Bologna is brilliant - it’s full of amazing food and wine, lovely buildings, rich sculptures, dozens of kilometres of atmospheric collonades and, by the time we leave - herds and herds of tourists!
To miss the crowds we’ve taken an early morning tour to see the yummy glisteningly fresh food in the market; the sensational St Petronius gothic cathedral; the ancient seven church complex; the towers, the shops and the food (again!).
By now the city is filling up and although it’s been a fab experience, we’re tired and a bit jaded and ready to leave.
Just an hour later we are warmly greeted by the whole young family at Zuffa vineyard - including Valentina and her beautiful 6 month old daughter Sylvia. The mood and our energy levels change immediately. Now we are in Romagna with real friends and the magic truly begins.
We walk around the vineyard with Augusto Zuffa, whose delicious health-giving wines have been attested to by the Italian government - they showcased them at EXPO2015. Now we have a big appetite for lunch and we are certainly not disappointed! First an enormous platter of antipasta delicacies is brought to the table with a big smile by Augusto’s sister Michela. And this is just the start, it’s followed by two types of delicious pastas hand made that morning, then a totally delicious semi-freddo dessert, yummy!
Naturally as this is a great vineyard there are wines to accompany the many delicacies. Twelve of them! The delicious organic wines include three sorts of sparkling wines, three dry whites, three rich reds and even dessert wines. Naturally we taste Augusto’s amazing Sangiovese honored at the expo and the ambrosia-like Albana late harvest loved by the Empress Galla Placidia.
It’s time for a walk and no better place than the close by lovely old hilltop walled city of Dozza with its massive castle created by Caterina Sforza over 600 years ago. Dozza has another attribute - every two years it is used as artist’s canvasses as invited painters turn up from all over Italy to paint murals on its house’s walls. It’s a fabulous art walk for everybody before we drive on to the next welcome.
In an hour or so we arrive at the Alloggio San Girolamo - a 18th century country house with an amazing view. Here Filippo welcomes us in perfect English and introduces us to the main man - his 2 year old son Diego, followed by Otto the dog two miscellaneous friendly cats and thence to the supremely comfortable bedrooms. A good sleep is on the way but not just yet! Time for an aperitif on the terrace before a stroll up to Longiano’s castle and the Dei Cantoni restaurant.
Food and wine again? Yes, naturally, but just a light welcome dinner tonight!
You have to get up early to make the most of Ottavia’s breakfast. Philippo’s mum makes all the cakes from a fruity applecake to a delicious chocolate cake made of ground almonds to a superb marscapone cheesecake. She also makes a mean yoghurt. Everything is organic. Naturally there are eggs and fruit and the rest plus great coffee and tea. Time for a walk.
Well, more precisely a tour of Longiano. We start with the tiny ornate jewel box theatre. With just 400 seats, it’s big enough to fulfil the village’s needs and the unique raising floor is used to make the theatre into a dance hall cum local festival venue. Now its known as one of the best in Italy for acoustics and many big tours start here. When the Jazz Club is held seats get taken out and are replaced by tables and chairs.
We find out that Longiano has many claims to fame including once as a pilgrimage site with over seventeen churches. Now it’s just a lovely place to live with a sensational castle cum modern art center which we’ll visit later.
But first something quite special - the museum of the territory. More precisely the housing place for attics full of local people’s treasures since 1945. Can you imagine? Farm machinery, Vespas and Lambrettas, pictures and films, household items, games, old furniture - everything! It’s difficult to drag ourselves away but the soaring historic medieval castle beckons. Beautiful castle, magnificent artworks astonishing views. Time for wine.
On the other side of the valley Mauro, his wife Manuela and their daughter Beatrice have been preparing for us! When we arrive in their biodynamic, organic vineyard with amazing views of the castle Mauro gives us a tour of his pride and joy - the vineyard the family together created from scratch. Mauro’s enthusiasm shines through his enthusiastic English so daughter Beatrice and our own Tamara (from another vineyard family) translate.
Now to Manuela’s pride and joy - her kitchen. Here she has created something very special for us to eat with the family’s wines. To start she has made Piadina with Squaquerone and Savor. Her Piadina flatbread has been made with her own special wheat, hand ground. Her Squaquerone fresh cream cheese has come this morning from a local farm but her Savor has taken her much longer to create - for days Manuela works with quarts of the vineyard’s grape must, stirring in apples, quinces, walnuts, figs, almonds and many other delicious fruits of the vineyard boiling it all down to make a sensational condiment - just right for Squaquerone.
With this we drink a very special dry white wine - Serenara created from the forgotten local grape - Famoso.
This morning Manuela has been in the property’s fields choosing and picking great bunches of the best wild herbs for her purpose. They are perfect and truly health-giving, never having seen chemicals - she reduces them down to be an amazingly tasty filling for a Piadina sandwich, which is on a platter with other delicacies. We try Mora Romagnolo local rare breed prosciutto, ditto salami, and a range of cheeses from Renato Brancaleoni the cheese affinateur just down the beautiful road. Renato has provided a tasty pit-aged cheese, a sharp local cheese aged in raspberry and a great goat’s cheese.
With this we drink a sensational Primo Segno - the family’s great Sangiovese wine with four Sangiovese type of grapes in it. Awe-inspiring.
Of course we can’t go without tasting Manuela’s light airy and eggy Ciambella cake with our espresso.
Another little walk is called for, so off we drive over the pretty hills to Santarcangelo di Romagna, a lovely country city with its own cathedral and a massive history.
Since pre Etruscan times Santarcangelo has graced the summit of Mount Jovis a rabbit-warren of catacombs now used for storing wine - very apt for a Slow Food city that dotes on great cooking, eating and drinking. And its cobbled streets and terraces provide a lovely relaxing stroll all the way to the gelateria. One can imagine how good this is - just think almond gelato with a thick layer of velvety pistacchio cream. And that’s only one flavour of the dozens of flavours on offer.
Culture shock is the order for the rest of the afternoon - compliments of the Mutoid Waste Company. On the banks of the Marecchia river the Mutoids have set up their camp. Complete with sculptures made out of cars and planes Mutonia is sensational.
Danilo and lovely efficient Susanna are waiting for us for a bigger dinner tonight at Dei Cantoni. We start with just a few bruschetta with lovely tasty toppings mushrooms tomatoes anchovies. Then we try an important local pasta - Passatelli. This very local delicacy is made of breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan nutmeg and lemon bound with an egg and then squeezed in strips into a wonderful rich broth. Adorable! The main course is a selection of roast and stuffed guinea fowl, pork and rabbit with a freshly picked salad and roast potatoes. Naturally there is a selection of desserts with coffee - and we have enjoyed the house Sangiovese throughout.
And so to bed.
Pascucci moved into their new premises in 1826 and carried on their ancient craft of coloring and printing adorable textiles by hand just like they always have. The best designers and artists vye with each other to create the ultimate in hand-printed materials. We were lucky to see the whole process at work. Whimsical designs abound - this is the ultimate in soft furnishing!
To prepare ourselves for the two big events of the day we take a walk along the fishing port. Not your usual fishing port but one assayed by Leonardo da Vinci no less. With its Venetian architecture, ancient ships and sails and mirror-glass harbour Cesenatico is resplendant. The duo of Cesare (Borgia) and Leonardo have come up with a masterpiece again.
And a masterpiece of a different kind is our lunch. We are eating at La Casina agriturismo restaurant where Valentina Valentini greets us. All the surrounding land is owned by the Valentini family and it is these fertile acres that provide our enormous lunch.
First a great platter is brought to the table - wonderful cuts of different dried meats from their own herds, delicious bruschettas and sublime cheeses - all Valentini produce.
Naturally by now the table is laden with Valentini produced wines.
And then three types of their own hand created pastas were brought to the table - Tagliatelli with their own special meat sauce, Capelletti stuffed with cream cheese and covered with thyme and crispy prosciutto and Strozzapreti with spinach and a nutty vegetable sauce. Yummy!
We make a good impression on the pastas but there is more to come. The main course is the family speciality - their own perfectly grilled meats, a massive plate of them with sensationally delicious roast potatoes and an array of grilled vegetables.
Nearly over... just a selection of desserts to come followed by coffee and the family-produced ‘Digestivos’ Limoncello, Liquirizia and Banane!
It’s time for a walk so we’re off to meet Cinzia in Ravenna. Cinzia’s speciality is time-travelling and no sooner have we joined her in Theodoric’s imperial complex than she’s taken us back over 1500 years. We see staggeringly old but new-looking mosaics in the basilica of Sant Apolinare Nuovo. Then in the equally old Saint Francis complex we see more stunning mosaics and meet Dante the father of Italian literature in a more modern era (his bones were buried here in 1321).
Back in time again as we visit the church built to emulate Istanbul’s Aghia Sofia - this is imperial Rome’s San Vitale basilica built by Emperor Justinian in his western capital - Ravenna. It is truly sensational - particularly the amazingly lifelike mosaics.
Now for the place that inspired great human beings from Carl Jung to Lord Byron to Gianni Versacce - the unbelievably tear-jerkingly beautiful mausoleum of Empress Galla Placidia. It even inspired Cole Porter to write Night and Day.
It’s not possible to describe the mosaics here or their effect. It is simply momentous. No wonder it is a world heritage treasure.
Time for a gelato before we make our way back to our Italian country house and Filippo, Lisa and the family.
Here a former convent with a stunning chapel have been made into a real cathedral to good food and drink. And it is here that we are to learn to make pasta from its basic raw materials - flour and eggs. To assist us we have a very big rolling pin, a knife and a Mariette (a local mother well-versed in pasta making and trained by Artusi).
In the end we are all successes - we’ve made 17 different types of pasta each and have got a certificate to prove it. Plus we’ve had a massive amount of fun and we’ve learnt a new skill.
But how to celebrate? Why not a double celebration? First a lunch in Casa Artusi’s celebrated restaurant, followed by a wine tasting at another wonderful vineyard.
The lunch started with a red cabbage soup of a glorious red, followed by a duo of delicious pastas, followed by a plate of the most beautifully cooked local seasonal vegetables. All, of course paired with great wines from a local vineyard and followed by astonishing desserts.
And our second treat - a great winetasting in the beautiful historic vineyard where our lunch wines came from. Fattoria Paradiso was created around a medieval gentleman’s estate and is truly beautiful -all a vineyard should be. We take a walk among the peacocks, a visit to the fabulous wine collection in the cellar and then taste a dozen wines. The wines are very very good. Here wines are created for presidents, popes and movie stars. Notable clients include Danny Kaye, Ronald Reagan and Pope John - and, of course, us!
Naturally we have a celebratory dinner and the next day after a lovely sleep - we say our goodbyes - particularly to Diego and Otto!
Many thanks to our lovely travel agents who joined us on days of exploration - we ran three small trips this spring with a maximum of four travel agents on each. So thanks to Nancy Moody and Melanie Loomis, Carolyn Penny and Dixie McCoulsky; Lesa and Darryl Whited and Verena and Ken Wilson; Dale Strong, Joanne and Michael Shaw.
Did we all enjoy amazing sights and scenes and meals? Yes!
Did we all see many groups of tourists? No! Did we stand in line? No
Did we all have an experience that was kindly and warm hearted? Yes!
Would we all do it all again? DEFINITELY!
You could come on a FAM trip like this too! Find out more HERE