Costa Brava (Catalonia, Spain) and Emilia Romagna (Italy) are two of my favourite regions in Europe as they offer all the elements of a perfect Velvet Escape – think romantic medieval towns, gorgeous hotels, colourful markets, beautiful nature, history, art, beaches and last but certainly not least, some of the most divine food and wines anywhere in the world! Friends of mine recently visited these two regions – I was so envious as to me, Costa Brava and Emilia Romagna combined represent the ultimate Europe food tour – and this video, produced by my friend Emiliano, beautifully captures the incredible foodie experiences as well as some of the most fabulous spots in these two regions:
My idea of the ultimate Europe food tour
Inspired by this video, I’ve created my ideal Europe food tour itinerary which covers both regions. This itinerary includes all my favourite towns, restaurants, wineries and things to do and see. You could easily spend a week in each region following this itinerary but I suggest taking your time to get the best out of both Costa Brava and Emilia Romagna. Scroll down to view the itinerary. At the bottom of this post, you have the option to follow in my footsteps along this ultimate Europe food tour!
Kick off your ultimate Europe food tour in Bologna, the capital of Emilia Romagna, Italy. With its international airport and well-connected train station, Bologna is easily accessible from major Italian cities by high-speed rail and most European airport hubs like London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Barcelona.
Bologna is one of my favourite cities in Europe. Its amazing food and historic architecture are major highlights but stroll around under its almost 40kms of porticoes (covered arcades), browse around its bustling markets, climb one of its historic towers or explore its diverse foodie scene and you’ll discover a gem of a city that’s worth returning to again and again.
My top tips:
- Climb the Asinelli Tower (Italy’s tallest leaning tower) for amazing views
- Visit the antique market at Piazza Santo Stefano every Sunday
- Browse around the deli’s and markets in the Quadrilatero district and join the locals for an aperitivo (happy hour) at Via Rizzoli
- Eat with the locals at the square just outside the Mercato della Erbe (Via Belvedere) in the summer (evenings)
- Join a pasta-making course at Le Sfogline (Via Belvedere)
- Get your gelato fix at Cremeria Funivia
- My recommended restaurants include Osteria Vini D’Italia, Ristorante da Cesari and Trattoria Il Portico
- Read about other things to do in Bologna.
Modena is perhaps most famous as the home of some of Italy’s most famous automotive brands such as Ferrari and Maserati – a tour of the Motor Valley is a must! – but foodies will most likely associate Modena with balsamic vinegar or balsamico. This is the perfect opportunity to visit the producers of some of Emilia Romagna’s most famous food products like Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamico and prosciutto di Modena (Modena ham). And it comes as no surprise that Modena is home to Osteria Francescana, a restaurant that consistently ranks as one of the top-3 in the world! If you can’t get in, check out Hosteria Giusti, L’Erba del Re, Ristorante Da Enzo or Osteria da Ermes. Read about my food tour around Modena.
From Modena, continue to the town of Reggio Emilia. This little town is home to an amazing cultural treasure: the breathtaking Teatro Municipale (where Pavarotti made his stage debut). It’s a lovely town to stroll around but head to its outskirts and you’ll find Lambrusco country! Check out the Casali winery and have a meal at Osteria in the nearby village of Scandiano – read about my Reggio Emilia experience.
From Reggio Emilia, you can continue to Parma (note: if you visit Parma, don’t miss Alfione at Viale Piacenza, a fabulous deli/restaurant) or back-track to Ferrara, a historic town with an imposing castle. Stroll around this picturesque town, visit the 14th century Castello Estense, the stunning Cathedral and the Palazzo dei Diamanti (Palace of Diamonds). Read about my visit to Ferrara.
Head towards the Adriatic coast and stop at one of my favourite towns in Emilia Romagna: Ravenna. This ancient town is home to no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage sites! The main attractions are its churches, mausoleums and basilicas with their breathtaking mosaics but soak up the atmosphere by simply strolling around this gorgeous town. I recommend spending at least a night here to truly appreciate the town’s historic sights and wonderful atmosphere. Read about things to do in Ravenna.
From Ravenna, continue down the Adriatic coast to another historic town: Cesenatico. This ancient port town has canals which were designed by Leonardo da Vinci! Cesenatico is home to a fascinating Maritime Museum as well as colourful sailboats in the harbour.
A popular seaside town on the Emilia Romagna coast, Rimini has a plethora of hotels, restaurants and a broad beach that seems to go on forever! You can choose to have some beach time here or head for the nearby hills where you’ll find the oldest republic and one of the smallest countries in the world! If you opt for some beach time in Rimini, drop by the Habana beach restaurant. Nothing better than a fettucine vongole at the beach with a crisp Pinot Grigio or Friulano, and a gentle sea breeze to go with it!
This tiny country is one of the smallest in the world! Located less than an hour’s drive from Rimini, most visitors come here for a day trip but I recommend spending a night or two here to experience its quiet, medieval streets when all the day-trippers have left. Have your passport ready to collect a special stamp!
Back to Bologna
From San Marino, make your way back to Bologna along the Via Emilia. Make sure to stop at the gorgeous medieval village of Brisighella and, closer to Bologna, the village of Dozza, famous for its beautiful murals and its annual wine festival – Dozza’s castle (Rocca Sforzesca) is home to the regional wine store (enoteca) of the Emilia Romagna region.
Map of this itinerary:
Check out my best places to visit in Emilia-Romagna guide which covers all the places in the map above.
Accommodation and Car hire search
Ready to continue your Europe food tour in a different country? Hop on a flight from Bologna to Barcelona (about an hour). From there, drive to Girona (less than two hours) for Part II of the ultimate Europe food tour in Costa Brava!
Costa Brava is a stunning coastal region in Catalonia just north of Barcelona and stretches right up to the border with France where the Pyrenees mountains meet the Mediterranean Sea. Costa Brava means ‘rugged coast’, a reference to the spectacular cliffs and hundreds of coves that line the coast. Though famed for its beaches and generous dollops of sunshine, Costa Brava is not only about sun, sea and sand. The region is a treasure trove of historic, cultural and gastronomic gems!
Girona is less than a two-hour drive from Barcelona. Often overlooked by tourists, Girona is a gorgeous city located smack in the middle of the confluence of four rivers. As a consequence of its strategic location, Girona was occupied at different times in its history by the Romans, Visigoths, Moors and the French. Its medieval core is still intact, as are large parts of its medieval city walls. Fans of the Games of Thrones series shouldn’t miss Girona! Read about things to see in Girona.
In the city centre, grab a meal at Le Bistrot, a popular restaurant that serves traditional Catalan fare. In addition, scenes from the Games of Thrones were filmed at the steps right outside the restaurant. If you’re looking for a unique gastronomic experience, try the special food and gin-and-tonic pairing at Hotel Carlemany! Just outside Girona, you’ll find one of the world’s best restaurants: El Celler de Can Roca! A meal here is a truly extraordinary (not to mention unforgettable) experience! Read about my meal at El Celler de Can Roca.
Calella de Palafrugell to Begur
From Girona, head towards the coast. One of the most beautiful parts of the Costa Brava coast stretches from Calella de Palafrugell and Llafranc, past Tamariu, to Begur. This part of the coast consists of beautiful beaches, rocky inlets, pine-covered cliffs and gorgeous towns and villages.
There’s a multitude of charming hotels and excellent restaurants along the coast. My favourite hotels in this area, which also have outstanding restaurants, are Sant Roc (Calella de Palafrugell), Casamar (Llafranc), El Far (Llafranc) and Aigua Blava (near Begur).
Begur is a colourful hillside town overlooked by a beautifully restored 16th century castle. There’s a lovely square, packed with terraces, and cobblestone alleys with a good choice of restaurants and cafés, some tucked away in beautiful courtyards.
From Begur, take the road to Sa Tuna, a hamlet on the coast with a small beach. The road winds through quiet neighbourhoods and thick forests, and offers beautiful vistas of the rugged coast. A great place to stop for a drink and a meal is the Vintage Lounge – or you can stay at the adjacent Vintage Hotel. Located under a canopy of pine trees on a cliff-edge, Vintage Lounge is a great place to simply chill and watch the waves crash on the rocks below.
Peratellada and Pals
Close to the coast, you’ll find the agricultural Baix Empordá region. Peratallada is a fortified medieval town in this region. The town, with its 11th century castle (now home to a luxury hotel), 13th century Romanesque church, gorgeous cobblestone streets and picturesque squares, is a popular place for day-trippers who come here to soak up the medieval atmosphere but stick around in the evenings for a romantic dinner at one of the numerous restaurants.
For a dose of indulgence, I can highly recommend the Mas de Torrent Hotel and Spa, one of Costa Brava’s most luxurious hotels, which is situated a short drive away from Peratallada. The hotel also has an excellent restaurant! Read about my stay at Mas de Torrent.
Pals is one of the most impressive medieval towns in Costa Brava. Situated in the Baix Empordá region, a short distance from Begur, Pals’ main attraction is its beautifully restored medieval quarter. Pals is also home to Vicus, one of my favourite restaurants in this region.
If you fancy staying in a castle, look up Castell d’Empordà, a beautifully-restored castle that overlooks the Empordá plains. Its restaurant, Drac, is another terrific dining option I can highly recommend!
Cap de Creus
From the Baix de Empordá, head north past the vast Bay of Roses to the Cap de Creus peninsula, a rocky, mountainous region of wind-swept slopes covered by thick gorse; quaint coastal villages; and crystal-clear coves. Read more about Cap de Creus.
The charming fishing village of Cadaqués, with its whitewashed houses and gorgeous harbour, is famed as being a favourite haunt for artists and writers, and is absolutely worth a visit. Continue further to Port Lligat to visit Casa Dalí, the former residence of the great artist Salvador Dalí – this is a wondrous experience you wouldn’t want to miss. In Cadaqués, drop by at Can Rafa for a great meal. The restaurant is owned by the Martín Faíxo family who also own Mas Perafita, a gorgeous winery/B&B in the hills of Cap de Creus.
Besalú and Santa Pau
From Cap de Creus, head inland towards the hilly Garrotxa region. On your way, make sure you stop in Figueres, home of the world-famous Dalí Theatre Museum. You can also opt to have lunch in Figueres. Restaurants I can recommend include Restaurante Duran (a classic in Figueres frequented by Dalí himself) and El Lloc Cafe Bistrot.
Make Besalú, a stunning medieval town, your first stop in the Garrotxa region! The first thing that will grab your attention as you approach the town is the magnificent 12th century Romanesque bridge over the Fluviá river. The bridge leads visitors into the town, with its arcaded streets, cobblestone alleys and squares.
Santa Pau is another medieval village in the Garrotxa region that I absolutely love. Located near the Garrotxa Volcanoes, Santa Pau is tiny but boasts gorgeous porticoes, alleys and arcades as well as a 15th century Gothic church. Moreover, this wonderfully atmospheric village is home to another of my favourite restaurants in Costa Brava: Cal Sastre.
Map of this itinerary:
Read my best places to visit in Costa Brava guide which covers all the places in the map above (and more).
I could go on and on about the amazing food in Emilia Romagna and Costa Brava but this should be sufficient to get your mouth watering! My recommendation: add this ultimate Europe food tour to your bucket list! 🙂
Accommodation and Car hire search
Follow in my footsteps! Check out my itinerary below: