Last year 6 Ladies from New York State had visited Romagna with Vagabond Travel and Best of Romagna - they had a whale of a time. So this spring Saturday, another 11 ‘Vagabond Gals’ arrived in Bologna determined to surpass their friends' enjoyment levels.
Two were to arrive in Bologna from Rome, two from Paris and the remaining 7 from Milan. Quite a complicated pick up, but we were soon all together and on our way. After the short drive to the hills we were all checked into our country houses and ready for a rest before the night’s events.
Marisa owns and runs the fabulous Art Deco Casa Grilli in beautiful Longiano. Her primary aim is to put so much love into her hospitality that you can taste it! She had been working all day to prepare a special welcome party and at 6 on the dot the gals were there - ready to enjoy their evening. Naturally, stopping at nothing, Marisa had prepared an aperitif repast beyond compare. Trays and trays of delicious freshly-prepared snacks, bottles of wines and juices. Simply a feast before dinner!
The gals who were staying in the other country house had already been treated to lovely Filippo’s warm hospitality aided by his little son Diego, they were now regaled by the warmth, the hugs the food and wine of Marisa.
On Sunday after sensational breakfasts, we were to explore our base - The historic hilltop town of Longiano. First a visit to the local theatre’s mask museum with its display of ‘Comedia del Arte’ statues - then a very different experience - the community museum. Here precious items from many homes in the town are displayed. The collection covers hundreds of years and its a true delight - from Vespa mopeds, pop music vinyl from the ‘50’s, film posters to ancient agricultural machinery - the lot.
Then we visited the town’s highest point. Not only is the new castle (built on an earlier one in the 13th century) the home for one the characters in Dante’s Inferno and full of history and tales, but it’s also the home to an amazing modern art collection.
Then we went to lunch - and our first wine tasting. Off to see Mauro, Manuela and Beatrice at the fabulous organic, biodynamic, boutique vineyard - Villa Venti. Now perched on another hill with outstanding panoranic views, we took the Villa Venti experience! Great food created by Manuela included perfectly aged local cheeses, delightful meats and sublime breads, made by Manuela from scratch - she even grew the wheat and ground it to flour. Of course the wines paired with our courses were sublime.
Now a little surprise. Roncofreddo is another ancient hill town a few kilometres from Villa Venti. Today was it’s big spring festival - the Pea Festival and we were off to enjoy the fun. What a pity it rained but at least we enjoyed amazing gelato!
Back to Longiano to dry out and get ready for dinner.
After our less-than-spring experience we needed some soul food and there’s nothing better than Passatelli in Brodo - an amazing confection of breadcrumbs, parmesan, lemon and nutmeg all in an amazingly rich broth. This was followed by our main course and dessert and washed down by great local wines. A great end to a wonderful day.
Already we’d eaten some amazing food and drunk superb wines. On Monday we were to get up close and personal with Romagna cuisine. Off to the legendary Casa Artusi to learn all about Italian food and to learn to cook it!
First a talk and a couple of demonstrations, then sleeves were rolled up, aprons were donned and we learned to create 7 fabulous pastas from just flour and eggs, a big rolling pin and a big knife. Naturally we were under the constant eye of head chef Carla and each pair of gals had the help of their own trained assistant.
First our own pasta with its paired wine - then a massive array of glorious local produce. Cheeses from parmesan to ricotta, prosciuttos, fruits and salads, breads and jams and sauces and naturally desserts. Wow!
Time for a walk and then to a surprise...
Cesena is s pretty, tranquil city nowadays, with a stunning main square alongsite its 13th century fort. It has one world heritage treasure - its library. The first public library in the world. Opened in 1454 this is a real stunner unbelievably atmospheric and with glorious laboriously-created hand-illustrated ancient books on display.
Next, another surprise specially arranged for our gals. Leonardo Lucchi has his studio in an historic building in Cesena’s centre. He is a well known Italian sculptor and our gals are going to meet him and have a personal tour look of his work. What a lovely afternoon!
Naturally a stop was made for gelato before we enjoyed a quiet (well not so quiet!) evening in Longiano.
Longiano’s theatre is famous throughout Italy. It’s beautiful, it’s small (just 200 seats), it’s historic, but above all it has amazing acoustics. So, often, superb shows start their run in Longiano. We’re here to have a private tour, enjoy the acoustics and get the photo opportunities!
Many photo opportunities later we leave for the hills and our first stop was the mountaintop Republic of San Marino. Walking, looking, sightseeing and big time shopping. The gals were nearly exhausted so a little tranquility was called for.
Hilltop, historic San Leo is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy and with its amazing views, ancient cathedral and lovely setting. - it has tranquillity in spades. Just exploring and taking in the atmosphere leaves us all happy and serene!
Time for an aperitivo! We went back to Santarcangelo’s main square, scene of all its festas, for a drink and a vast variety of freshly made snacks plus a great deal of fun.
Tonight we’d organised a special fish and veggie dinner in Longiano with great wine - delicious. But it was to be our last dinner in this pretty town because tomorrrow we were off to somewhere very special indeed.
Byebye Filippo, byebye Diego and Marisa. Special surprise today was a visit to two hand-printing studios producing fabulous materials with a combination of 400-year old block processes and modern artists.
Then we were off to Faenza the city that was so well known five hundred years ago. Why? Because of its wonderful porcelain - even known now as Faience-ware - simply every royal family had to have it. And, as we could see from Faenza’s streets and piazzas the porcelain’s global fame brought riches back home.
Amazing platters of starters, superb pastas, great wines, delicious barbequed roasts and delightful desserts regaled us, lucky we were off for a walk in the hills.
The Venetian settlement of Brisighella ia a very special place. Its position on a hill of gypsum has ensured its wealth over the centuries. The fact is that the gypsum provides a particular microclimate - absolutely perfect for growing olives. Naturally we tasted some of the best olive oil ever.
And then we went to Ravenna a massive world heritage city. 2000 years ago it was the Eastern port of Rome, 1600 years ago both the capital of Rome and of the Gothic empire. And still now ram-packed full of historic treasure. It’s very special.
Checked in at our boutique hotel our gals explored!
On Thursday we took a walk around the city and its lovely boutiques, pretty streets and cafes. A little light lunch before the main event - an in-depth experience with our personal guide, Cinzia, to see the amazing 1500-year old mosaics and the stunning basilicas.
After a rest and aperitivo, off to another Michelin restaurant - L’Acciugga for a top fish dinner!
After a glorious day of shopping and relaxing on Saturday were off to the big city.
First, though, a wine tasting and lunch stop at the organic Zuffa vineyard, where our warm welcome from Augusto, Valentina, Micaela and little Sylvia gave us all a great feeling about the hospitality to come!
The tour of the vineyard completed, we sat down to taste Augusto’s wines naturally accompanied by great food, delicious antipastas, amazing pastas and desserts were accompanied by no less than a dozen tastes of his memorable wines. Even the wines that were selected by the Italian government for Expo 2015. A totally delicious experience.
We'll be back!