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Italy on the road

Romantic and tasty Italy: Five unusual cities to discover

An Italian journey through less famous cities, but with romantic spots and exquisite culinary traditions

There is no film set or even partly filmed in Italy in which food or wine are not the stars of one or more scenes: because in Italy, sharing a meal is an element of romance, eating a pizza together is quite easily the start of a love affair. 

And if with Eat, Pray, Love, Naples and Rome have become even more the food capitals in the eyes of viewers around the world, we would like to take you along with us to discover less famous, but no less romantic or gourmet cities. 

So here are 5 Italian cities in which to discover romantic and, above all, gastronomically interesting spots.

Bologna and the romantic side of pasta 

Not exactly a minor city, the capital of Emilia has always been considered ‘provincial’ compared to other cities of similar size. Nevertheless, Bologna is the undisputed home of fresh homemade pasta, of love expressed through food.

The centre of the city is small and full of cosy and quiet meeting points, such as Piazza Santo Stefano (also known as Piazza delle Sette Chiese, in case you are looking for inspiration for a scenic wedding) or streets of unique charm such as Via Pella. Along this narrow street you can hold hands, peeking out from the famous Finestrella on the Canale delle Moline, which overlooks a small waterway secretly nestled between the buildings. But what will win you over will surely be the endless porticoes of Bologna. The almost four-kilometre-long portico, which leads to the Church dedicated to the Madonna di San Luca, is an extremely romantic walk, despite an old superstition by which unmarried couples walking the entire route under the portico are doomed to break up.

Better not to think about it and enjoy the gourmand side of the city maybe in a trattoria in the city centre, tasting all the first courses on the menu, sharing plates of tortellini in broth, lasagne or tagliatelle with a meat sauce, trying to leave some room to taste the a cotoletta alla Bolognese (or Petroniana), in which veal is fried with lard and then simmered in meat broth. A slice of prosciutto, Parmesan cheese and sauce are added. Quite unique.

Noto: all the nuances and flavours of the Baroque

Walking through the streets of Noto almost makes one dizzy: it is incredible, monumental, baroque. The entire valley has been declared – not surprisingly – a Unesco World Heritage Site and taking a mini-tour through the towns of Modica, Ragusa Ibla, Noto and Scicli is like walking into a glossy film set in another century. The history of the buildings in Noto is quite ‘recent’, since the city was razed to the ground by the 1693 earthquake (like much of eastern Sicily) and rebuilt mainly thanks to architect Rosario Gagliardi, who also lent his unmistakable touch to Modica and Ragusa. The buildings are built using an extraordinary limestone that changes colour in the evening, in the warm Sicilian sunsets, and takes on an intense hue somewhere between golden and orange, like a hot summer filter even if you are visiting in January. Noto is poetry.

And equally poetic are all the traditional dishes to be tasted.  One cannot go through Noto without tasting the scaccia, a focaccia filled with caciocavallo cheese and tomato (but the variations are endless). You can find it in bakeries and, even if it is not a particularly elegant street food, its sumptuousness makes it even more fun to eat in twos, feeding one another.

The area’s high-end confectionery is no different and is at its best when scented with almonds and chocolate. Sicilian pastries have always carried out an important communicative function, even between lovers, who used to exchange sweets with evocative names to show their interest or seal important milestones in the couple’s life.

Genoa, kisses that taste of the sea, pesto and focaccia 

Along with Turin, it is undoubtedly one of the most incredible and ignored cities in Italy. The Ligurian capital, a city of history and sea, has so many corners and views of such an amazing beauty that if someone is there to pop the question, they would be seriously torn between the panoramic terraces, the Anita Garibaldi promenade in the Nervi district, Villa Durazzo Pallavicini or the view onto the pastel-coloured houses of the fishing village of Boccadasse.

They call it ‘la Superba’ and indeed its inhabitants are proud of their history tied to the sea, of their historical centre with the caruggi, narrow and disarranged alleyways, but this very pride is what will win you over. Genoa also offers couples the perfect place to exchange a kiss at sunset, Spianata Castelletto, a magnificent terrace to reach by taking the Art Nouveau lift from Piazza Portello right in the city centre.

First a kiss and then off to dinner.  Choose a plate of homemade trofie topped with fresh basil pesto just pounded in the mortar, served with a local white wine, and the evening will be just perfect. 

Instead, if you think that it is sensual to get your hands dirty, Genoa offers a great variety of street food, which seems to have been made specially to fall in love with the city: Ligurian focaccia (normal with oil or stuffed with cheese), the cartocci of fried fish from the fry shops, the farinata. A piece of artisanal food from this city with centuries of history can be tasted at every corner.

Padua: eyes towards the sky and the heart on your plate

In Padua, stargazing has a whole new meaning: it can be done in one of the city parks or by discovering the history of the celestial vault at the Astronomical Observatory of Padua, located on the Specola tower: the historical charm of the place is combined with that of the planets that have been observed and studied here by astronomers since the 18th century. 

Padua boasts a splendid historic centre that will not disappoint. Strolling around without a destination is already enchanting, but walking around Piazza delle Erbe, Piazzetta San Nicolò – with its buildings of different styles – or Prato della Valle makes any itinerary memorable.

The typical city menu has many interesting ideas: a cuisine based on simple ingredients, creating tasty dishes from appetisers to desserts: like the famous sarde in saor (fried sardines seasoned with sweet and sour onion, pine nuts and sultanas) or bigoli with duck sauce, folpetti (moscardini) and dolce del Santo, a cake dedicated to St Anthony Abbot, the city’s patron saint.

Padua is also the place to try the same cake offered by various pastry shops: difficult to find the torta pazientina outside the city, whose recipe dates to 1600 and is now officially acknowledged by the Academy of Italian Cuisine. There are several layers in a forkful: almond shortcrust pastry, a soft sponge cake, zabaglione cream and chocolate chips. A triumph of taste into which you will leave a piece of your heart.

Alberobello and the Itria Valley, to indulge in beauty and taste

Alberobello already seems like a postcard: the white trulli with their chimneys, the narrow streets through which you can discover a town frozen in time and of unique beauty. However, it is not just the UNESCO heritage town that makes this piece of Apulia one of the most sought-after destinations in the world, even for weddings of all kinds: just a short distance away (about 10 km) are the karstic caves of Castellana, but also Martina Franca and Locorotondo, one of Apulia’s most beautiful towns, with its alleys, white houses and churches on every corner. Places that defy the scorching sun with their blinding whiteness and scent of olive bread.

In fact, Apulia makes you fall in love little by little, town after town, but above all dish after dish: It is impossible to leave the region without feasting on Bari focaccia (with fresh tomatoes), or having tasted the typical orecchiette alle cime di rapa and, most importantly, stopping in Cisternino, a town surrounded by a large natural park, to taste the famous meat bombette, irresistible rolls stuffed in the most diverse ways, freshly prepared by butchers who also offer a cooking and eating service on the spot. 

For the delicious food alone, Apulia is worth the trip, but if you add a sunset in Polignano a Mare, with its romantic natural setting overlooking the sea, it will be the first destination on your bucket list. 

Extra tip

Often not included in lists of the most touristy destinations, perhaps because it is located right in the heart of Italy, about a hundred kilometres north of Rome: this is Terni, a town in Umbria that is the birthplace of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of all lovers.

A place worth visiting for the luxuriant nature surrounding it, rich in small lakes and streams ideal to go on romantic walks. And if you are really in love, you could decide to get married in the basilica of St Valentine who was a bishop here from 197 A.D. and became known for his gift of bringing harmony between young couples. Today, lovers leave him cards with requests and thanks placing them in front of the crypt that keeps his remains.

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