What To Do (and Eat) in Bologna in February

Carnevale di Cento 2010 (Carro dei Ribelli)

You would think February to be a pretty uneventful month. After all, the Holidays have just come and gone, so what in the world is left for me to see out there? If you’ve booked your trip to Italy and are finding yourself in Bologna during February, fret not – there is plenty to see and do.
Aside from the fact that you could be about to experience a super-romantic Valentine’s Day with your significant other during your Italian Holidays, between fine wine, delicious dishes and the perfect spots around the city for a date, February is also the month that will see Carnival celebrations and parade get out onto the streets.
While not quite as flashy as Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro world-renowned parade, in all cities of Italy you’ll be able to see wonderful and colorful displays of masks, costumes and fun activities!
But first, let’s take a look of the traditional and regional treats that you’ll only have a chance to enjoy during the Carnival season.

What To Eat

Zeppole,Frappe,Castagoli

As you might have noticed, food is a very important part of Italy and its traditions. Food marks a convivial and festive moment, and Carnival is the perfect moment to enjoy a number of sweet and interesting seasonal treats and desserts (which also help to really get in the mood to celebrate). Sweets are a staple of Carnival so be ready to party to the rhythm of a sugar rush.

Sfrappole

The name of this deep fried ribbons of dough is widely discussed in Italy, since each region and province (or even city) calls them by a different name. Known to the English-speakers as “Angel wings”, the pastries are served with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Optimal sfrappole should be crispy, while also melting in a sugar paradise in your mouth. You’ll find these and other seasonal sweets in most bakeries or grocers, which are also supplied by local bakeries so that each treat will be produced according to the tradition.

Castagnole

Still deep-fried, still favored with a dusting of powdered sugar, the castagnole take their name from “chestnuts”. Not because it’s an ingredient, just because they’re round as a chestnut, golden and will fill you with energy. You might find these in a variety of types: with custard or chocolate filling, soaked in Alchermes liqueur or covered in honey.

Tortelli fritti

“Fritti” as in “fried”. This is another caloric treat that is sure to entice your sugar receptors. These pastries are truly a regional tradition and as such are a bit more complex and ingredients vary from bakery to bakery, from family to family. But mostly, they’re fried buns eaten plain or with a filling, and optionally a dusting of powdered sugar. Among the fillings you might find custard, home-made jams with raisins and such. Every tortello is a surprise!

But remember, food stands at every corner also mean it’s a great opportunity to taste other dishes and savoury treats both seasonal and regional.

What To Do

So, now that you’re energized and ready to go out in the city, what is there to do in Bologna?
Carnival will last from Thursday 23rd to Tuesday 28th of February, so here are the main parades and events to attend in cities around Bologna and in the city itself.
The Carnevale di Cento, in the city of Cento (province of Ferrara), is among the most famous celebrations of Italy. As such, it’ll last from Sunday 12th of February to the 12th of March with samba dancers, food stands and catwalks and contests for the best masks.
Most cities’ parades showcase floats decorated according to themes or pop culture, but in the city of Comacchio (Ferrara) the “Carnevale sull’acqua” will feature literal floats parading over the waters of the city’s canals on Sunday 19th an Sunday 26th of February. Don’t miss the seafood and fish delicacies, and the activities for children!
To enjoy true traditional seasonal dishes and treats, you can pop by the Carnevale di San Pietro in Casale. The town in the province of Bologna will offer catwalks and parades of beautiful masks and plentiful food stands for every taste.
If you’re more interested in seeing floats and buskers than masks and costumes, the Carnevale dei Fantaveicoli, an eco-sustainable parade in Imola that will take place on the 26th of February is the event for you.
On the other hand, if you enjoy traditional and Renaissance-style costumes and the idea of a more historic re-enactment of Carnival parties from the 1400’s, be sure to check out the Carnevale Rinascimentale Estense from the 23rd to the 26th of February. No floats will welcome you, but just the wonderful costumes inspired to noble and historical figures of the city of Ferrara and it’s court. Buskers, jugglers and street artists will entertain you as you wait for themed events and shows to take place on the last day of Carnival in the Piazza Municipale.
There’s plenty to choose from, and anything goes, as long as you can truly experience the exhilaration and festive atmosphere of Carnival with foods, entertainment and masks.

Ferrara – the forgotten gem of the Italian Renaissance

Lovely Ferrara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the North East of Italy, did not just happen to be a beautiful city; it was planned that way! Designed to be both beautiful to look at and at the same time functional – fulfilling the Humanist concept of the “Ideal City” where all the needs of all the residents would be met, it is the only planned Renaissance town in Italy that was completed and the town planning principles that were used back then in the 13th century are still in existence today. Under the patronage of the ruling Este family, Ferrara became a centre for art and culture and attracted some of the greatest artists of the time, many of whom have left their mark in the city. There is a lot to see in Ferrara, but the following 3 examples should be at the top of your list:

FERRARA 2006
Ferrara castle of the Ducal family – source

1. The Estense Castle.

This very imposing structure, half palace and half medieval fortified castle complete with a moat, was the home of the Este family. It started life as a defensive structure, the Castello di San Michele and the first phase was the construction of the Lion’s Tower (Torre dei Leoni). Following a particularly violent peoples’ uprising, the Este family commissioned the architect Batolino da Novara to improve the fortifications and build a palace worthy of the Este family . Three additional towers were built to form a rectangle with the original tower and then connecting blocks were constructed enclosing a huge inner courtyard. The moat was fed by the river Po, on whose banks the castle stands. The Estense Castle is right in the centre of Ferrara and guided tours are available several times a day: there is a lot to see from kitchens and dungeons to the Ducal Chapel and the Garden of the Oranges. A climb to the top of the Lion’s Tower provides a great view of the surrounding walls and countryside.

2. Palazzo Diamanti (Palace of the diamonds)

The Palazzo Diamanti is named after the amazing marble blocks which clad the outside of the building; each of the over 8000 blocks of while marble has been carved to resemble a polished diamond, and their placement has been carefully considered to maximise the light reflected off the walls. The outer walls enclose a Renaissance courtyard with a marble well at the centre – very characteristic of the gardens of this city. Today the Palace houses the National Gallery of Art, home of some excellent examples of Italian Renaissance art and many of the artists who were drawn to Ferrara as a centre of the Arts in the 15th century are represented here.

3. The City Walls

Only Ferrara and Lucca have such intact Renaissance city walls! Ferrara boasts over 9 kilometres of walls built mainly in the 15th and 16th centuries, completely surrounding the historic centre. This is a great place to walk or cycle and observe the locals who come there to relax under the trees and meet friends. Along the way you will be able to see towers, gates, passages and battlements, one after the next; a walk around the wall is an excellent way to work up an appetite for some of the fabulous food to be had in the town.

It is easy to get to Ferrara – it is on the main railway line from Venice, Florence or Ravenna and just 30 min from Bologna. Once you reach the city centre, which is strictly car-free, walking or cycling like the locals is your best way to get around and see all the attractions of this delightful town.

 

 

 

 

Three dishes that best represent the culinary Traditions of Ferrara

While the city of Ferrara sparkled in all its beauty under the Este domination, during the Renaissance were elaborated fantastic dishes which entered in today typical food. Let be tempted by the following three gourmet delicacies of this corner of Emilia Romagna.

Castello Estense - Ferrara
The Estense Caslte in Ferrara – a must visit in the city. Source

Pasticcio di Maccheroni alla ferrarese, the quintessential taste reside here

The full name “pasticcio di maccheroni alla ferrarese” discloses its main characteristic: the fact that it comes from a culinary tradition specific to Ferrara like no other town in Emilia Romagna.
It’s considered first course, but it’s so abundant that could be served as second too. That’s why you should order it at the trattoria after a day-long tour of the wonderful ancient Estense city.
When it’s brought to your table you will see a simple yet crunchy dome commonly known with the name of pasticcio. As soon as you cut a slice of it, you will find out the mouthwatering inside kept warm: maccheroni, the typical Italian pasta appreciated worldwide along with spaghetti. The pasticcio is filled with maccheroni dressed with Béchamel, porcini mushrooms, truffles. As it was not enough, the chicken liver and heart complete the dish.
Get the party started for your palate!

Coppia ferrarese, the PGI bread

It seems that the famous “couple” was already produced in local bakeries around 1200, but its official name was forged in 1500. From since, it has become a strong culinary tradition and today the typical bread is still homemade with devotion by family run businesses and you may notice it as you enter one of the shops smelling of flour and yeast in the city center: a smiling Italian floury-some boy may welcome you into the world of bread whose technique passed on from generation to generation. You won’t find the same crunchy and soft dough rolled like a ribbon anywhere else since Coppia Ferrarese gained PGI (Protected Geographical Identification) recognition.
As common the ingredients may seem – water, yeast, flour – the method and the conditions of preparation are unique to this area. Match it with sauces or olive oil to taste its deep flavour.
Combining a tasting tour during the Emilia Romagna Wine and Food Festival may turn into a fantastic idea to discover other local specialities.

coppia

Salama da Sugo, a speciality dating back to the time of the Estense court

The art of making salami in a particular way belongs to the province of Ferrara. Only the capital city and a few villages surrounding it – Madonna Boschi, Portomaggiore, Poggio Recanatico – produce excellent Salama da Sugo following the tradition with a touch of innovation in the choice of some ingredients. The original recipe dating back to the XV century, is based on the use of sow seasoned with many spices such as salt, nutmeg and even red wine. The flavour is not the only thing which makes the Salama – also known as Salamina – different from any other Italian sausage: its shape calls to mind the typical pottery of the Renaissance. Traditionally served cut into slices at the Christmas table, today the Salama da Sugo can be found all year round in any Italian salumeria. Take the chance to taste all the varieties of this gourmet ferrarese food at the Salamina da Sugo al Cucchiaio Festival held each year in Madonna Boschi.

salama
Salama da Sugo – source

During your holidays in Ferrara don’t miss a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Delta Po and Delizie Estensi, but if you really want to feel like a local eating at the Este table, include a gastronomic tour.