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Published on Friday, June 5, 2020

Creating and marketing innovative tourism in a sustainable destination - and having fun

BIG READ: Fed up? Why not learn how we did it in Romagna - the ultimate post-covid destination it'll certainly make your taste buds glow

Why not visit unspoiled Romagna with our nice travel agents. Unhurried, happy, enjoyable, foodie. Escape for a few minutes and have a lovely few days!

The story so far: Into action - creating a sustainable tourism offer in Romagna

read about it and MUCH MUCH MORE 'You Lucky People'

[STOP PRESS - Are you a Travel Agent, tour operator - come and visit - uncrowded Romagna is the perfect post-COVID destination - 2021 FAM trips and special deals unveiled HERE ]

Quickly we got to work creating a team of friendly locals and preparing to show Romagna to travel agents from the USA.

The idea was simple, we would choose such brilliant co-operators with such brilliant products and services and full of such passion for what they did that what we created with them would shine out as the real Best of Romagna. Naturally we chose people that we liked and could have fun with too. After all what we did had to be happy and it had to infect our clients with joy or it wouldn't work.

So, we ate great food at super restaurants, Valentina tasted wine at great vineyards, we inspected lovely small hotels, we talked to artists and guides and lots of other people.

Finally, we had our initial team of 20 - all people we really liked and that were full of passion and professionalism. And they were full of fun. Our dream team in fact.

We had three great vineyard owners: one historic, one organic and one biodynamic. We had five great restaurateurs, all offering different twists on great Romagnolo cuisine and all making their pasta fresh by hand every day. We had five hoteliers all with different styles of hotel but all giving warm hospitality with superb service, we had a master cheese affineur, an olive grove owner and oil producer whose family had been doing the same thing in the same place, wonderfully, for seventeen generations.

As this is the land of Federico Fellini we had a couple of great film- makers and philosophers. Naturally we had an organic piadina maker. We had a bunch of artists in metal and fire and other unusual stuff. Above all Casa Artusi had become a partner too - here our clients could experience the culture of Romagnolo food started by the "Father of Italian Home Cooking" - Pellegrino Artusi. MEET Our fun team HERE:

And we started contacting travel agents in North America and bringing them to Romagna on FAM trips/Educationals. After a while we had lots and lots of good friends - lovely caring travel agents throughout the USA and Canada.

Our FAM/INSPECTION trips are always organised to appeal to each small group of travel agents - and to take advantage of any special events - so each one is different, like the meals - local, seasonal, fresh. This is the story of just one of these lovely events ...

Bologna's beautiful, but we'll see it later and today our travel agent friends have something much more interesting to do!

Our hi tech couple from San Francisco Bay Area -  Amy and Jason and our lovely Virtuoso pair from South Carolina Antonia and Paul were in for a real Romagnolo experience!

First stop was Zuffa Organic Vineyard where we are welcomed by the whole family. Big hugs from Augusto, his partner Valentina, and his sister Michaela - shy smiles from little Sylvia, their beautiful 2 year old. Ready to rock, we have a tour of the vineyard before our amazing lunch with 10 Zuffa paired wines. Warm company, wonderful cheeses, fresh made pastas, great hams and other delicacies plus amazing wines including Sangiovese and Albana the two classic Romagnolo wines.

Short drive to the beautiful hilltop castle-village of Longiano and our wonderful country house accommodation - here Fillipo, his partner Lisa, little Diego and their charming dog Otto say hello and make sure that our rooms with their amazing hill and valley views are just perfect.

Time to luxuriate in our lovely sights, sweet country air and a little luxury before dinner!

The Michelin rated Dei Cantoni restaurant is our 'canteen' for our stay in Longiano and our hosts Teresa and Danilo, plus daughter Sabrina and her baby Sebastiano are going to do everything they can to make each meal a wonderful experience!

Tonight it's a light dinner - first great platters of inventive antipasta, then different made-that-day pastas, followed by roasts and, of course dolce. All accompanied by the appropriate wines.

And so to bed.


Bright and early on Sunday our guests were finding it difficult to tear themselves away from their breakfast delicacies freshly made by grandmother Ottavia. But more was in store!

First a visit to the exquisite Theatre Petrella - just 200 seats and the best acoustics in Italy make it an Italian starting point for many top shows. Naturally it was an opportunity for our guests to 'Ham it Up' in 18th century opulence. It was a really fun experience!

Now off to somewhere funnier! The local community museum. The old building is chock-full of memories - ancient Vespas, kid's games from the '50's farm machinery, hairdresser's equipment, film posters of the '50's and '60's' and much more retro treasures in an amazing indoor and outdoor treasure chest!

From wherever we'd been in the village, we'd always sighted the sensational 11th century castle soaring at the top of the hill. And now we were going inside. We walked through the tunnel made by hand in WW2 as a refuge for inhabitants and after a few uphill steps the castle and the castle keep were in front of us offering amazing views towards the sea . Built on an 8th century site, the castle as it is now was created for Gianciotto Malatesta (of the robber baron family) in 1290. It's full of stories, both bloodthirsty and romantic! Plus it's full of modern art - housing possibly the best collection in the region. Now the treasure chest of local poet Tito Balestra, it is a real art and history experience.

And now for a food and wine and beauty experience we drove down into the valley and up another hill to the fabulous Villa Venti vineyard. The setting is stunning - on the vineyard's veranda we can see over the valley to the castle we've just left. Out came Mauro and his wife Manuela to welcome us, their daughter Beatrice will translate.

The vineyard is the family's dream, she explains. From working in the rubber industry, Mauro learned all about wine, became a sommelier in a posh restaurant. Now all they needed was a vineyard not any old vineyard but one that was capable of being beautiful and organic. They found an old fruit farm on a hill with just the right soil that had had no fertilisers for over 10 years and they bought it, employed a top enologist, and created an organic, biodynamic vineyard to produce the very best local wines that truly tasted of their terroir. 5 years of hard work and no income later, they tasted the first fruits - sensational!

And that was the verdict of our guests too - sensational.

To go with the wines, Manuela had created a little lunch which was also redolent of their terroir - local cheeses and hams, flatbreads that she had made with the flour she'd created from their own wheat stuffed with herbs she'd picked from her own fields, jam that had been made with their own nuts, quinces, apples and wines. Sensational!

Finally we all went off to beautiful and historic Santarcangelo for a gelato and a trip to an amazing modern sculpture park made out of scrap.

Back to Longiano and yet another special meal. The broth was made that day to be rich and super delicious - it was filled with passatelli - a wonderful concoction of breadcrumbs, parmesan, nutmeg and lemon. Superb. And yet another selection of delicious desserts. Wine of course. And a lovely sleep, naturally!

On Monday we drove to the Adriatic. To a very special picturesque port - one that was designed by Leonardo da Vinci, in fact. What a beautiful stroll.

And then off to a very special, very typical, very large, lunch. The Agriturismo La Casina is on Valentini land and pretty much all of its produce is created here. Valentina Valentini is in charge and she knows what we want - great plates of local hams, local cheeses, local salads and local crostinis plus naturally local wines!

Followed by great bowls of different, freshly-made pastas, some made with eggs, some stuffed and all with superb sauces! Followed by meats and local vegetables - all roasted. All washed down with wonderful Valentini wines. Followed by cakes and delicious home made digestives - Limoncello and its friendst,

Ravenna was Rome's great Adriatic port from 12bc, its imperial capital from 402ad and now the home to 1500 year old basilicas and mosaics - this beautiful city wkith its stunning mosaics is a delight to explore. Cinzia loves to take us around and with her love for her city and her deep knowledge she is our ideal companion for stories and walks through Ravenna's sensational past.

Finally we made a visit to where it all started -Classe - the port that Augustus built 2,000 years ago - now covered, but still with its amazing, light and mosaic-filled basilica, 1600 years old and still as glorious as ever.

Time for a delicious gelato before we return to Longiano for a light dinner and comfy bed.

Next morning we were off on a real excursion, a drive up the ancient via Popilia along the coast to the ancient port of Chioggia at the very edge of the Venice lagoon.

We were getting to Venice the best way seeing this amazing city gradually appear in the lagoon! And Chioggia is very beautiful too - a mini Venice - we could see the canals and the Venetian style buildings as we crossed the long bridge to the ancient city gate.

Walking through the bustling town was like a preview to Venice itself and we reached the port early to get the best (outdoor) seats on the ferry for the amazing journey across the lagoon to the tiny island of Pellestrina. Here we got the bus across stylish Venice Lido to its port.

Now the vaporetto took us across the strait and past all the iconic places including gardens and the Arsenale, past the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge's Palace, St Marks Square and down the Grand Canal all the way past the Rialto. We got off at Ca d'Oro and tested our courage by taking a gondola across the Grand Canal to the Rialto itself. Now for our walk through Venice to our very special lunch.

A table has been laid for us on the terrace of the fabulous Biennale palace beside St Marks Square and on the busy Grand Canal. From here we have a splendid view of Santa Maria della Salute and all that's happening! Naturally we enjoyed a superb seafood lunch before we got happily lost in Venice. Not too lost, though, to miss our boat back to the Lido and via the lagoon to Chioggia as the sun was setting. Back to Longiano tired but happy!

On Wednesday we checked out of our country house in Longiano and wished warm goodbyes to Fillipo and his family. We were off to the beautiful, friendly, ancient, foody city of Santarcangelo for a fun walk and a really superb lunch in one of its top restaurants.

Naturally we were given a little 'amuse bouche' followed by a box of delicious warm breads. What was to come? A selection of freshly made special pastas, a main course of super-fresh vegetables and delicious local meats and amazing desserts! A little walk on cobbled streets and we were off to swanky Milano Marittima.

The seaside resort part of the ancient salt city of Cervia was created along 'Garden City' lines in the 19th century by a group of rich Milanese families for their own exclusive holidays. Since then little has changed except that it's got bigger, glitzier and swankier.

With its massive chandeliers, made especially in Venice, its great mirrored hallways and its air of comforting opulence and service, the Palace hotel is a real 5 star luxury establishment. The hotel is designed to provide each guest apartment with a balcony facing the sea and its own collection of luxury items including Venetian glass and exquisitely tiled floors. This was the seaside hotel for our lucky FAM guests. Time for a gelato!

Romagna is, above all else, great for history food and fun, so, on Thursday after an amazing breakfast, we went off to Rimini - capital of all three! First we visited the amazing new interpretation center showing how Rimini was built by the Romans as their first new city and how you can easily see 2000 year old Rimini today.

We were by the seaside so naturally we ate seafood for lunch in a great restaurant. Delicious seafood suchi, great seafood pastas and superb seafood kebabs!

After a delightful walk through Rimini from the triumphal arch that Augustus built via the site of the great amphitheatre to the bridge of Tiberius - we were off to the hills.

At the top of Mount Titano lies an unique country - the smallest republic in the world -the republic of San Marino. This castellated city built of stone has winding cobbled alleyways full of bustling boutiques - it's a shopper's delight! Of course as San Marino is a self-governing republic - independent since 257 AD it sets its own taxes so prices are great. And the views from its peaks are amazing and very photogenic.Now to somewhere much more serene. San Leo, founded at around the same time as San Marino, is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. With its own ancient cathedral, lovely town square, tranquil pieve and amazing views, it is embued with a tranquillity rarely found anywhere nowadays.

Back to Milano Marittima, our fab hotel and a gelato, naturally!

Friday is our day dedicated to food and wine. After breakfast we enjoyed the short journey to Casa Artusi - the 'Cathedral to Italian Cookery" it was here that the "Father of Italian Cookery" the great Pellegrino Artusi was born in 1820 and it is here that his foundation carries on his work.

Here, in the what's known as the best cookery school in Italy, we are to learn to make and cook Italian and have lots of fun doing it!

With the help of the school's director, Susy and its head chef Carla, we spend some time learning the history of Artusi and his cooking principles - then it was up to us! No fear, Artusi had his helper Marietta - and we have ours too. After a demonstration by Carla we set to work creating a dozen different pastas from scratch - eggs and flour - helped by Elisa our own Marietta - and finally success! We all held up our offerings for inspection - Bravo! We are presented with our certificates and hugs.

And our reward? A sensational meal all created along Artusi principles even with the Artusi recipe numbers!

One superb soup, two different pastas, a superb rendering of seasonal vegetables and a selection of amazing desserts - all with their accompanying wines from top local vineyards.

Back to Milano Marittima and the obligatory gelato.

Sadly, on Friday it was time to leave our Grand hotel and make our way back to Bologna, but there were yet many treats in store!

First, Jason got the full surprise birthday treatment (we'd all kept the secret!) - cake, candles, champagne the lot.

Then we were off to search for flamingoes in the nearby salines - and we found flocks of these stunning birds. All elegantly wading in vast picturesque expanses of shallow waters.

Now off to somewhere very special, the tiny hilltop gated town of Dozza with its castle - the home of the great Caterina Sforza in the 13th century - now the home to a the definitive collection of wines from all over Emilia Romagna. And Dozza has a very important event every two years - its very own Biennale. Prominent artists are invited to visit the little city and paint... on houses. This creates great art that everybody can enjoy - and we did.

There was another event the day that we enjoyed too - a great wedding which filled the center beautiful crowds, colour and fun!

Lovedup, we left for Bologna to check into our fun boutique hotel - Il Guercino.

Now for a walk in the city where another event awaited us - the start of Italy's famous cycle race - the 'Giro d'Italia'. How exciting.


So, even before we did our walking tour we got an idea about Bologna's ability to put on a party! We saw the city's church San Petronio (nearly the biggest in Italy) the massive buildings of the university (the oldest in the world) the food market (Italy's finest) and finally a grand cafe where we enjoyed sublime cake and coffee.

Dinner (obviously a special one for Jason -Amy's treat. And the next day sadly we leave Romagna but we'll all certainly be back!

If you are a travel agent or a group organiser maybe you'd like to find out about Romaga too! Details here

Valere Tjolle
Valere is CEO of Best of Romagna and author of 'You Lucky People' the story of travel - the world's most delightful and devastating industry. Find out more about it HERE
More info on Romagna:

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