Bolognesi road, loved by the local cyclists. A final descent into Bologna will lead us straight to the hotel, leaving us some time to enjoy the city during its golden hour. Bologna is a city known for good living and is packed with history, art and culture. It is, of course, a foodie capital and the center of this region's farming and animal husbandry, and its province boasts so much diversity from the Po Valley to the Apennines. If you look back, all of this has been part of our journey.
Take time to explore its many facets after checking in to our centrally-located hotel.
Dinner will be a celebratory affair featuring traditional dishes at one of our favorite locations in Bologna, which is also a staple name in the Bologna food scene.
Dish of the stage: Tortellini in brodo
Nestled between the Alps and the Apennines, Emilia-Romagna owes a great deal to the unique nature of its territory when it comes to explaining its rich culinary tradition, which is often revered as one of the finest in Italy. The Po River, which runs across the whole of the region, marks the boundary between the fertile soil of the Pianura Padana Valley, the agricultural heart of northern Italy, and the gentle curves of the pre-Apennines on the border with Toscana. Following the course of the Po, the east of the region opens widely onto the Adriatic Sea with a low and uniform coastline and shallow waters.
Once marshland, the Pianura Padana is today one of the most fertile areas of the country following a long history of cultivation. Perhaps the first to spot the enormous agricultural potential of the region were the Romans, who made it a key center for the empire’s food production. Often dubbed ‘the food valley’, it is abundant in cereal crops and cattle rearing and home to some of the most renowned food producers in the country.
While institutionally one, from a cultural and gastronomical point of view Emilia-Romagna is in fact two. The sub-region of Emilia, which lies along an ancient Roman trading route, stretches from the western tip of the region with the cities of Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Ferrara dotted around it like jewels in a crown. It is known for its solid, rich and indulgent cuisine, heavily based on pork and animal fats thanks to the Lombard (a Germanic tribe) domination of the region. It is also equally revered for being naturally effortless in its sophistication, something that the Renaissance court tradition has left as an indelible mark. In the words of Pellegrino Artusi, nineteenth century author of The Science of Cooking and the Art of Fine Dining: "When you come across the Cucina Emiliana (Emilia’s cuisine), take a bow, because it deserves it."
In the western part of the region, from Bologna to the Adriatic coast, lies Romagna. Here, unlike in Emilia, the Byzantine heritage influenced many aspects of Romagna’s culture; it is still evident in the stunning churches and mosaics of the city of Ravenna and in the prominence of terracotta-based cooking methods. Influenced more by the closeness of the sea than by the aristocratic tradition of the courts, Romagna’s gastronomic tradition is simpler and closer to the land, but just as varied and deep as its counterpart in Emilia.