Italy’s Hidden Gems: Emilia-Romagna
Artisanal cuisine & supercars
Even in a country so rich in gastronomical gifts, the Emilia-Romagna region, bordered by the Po River to the north and the Apennine Mountains to the south, is without culinary peer, bringing more Denominazione di Origine Protetta (D.O.P.) — literally “Protected Designation of Origin” — foods to the global table than any other area of Europe.
Only D.O.P. products can bear the word traditional on their labels, and the prized certification ensures that the region’s shortlist of 19 delicacies, which include Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto di Parma and aceto balsamico di Modena — the world’s finest balsamic vinegar — are painstakingly crafted by farmers and artisans using centuries-old methods. Emilia-Romagna’s affinity for food is on display in 25 separate museums dedicated to the subject, which pay tribute to everything from the art of Italian home cooking to the eels of Comacchio, a lagoon town in the province of Ferrara that claims the slithering creature can be prepared a thousand different ways.
To glean the flavor of both the D.O.P. production process and the region, take a tour of some of its top purveyors. At Antica Corte Pallavicina, a sprawling 14th-century estate in the Po Valley, sample the rare and coveted culatello di Zibello, a slowly cured boneless ham that purists contend makes prosciutto di Parma pale in comparison. (Its proprietor, Massimo Spigaroli, is widely regarded as Italy’s culatello king.) Take classes ranging from pasta making to pork production, dine at the Michelin-starred restaurant or stay over in one of the castle’s rustic rooms, featuring fireplaces and 16th-century paneled ceilings.
Antica Corte Pallavicina
The Amalfi Drive
The legendary stretch of coastal road between the towns of Sorrento and Amalfi represents the harmony of nature and man. Technically known as SS163 Amalfitana and dating back to the Romans, it’s a peerless driver’s road, with twists and turns that cut through small villages, panoramic views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, precipitous drop-offs Spe tunnels carved into sheer sea cliffs. The combination of pristine beauty and gut-checking thrills provides a visceral boost of dopamine you just can’t buy from a dealer.
For the best balsamic, visit Acetaia di Giorgio, considered the most esteemed house for the liquid gold in Modena, where the Barbieri family will guide you through the minimum 12-year fermentation process. For its exquisite sweetness, Giorgio’s Primo Reserve Juniper D.O.P., aged more than 25 years in juniper barrels, is worth its $160 price tag.
Hombre Organic Farm is the only local maker of organic Parmigiano-Reggiano on a closed-cycle property, meaning everything that goes into its production, including the corn and barley that feed Hombre’s 500 Italian Friesian cows, comes from the premises. Call ahead to book a tour, on which you can observe artisans carefully crafting the cheese in giant copper cauldrons. A modest outbuilding also happens to house the world’s most complete collection of Maseratis.
A mecca for exotic car connoisseurs the world over, Emilia-Romagna’s celebrated Motor Valley, encompassing the area from Bologna to Modena, is the birthplace of Maserati, Ducati, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Stanguellini, Pagani and, of course, Ferrari.
With 14 museums and 11 private collections devoted to high-octane titans, it feels like the mythical land of the car gods.
Ferrari is feted religiously here, with flags bearing its famous black horse flying far and wide. Founded in the Modena suburb of Maranello in 1947 — where the original Ferrari museum remains — the prolific racing brand unveiled its latest showstopper, Museo Enzo Ferrari (MEF) in Modena, in 2012.
The brainchild of founder Enzo Ferrari’s only living son, Piero, the museum is a futuristic engineering triumph on par with Ferrari’s most-seductive creations. MEF’s gleaming white, pillar-less exhibition space was designed by the late visionary Czech architect Jan Kaplicky and displays more than 20 cars; its double-curved aluminum roof — the first large-scale application of its kind — measures 35,500 square feet and is painted bright yellow, the official color of both Ferrari and Modena. In addition to a range of Motor Valley-related exhibitions, MEF offers an F1 simulator that you can upgrade to “professional” mode for an even greater rush.
The factory and museum of Pagani, Italy’s most secretive carmaker, founded by Argentinian Horacio Pagani in 1992 in San Cesario sul Panaro, is a high temple of automotive achievement. Here you’ll get a firsthand look at the unparalleled craftsmanship and engineering that bring handmade marvels like the Pagani Huayra BC to life. When the supercar debuted at this year’s Geneva International Motor Show, the entire fleet — just 20 cars — had already sold for $2.5 million each.
You can get behind the wheel yourself with the Imola Faenza Tourism Company, which customizes experiences by request, including some spins around the track in a Ferrari 430 at the storied Imola racing circuit, former home of the Formula 1 San Marino Grand Prix, with two-time GT1 champion Thomas Biagi cheering you on from the passenger seat. Modenatur, another local tour provider, arranges test drives like the two-hour “precision tour” in a Ferrari or Lamborghini, where a professional driver will sharpen your skills in the rolling hills around Maranello as you channel Italian racing legends and relish la grande bellezza of it all.