The valley of Bologna-Modena-Parma is known as food valley. (It’s also known as motor valley because Ferrari and other luxury cars companies are located there.) Most of these recommendations were from Joyce of Vinotalia and Carmelita of Cook Italy. Plus some from my cousin and Google.
Where to stay:
Locanda del Feudo, in Castelvetro, near Modena: Recommended by Vinotalia, this is an all-in-one place with hotel, gourmet restaurant, and foodie experience. Without having to drive home. Also, where La Vecchia Dispensa is located for a balsamic tasting and lesson.
Sotto I Sasso, a farm stay south of Modena. You will be out in the countryside but it’s peaceful and the restaurant onsite is delicious. The host is so personable that you will feel like you are a personal guest. It’s hard to find but worth the search (left of the parking lot! When you go, you will know what I mean).
Il Terrazzo Di San Colombano, in the center of Bologna (Via Parigi 13). They are on Booking but send a whatsapp message to +393470581371 and the owner will respond (you will get a better price too). Located on a quiet side street, includes paid parking, and a terrace. You can enjoy not driving as you wander the streets of Bologna. Don’t be wigged out by the maid.
Towns to visit aside from Modena, Parma, and Bologna:
Volta Mantovana: not actually in Emilia Romagna but just north in Lombardy. It was a wonderful discovery recommended to us by a fruit seller on the side of the road.
Parmesan tour: Red Cow dairy in Emilia Reggia. The tour costs 5 euro. Call to arrange. It is only in Italian. Red Cow is a unique dairy in a world of unique dairies. They only use milk from the local red cows.
Balsamic tasting (if you can’t go, learn some of what I learned by reading my article about balsamic here):
La Vecchia Dispensa: Recommended by Joyce. 30 for the deluxe tour, shop is great. In English. An excellent way to learn about the process.
Also, Acetaia Matteo, is delightful family run business, but the tour is only in Italian.
Lambrusco at Fattoria Morretti. Ask Joyce from Vinotalia or the host of where you are staying. Most can arrange the tour for you. Many vineyards have a shop where you can just show up and taste.
In Volta Mantovana, do a wine tasting at the Enoteca Gonzaga. It’s in a beautiful castle. The sommelier actually knows his stuff and is not just a bartender. I think his name was Paolo but when tasting wine before noon, the names all blend together…
Food to eat: Emilia Romagna is famous for their mortadella (bologna), tortellini, ragu (meat sauce) on tagliatelle (never spaghetti), and lasagne. Almost anywhere will serve all these dishes. Plus, gelato. They also think they invented here in Emilia Romagna. Go to Sable in Bologna.
Trattoria Aldina, Modena. A low-key casual place. Nothing touristy here. Right across from a great market.
Salumeria Simoni deli, Bologna. High quality items to buy as snacks or for a bite.
Enoteca Italiana, Via Marsala 2, Bologna. They have wine tastings and light lunch items.
Sable Gelato, Via dei Mille 3/a, Bologna. Hard to find, located behind a newspaper stand. Worth finding. The owner things nothing is more beautiful that fresh made gelato…
Bruno e Franco, La Salumeria, Via Guglielmo Oberdan 16, Bologna. Buy food to make at home.
Best Secret in Plain Site:
This shop called Aguzzeria del Cavallo, Via Drapperie 12, Bologna. Thanks to Cook Italy for showing us this emporium. It’s ostensibly a kitchen and knife store. But, so much more! We just called it the “horse” store and we were determined to go back.
Fines: A final note. It is hard to visit the smaller town without a car. It’s hard, impossible, to drive in the scenic towns of Modena, Parma, and Bologna, without getting a traffic ticket months later — so many of the streets are restricted to even drive on if you are in a personal vehicle. Sigh. There are cameras everywhere and they will capture your car as you look frantically for how to get out or find parking in the historic centers. But, enjoy it while you are there. Just know that months later, you will get to relive it. (also, if you rent from Hertz, you get a copy emailed to you ahead of time so you can scrutinize the Italian text trying to figure out where you incurred the infraction. It will take many months for the actual paper fine to reach your mailbox). So, advice: park outside the bigger towns of Modena, Parma, and Bologna.