Our tour of Emilia-Romagna ended in the elegant and very pretty city of Ferrara. Without much of an agenda, we took it upon ourselves to wander about and let the city open itself up to us. After many days of travel and so much stimulation (and food!) it can be nice to walk aimlessly and just take it in. Ferrara was just the spot to do this and we delighted in the sights and sounds of the ancient city center (a UNESCO world heritage site, no less) with well dressed bicycle riders and buzzing cafes at every corner and even this elaborate umbrella installation, though you get the feeling it must rarely rain here.
Entering the town through the impressive Este Castle is a nice way to arrive, passing over the moat and marveling at the grandness of it all. One of Italy's most famous and influental filmmakers, Michelangelo Antonioni of L'Avventura and The Passenger fame, among others, called Ferarra home and was buried here upon his death.
Ferarra is surrounded by nearly six miles of walls built between the 15th and 16th century. Some of the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy, you could easily while away the afternoon strolling along. Or, do as the locals do and ride your way around and through town. Several spots in town rent bikes by the hour or day.
Our second stop in Emilia-Romagna was to the largest city and capital, Bologna. Let me tell you: it was fun! Nicknamed "la grassa", the fat one, Bologna offers many a tasty treat. Full of life and a world removed from that peaceful beauty, Ravenna. Oh, it's beautiful here, too, don't get me wrong, but there is a different kind of energy brewing in this old city and you can feel it. We stayed (where else!) a smidge outside the city center and enjoyed a twenty minute stroll into the chaotic and lively old town. Arriving on a Saturday night offered an exciting introduction to the city's large and well restored historic center and having a full day on Sunday to stroll about leisurely was pretty great, too.
There is much to see and eat here in Bologna, as one might imagine. The center is lined with attractive butchers and alimentari shops offering really high quality proscuitto and local cheeses. Some are a bit on the pricy side, but it is still possible to make a glorious picnic at a reasonable price. What we know as bologna in the US is derived from the far more glamorous and tasty mortadella. Can you believe the USDA forbids visible lard in our bologna? For shame! Grab some of the real deal here and prepare to be amazed at this tasty salume. If you'd rather not turn into 'la grassa' yourself, consider walking up the ten million stairs leading to the top of the Asinelli Tower. It is a hike, indeed, narrow and steep, plus it costs a few Euro, but even this cheap, lazy gal will say 'go for it!'. The sweeping views from the top are their own reward and then you won't feel so bad when you drink two bottles of Lambrusco later in the evening, as if I could ever feel bad about that!
From where we were staying, the lovely Fontana di Nettuno greeted us as we entered the center. Quite the greeting indeed! Located in the open Piazza Maggiore, Neptune oversees all including the nymphs spraying water from their breasts. This is one sexy fountain and like the saying goes, a sexy fountain deserves some sexy gelato. Lucky for you I have just the place!
When you are lucky enough to be on a long trip full of (hopefully) delicious food, it's easy to feel a sort of decision making fatigue. Feeling weary about our next choice after the wonderful, pasta-filled dinners in Spello, we decided to take a step off the beaten path and go in a new direction. Dangerous as this may be for those predisposed to culinary disappointment, L'Acciuga stood out among the many, many typical trattoria's in town by focusing not on the usual but on fresh Adriatic seafood. With a name like L'Acciuga (anchovy) you'll have a pretty good idea of what's in store. We ate here on a busy Friday night with every seat in the house taken. It's a fun restaurant with a submarine inspired dining room complete with portholes and aquariums. This place is fish only, which works for us. Have I mentioned I am a fan of seafood? It's true!
We started the night off right with this moderately priced DOCG Albana di Romagna. Made with the Albana grape from Emilia-Romagna, this is not an overly popular wine but it should be (keep your eyes peeled!). Crisp, tart and mineral, this reminded me of the Greco we enjoyed in Spello. At 12€ this proved to be a wise choice and perfectly complemented each of our dishes. The limited menu this evening offered only five items of which we ordered all but one.
This tartar was an elegant start to a light fish dinner. Perfectly diced bits of buttery amberjack (aka yellowtail) was bound with a bit of olive oil and little else. Contrasting the sweet, raw fish was a little mâché and frisée salad dressed in a bright olive oil and lemon dressing. The spicy Dijon emulsion really brought this dish to life and we were reminded of another time we were surprised and delighted at the raw fish/mustard combo. There could not have been a better dish to enjoy with our wine (or so we thought!).
Ravenna is an easy city to love. This was my first time in Emilia-Romagna and our furthest point North on this trip. Being so close to the Adriatic Sea, you are bound to find some amazing seafood, not to mention the tasty local wine. This graceful town will make you feel like life is easy, spent eating gelato, gazing at beautiful mosaics, sipping fine Sangiovese and snacking at cafes. This isn't entirely accurate, I am sure, but it is fun to stroll or ride about, carefree and content, and imagine what it might be lIke to stay here forever! After spending time in peaceful Umbria, this will feel super metropolitan. This is an ancient city, though, accepted it into the Roman Republic in 89 BC. Set foot in any of the eight UNESCO heritage sites and you are going to feel the age.
About 10€ will grant you admission to most of these sights. As difficult as it is to imagine making even the tiniest of mosaics in this manner, let alone cover the walls of several buildings, prepare to be amazed when you gaze up at these incomprehensible works of Byzantine art. Made with millions of tiny tiles, or tesserae, it is pretty remarkable to witness their intricacy in person. It is hard to describe and even harder to capture on film. The amount of time and number of people needed to complete these stunning works would be unthinkable today and it is amazing these have been so well preserved.
We spent several days in this beautiful city and on our first day purchased the combined ticket (valid one week) to five sights. If you have the time to try for a quiet portion of the day, you will be rewarded with solitude. If, for example, there is a large group of screaming school kids ahead of you, you might want to keep strolling and return at a more mellow hour.
Every once in a while you might be lucky enough to have a meal which displays such skill and value, you decide to eat at said spot for multiple meals. I like to think I have a pretty good gauge for this repeat meal decision making, though it can still be a struggle. There are so many places/specialties/styles of food to try! So, the choice is yours. For me, when I have a great and affordable meal, particularly when the service is gracious and kind and the food outstanding, I am apt to make another reservation. This decision will undoubtedly become easier if you have had a less than delicious meal elsewhere in town.
La Cantina di Spello is a prime example repeat dining as it's best and most necessary. Though I wanted to eat here from the get go, we arrived in town the only night closed, Monday. Sadly, this led to a disappointing (and therefore expensive) dinner across the street from here. We lucked out the following night when, without a reservation, we were able to score a seat at the communal table in the entryway. Never mind the adjacent dining room with it's stunning stonework and candles twinkling, you are going to eat beautifully sitting right here. The group of charming men eating next to you will make it known this is the best table in the house. They'd know, too, as this is where these gents eat each night (table 14). When they share their limoncello with you after dinner, you'll be inclined to agree. Enough of this, let's talk food and vino, we enjoyed plenty of both! As much as I'd like you all to think this is one dinner (and to be able to afford such a dinner) this is a combined review of two dinners.
The wine list here features the specialties of the area and is fantastic and well priced. This list compelled us to move past our usual house wine/vini sfusi tendencies. Our first bottle was made from the crisp Grechetto bianco grape. At 11€, this organic bottle was a steal and would be higher in the US, to be sure. This wine was a great match for our starters and really brought out new notes in both the food and wine. That's what it's all about, right?