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Trip Inspiration: The Via Emilia

Of the many innovations that allowed Roman civilization to expand so quickly and flourish for so long, perhaps the most important was their expansive network of roads that crisscrossed the Italian peninsula and connected to places as far-flung as Britain and Mesopotamia. Covering about 250,000 miles at the height of the Roman Empire, these routes were often paved, linear, and major arteries for moving troops, diplomats, and goods quickly and safely between Rome and its provinces.

via emilia
(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

A number of Roman highways still exist today, and one of the oldest and the most important is the Via Emilia (sometimes called the Aemilian Way), which runs northwest from Rimini to Piacenza across the region of Emilia-Romagna and recently celebrated 2,200 years since its foundation. A road trip along the ancient Via Emilia takes you past some of the most interesting small cities in the region, as well as its gourmet and automotive heart. Here are the highlights:

The Towns


The Roman modus operandi for expanding their empire was to construct a road through a new territory shortly after it was conquered, lining it with military camps that would eventually become colonies before expanding into full-blown towns. The Via Emilia, which took 33 years to complete, served that very purpose, cutting a line through the newly acquired fertile plains south of the Po River and providing an anchor point for the new colonies of Bononia (Bologna), Mutina (Modena), Regium (Reggio Emilia), and Parma—all of which were founded in 183 BC.

Autumn Emilia-Romagna(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

The towns are evenly spaced more or less 20 Roman miles apart along the route—a day’s march from camp to camp for Roman troops and a conveniently short distance for stopping to take in these small cities today. The four must-sees are:

Bologna - From a humble military campsite for Roman soldiers, Bologna has expanded to become the most important city in Emilia-Romagna and home to what many consider the oldest university in the world. With its historic churches, scenic towers, chic shops, and plethora of excellent dining options (the city is known as “La Grassa”, or The Fat Lady, for a reason), Bologna merits an overnight visit. See our detailed tips here: Bologna: The Stopover Worth a Stay

tamburini-bologna-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Modena - This delightful provincial city is fast becoming the region’s foodie capital, and it only takes a few minutes wandering the porticoed roads of its historic center to understand why. Gourmet emporiums, delis, cafés, and restaurants ranging from the “world’s best” to the “world’s best hidden” crowd the city center, beckoning with regional specialties from fresh pasta to aged balsamic vinegar. Stay the night to be able to sample this university town’s buzzing aperitivo scene and take in its elegant cathedral dramatically illuminated.

balsamic-vinegar-reggio-emilia-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Reggio Emilia - The least well-known of the central towns along the Via Emilia, Reggio Emilia was birthplace of the Italian Flag and is an ideal stop for those who want to experience the authentic atmosphere of a tourist-free city. Linger over a cappuccino in the main piazza, take a peek at the Duomo and Galleria Parmeggiani, and check if any interesting exhibitions are being held at the Benedictine Cloisters of San Pietro (from now until March 8, 2020 you can take in Corregio’s masterpiece “Portrait of a Young Woman” (Ritratto di Giovane Donna, 1520), on loan from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg).

Festival Verdi - Parma(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Parma - End your town hopping along the Via Emilia in Parma, which has given the world Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Giuseppe Verdi. Though a charming town to visit any time, opera aficionados will want to plan a trip during the annual Verdi Festival.

Food Valley


This stretch of Emilia-Romagna between Bologna and Parma (but especially concentrated around the latter) is home to so many prestigious gourmet specialties that it has come to be known as “Food Valley”. Here are a few of the most important:

Prosciutto di Parma - Ham has been cured in this area for over 2,000 years, but the process has been perfected in the hills surrounding Parma and prosciutto here comes with a geographic certification and famous Parma crown branding. You can stop at a traditional prosciuttificio as part of a Parma food tour to learn how the pork is cured and taste the finished prosciutto.

wall-of-prosciutto-parma-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Parmigiano Reggiano - The farmland outside the city is also where great wheels of one of Italy’s most famous cheeses are molded 365 mornings a year. The entire process from milk to aged cheese takes place in a very specific area of Parma’s countryside and takes from 12 to 36 months, resulting in a 100% natural and uniquely flavorful cheese. Stop at a cheese producer in the morning (http://ciuitaly.com/blog/files/parma-food-tour.php) to time the visit with the cooking of the morning’s batch of cheese.

parmigiano-parma-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Aceto Balsamico di Modena - Perhaps the most unique product made in the food valley, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia is also one of the most costly and prized. This rich vinegar is aged for decades and protected by EU regulations as rigorous as those of wine, and a visit to one of the area’s acetaie is a fascinating lesson in the value and patience and tradition.

aceto-balsamico-reggio-emilia-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Lambrusco - Once dismissed as cheap and commercial, this sparkling wine made along the central stretch of the Via Emilia is making a comeback. Stop at a small producer like Medici Ermete in the Emilian countryside to sample the new wave of quality DOCs that range from the delicate dry and fruity rosés to the rich and complex reds. The mix of bubbles and acidity for which this wine is known pairs perfectly for the region’s rich, fatty foods.

Motor Valley


The importance of food and wine in the culture and economy of this stretch of the Via Emilia is rivaled only by the importance of the automobile industry. Some of Italy’s most iconic names in cars and motorcycles are based here, many of which have museums and exhibition spaces (http://ciuitaly.com/blog/files/italys-best-car-automotive-museums.php) where you can take in historic and futuristic models.

Ferrari - Ferrari has two area museums, one in the city center of Modena where the original workshop still stands and a second in nearby Maranello, the modern headquarters of La Rossa. Both focus on the history and production of these candy-apple-red masterpieces; the Modena museum has a section devoted exclusively to engines and the Maranella a section highlighting the historic Formula 1 racing team and a test track.

Lamborghini - This museum is a tribute to the life and career of Ferruccio Lamborghini, who founded the famous company. See the first production model from 1964 to the final Countach to come off the line, a number of their F1 models, memoribilia, and scale models.

lamborhini(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Maserati - In what must be the most Emilian pairing possible, the area’s most comprehensive collection of Maseratis is housed in a museum building on the Hombre parmigiano reggiano cheese farm. A twisted series of events led to the collection being moved here, but the more than 20 cars and motorcycles sit just steps from the cheese aging rooms and a visit here is a great opportunity to pair food and automobiles in one morning.

via Emilia
(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Ducati - Motorcycle enthusiasts can visit the Ducati Museum in Bologna, which was completely renovated in 2016 and houses road and racing bikes that span the brand’s 90-plus-year history.

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