Bologna is the capital of the region Emilia Romagna, a region associated with excellent food (the Emiliani will argue that their cuisine is the true Italian cuisine), phenomenal wines, Ferraris, luxury lingerie (La Perla), UNESCO world heritage sites, Prada *sigh* and Parmesan cheese. 

The northern region of Italy, Emilia Romagna offers beaches, nature reserves, vineyards, valleys, mountains, medieval castles and Renaissance palaces but  a stop off in the city of a Bologna is a must.

I’ve been to Bologna a couple of times and on one occasion we were a group of friends on a day trip.

We walked around the centre,  one of the largest and best preserved historic centres among Italian cities. Bologna is characterised by porticos, or covered walkways that stretch out from the city centre for over 40 kilometers and taking in the museums, art galleries and religious buildings. We visited the market which was enormous and amazing and picked up lots of great bargains including clothes, shoes, food and jewellery.

Bologna is also home to the oldest university in Europe dating back to the 11th century. << Fascinating fact alert!

 

Bologna La Grassa

If food is your thing then the region surrounding Bologna La Grassa (Bologna the Fat) as the city is known has a labyrinth of food and wine trails where you will discover key producers, associated restaurants and museums dedicated to Parma Ham or Parmesan cheese.

For salamis follow the Strada del Culatello, for cheese follow Strada del Parmigiano. Make sure to take in the Lambrusco wines, the Balsamic Vinegar originating from Modena, pasta especially tortelli and mushrooms.

A personal favourite of mine is Mortadella, an enormous sausage, the meat is ground very finely and added to the mix with other ingredients are peppercorns, pistachios, coriander seeds and wine. Sliced as thin as paper and served in a fresh bread roll your taste buds won’t know what’s hit them!

And of course, Bologna is the home of our favourite Bolognese sauce and any Italian will tell you, a proper Bolognese should only be served with tagliatelle.

Formula 1

If cars are your thing then you are in the right place. Maserati, Lamborghini and Ducati are all based around Modena and Bologna, made locally and each with a museum to visit.

I visited the shrine to speed Galleria Ferrari in Maranello and if you are in the area and fancy rubbing shoulders with Formula One drivers at dinner then book a table at Ristorante Cavallino.

Bologna is ideal for a quick weekend city break or a longer holiday where you could take in Rimini, a buzzing Adriatic beach well worth a visit.

Take a look at my traditional bolognese sauce recipe

[yumprint-recipe id=’40’]Check out my 10 recipes to make with Bolognese sauce.

Short for time? Make a microwave ragu in half the time and just as delicious

 

1987, valle dei Templi, Agrigento, Sicily

You’ll be amazed at just how much Italy has to offer, you’ll be stunned at the vast range of  scenery and beauty in every corner of the country and should you be lucky enough to go, you’ll fall in love with the food, the wine and the people. Italy is one massive family and children are adored and made to feel welcome, no parent will ever be shunted out of a locale in favour of a child free zone, it simply doesn’t happen.

Agrigento is where we’re stopping off this week, it’s in sunny Sicily overlooking the Straight of Sicilia and whose history dates back to the Greek colonies. Akragas, as it was then known, was built on a plateau around 580 BC it grew rapidly and became one of the richest and most famous Greek colonies of the Magna Graecia. It was fought over many a time passing to and from various leaders and is currently one of the poorest towns in Italy BUT the reason I am taking you here is to marvel at the Valle dei Templi or Valley of the Temples which I stood amongst back in 1987 whilst expecting my first born.

To start off with it’s a bit of a misnomer as it’s more a ridge than a valley but who’s splitting hairs? It comprises a large sacred area on the south side of the ancient city where seven monumental Greek temples were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece itself. They are listed as a World Heritage Site. More in depth information can be found on Wikipedia if you’d like to dig deeper.

The Temple of Concorde, 430 BC

Agrigento is also known as the land of the ‘Mandorle in Fiore’ – blossoming almond trees – making it one of the most characteristic agricultural towns of Sicily together with citrus groves and olive plantations the countryside is alive with vegetation. “La più bella città dei mortali” (The most beautiful city of mortals): this is how Agrigento was described by Pindaro, Greek poet of the V century B.C.. During ancient times, it was one of the three metropolis along with Athens and Siracusa, and was homeland of remarkable philosophers such as Empedocle and dramatists such as Nobel Prize Luigi Pirandello.

But I wouldn’t suggest you spend your holiday here, just a day trip. In fact Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has numerous beautiful locations to relax in and soak in the Mediterranean sun. Located between Europe and Africa, Sicily has seen every empire march across its lands, exploit its riches and leave their own unique mark.

Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano to the east of the island smoulders quietly making her presence known to all is a definite day trip to add to your list for jaw dropping views from cable cars that take you up where you can walk on the black lava. You’ll feel the heat under your boots, hear the hiss of steam escaping into the atmosphere and be in awe at the sight of green countryside, blue seas contrasting the bleak black of lava. An astonishing sight you won’t forget. You can even ski on Etna in the winter!

Taormina, Sicily’s most dramatic resort and a hot favourite with celebrities has a beautifully preserved medieval heart, an impressive 3rd century Greek theatre and cobblestoned pedestrian areas with small alleys giving glimpses of the blue sea and beaches that lie below.

See where the lava scorched the back of the buliding and has been cut away since

Palermo, the island’s capital is a treasure trove of Baroque palazzi and museums and boasts a splendid collection of Arab-Norman buildings, Capella Palatina, Palermo’s greatest architectural jewel is a must visit to see the Byzantine mosaics.

Lastly it wouldn’t be right to not mention the food, wine and gelati – ice cream and sorbet! Born in the province of Catania using mountain snow from Etna mixed with juice or flower essence and sugar. You’ll never have another ice cream in your life and not remember that snippet of information I found for you!

If you have been tempted and wish to visit then here are some tour operators and travel companies that specialise in Italy. Buon divertimento!

Of course, I could have also chosen Alberobello in Puglia today but I’ve already talked about that before.

 

Trulli Puglia Alberobello

This week I have chosen the heel of the beautiful Boot, a region called Puglia (Apulia). I spent my last family holiday here in 2002 and, although it was the beginning of the end as far as my marriage was concerned, those sad memories cannot erase the beauty and the perfect holiday I spent in these parts. We decided to hire a camper van and tour the area and it was the most amazing experience allowing us to visit many places in a two-week break.

Puglia offers far too much to be covered in one post so I shall take you along part of our camper van route which starts off on the ‘spur’ of the boot, the stunning Gargano promontory. A sailors paradise, full of culture, history and art.

Gargano

The medieval towns like Vieste are a delight to discover and Mattinata can be traced back to 500 BC.

San Giovanni Rotondo, home of the infamous Padre Pio a venerated saint in Italy, is also home to an ancient round temple dating back to the 2nd century BC. Apart from the clear blue seas, Gargano is also a national park offering numerous treks for nature lovers and one last place that I must have a mention is the Tremiti Islands. A collection of five islands, two of which have been populated since ancient times and according to myth – the island was inhabited by Diomedes when he returned from the battle of Troy. We took the ferry over from the mainland and walked through the old towns. We had lunch in a tiny restaurant with fresh mozzarella and tomato salad served with capers foraged on the island and we hired a dinghy which we sailed around the island stopping off in the various bays to swim. I would thoroughly recommend a visit.

‘For sale extra virgin olive oil and genuine homemade wine, refer to ex-lifeguard Andrea’ 

Alberobello

We drove through the province of Bari and enjoyed various beaches along our way towards Alberobello, an inland town home of the trulli. These cone-roofed houses are typical of the area, built amongst olive groves and used today as shops, bars, restaurants and villas to let. Each roof has a pinnacle or cross and strange stone markers said to have a magical significance. Walking through the streets is a surreal experience and a stop off in one of the stores to buy a ‘fischietto’ or whistle as a souvenir is another must.

puglia trulli Alberobello

Ostuni

Next mention must be Ostuni. An inland, white, medieval town which sparkles against the red, rich soil of the area. We ate at the Osteria del Tempo Perso in the centre of the town renowned for its excellent food and glorious wine list. The restaurant is separated into two areas, one with an oven dating back to the 1500’s, the other dedicated to the farming history of Ostuni. I ate the most delicious Buffalo mozzarella here, I can still taste the memory.

Castel del Monte, a 13th century castle standing high on a rock, is a UNESCO world heritage site and is also commemorated on the Italian 1 cent.

There is lots to be seen in Puglia. If you do decide to go then you must try the pasta of the area ‘Orecchiette’ with cime di rape (broccoli heads)

Delicious wines include Martina Franca and Locorotondo which are white and Primitivo, Malvasia Nera and Negromaro which are red.

Puglia is the major producer of olive oil in the country, try some on fresh bread and be sure to bring a bottle home with you.

 

funtanazza sardegna

Sardegna is the large island off to the left of the boot when studying Italy on a map. It is vast and has been separated into 8 provinces. I’m sure without knowing anything of the island yet you’ll agree that I couldn’t certainly do it justice in one post! Therefore for my first Holidays in Italy post I shall be concentrating on the North Eastern province which is separated into four areas. Today I shall be focusing on Gallura.

Anyone visiting Sardegna for the first time will wonder if they’ve been teletransported to the Caribbean by mistake when seeing the clearest blue seas lapping the coloured sands of the north and Gallura doesn’t hold back on offering stunning natural beauty spots. In fact the most obvious being the archipelago of La Maddalena, a natural bridge towards Corsica close by. One of the islands is Caprera, last exile of Giuseppe Garibaldi where his tomb still lays today.

Piscinas Sardegna

Sardegna offers close to 2000 kilometers of beaches to choose from and the beauty of this island is that many are still untouched. You may not have beach bars and facilities at many of them but you will not be disturbed. Pack a picnic with plenty of water and go and treat yourself to your own private beach for the day. Gallura has a long list to choose from but some must sees include Capo Testa and Santa Reparata.

Sardegna Costa Verde

A trip to the north wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Costa Smeralda, playground for the rich and famous. Development started in 1961 and was financed by a consortium of companies with Prince Aga Khan for their president. Famous architects put their heads together and according to an extremely detailed urban plan built this luxurious tourist destination. guests looking for complete privacy in which to savour La Dolce Vita will pay between $2000 and $3000 a night.

Sardegna rough seas

If that’s not within your budget and you’re not too fussed at paparazzi following your every move then Holidays in Italy has an extensive list of accommodation ranging from 5 star plus to living with nature in some fabulous camping sites

Sardegna has extensive and delicious food products and wines and in fact this region is renowned for its superb quality of rice produced on the island. You can bring home some freshly pressed olive oil from a local farmer, bottles of Canonnau and Vermentino wine and a delicious liqueur Mirto made from the Myrtle plant cunningly delicious and knocks your head off without you realising it. It has got to be tried.

Torre dei Corsari, Sardegna

So now you’re hooked where should your next stop be? Well for planning your holiday in Italy I would without a doubt point you in direction of Love Italy, an association of tour operators and holiday organisers who specialise in Italy. I worked with them in the early stages as they set up the association ABTOI whilst working at the Italian Tourist Board so I can assure you it has the nod of the tourist board and I am so pleased to see they have come so far. Their web site has a click-through to the operators organising in the area you are interested in offering self catering to top five-star, organising walking holidays, art and cultural discoveries and even Weddings in Italy.

The Italian Tourist Board is also a vital stop off for any information.