When the Alitalia agent informed our group that our flight to Rome was running so late that we would miss our connection to Bologna, we let out a collective sigh that could be heard throughout the Miami airport. Our entourage of 9 was trying to make its way to Imola, Italy which is just north west of Bologna. As owners of Tile Market of Sarasota, My wife Brigid and I, were the guests of the Cooperativa Ceramica d’Imola - an Italian legacy founded in 1847 on the craft of making ceramic and porcelain products. We were invited to learn how they create and produce the finest porcelain tile in the world!
Adversity quickly became opportunity when we learned that our connecting flight was so late that we would have the opportunity to make a quick jaunt into Rome for lunch before our delayed connection. Our plane deposited us at Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino Airport and our bus deposited us at the Roma Termini, the main train terminal in the heart of the city.
Last June Brigid and I had been on a family trip which ended in Rome and while there we threw a few coins in the Trevi Fountain – properly of course with the right hand over the shoulder. Apparently this tradition works because less than a year later we were unexpectedly back in Rome! Hearing this, our group made a beeline for Trevi Fountain and documented the throwing of their coins on social media. We were then off to the Spanish Steps but not before making a quick stop at Café Greco. Located on the Via Condotti, a street most men try and avoid and women flock to, particularly because it is lined by stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo, Armani… You get the picture. Café Greco is perhaps the most famous café in Rome. Established in 1760, well dressed men quickly and efficiently serve locals and tourist alike quick shots of espresso in the same location which the likes of Byron, Keats and the inventor of the radio Guglielmo Marconi sipped their coffee.
A local shop keeper directed us to lunch at Pizza Ciro just a short walk east from the Spanish Steps. Before long, plates of antipasti began to arrive – prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, "fiori di zucca fritti" or fried zucchini flowers, olives and bread – then delicious thin crusted pizza layered with prosciutto appeared – all washed down with the house wine. We returned to the airport, disappointed to leave one of the most beautiful cities in the world but excited to continue our journey.
Our first day in Imola started with a tour of the Cooperativa Ceramica d’Imola’s factory showroom and museum. World know as an innovative porcelain tile manufacture, the cooperative was established over 160 years ago by skilled ceramic artisans and the museum was a testament to its heritage. Duly impressed, we were then taken to one of our host’s favorite lunch spots in a residential area of Imola.
Simple food made with the freshest ingredients and love would best describe our lunch at Milana Ristorante. We started with wine and antipasti then moved to pizza and pasta… and more wine. One of the nice things about Italy is that wine at lunch seems to be OK. Even if you are working! After lunch we were given a tour of the most sophisticated, state of the art porcelain production in the world. It was a truly impressive and our hosts were very proud of the operation, as they deserved to be!
The next day we were bound for Firenze! Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region is associated with the birthplace of the Renaissance. Everyone in our group had been to Florence at one time or another and so we decided to avoid the museums and crowds content with just exploring the streets till lunchtime, stopping of course for the obligatory espressos along the way! Once again our host placed us in a wonderful local spot known for its Florentine steak served family style.
The following day our host Andrea took us to Ravenna, which is known for its beautiful and intricate mosaics. We marveled at the mosaics at the Basilica di S. Vitale and strolled the streets of this once capital of the Western Roman Empire. We dined at Ca’de’ Ven which was predominantly a wine bar but with great food served in a library atmosphere with frescos on the ceiling!
The next day our little group took the train from Bologna to Venice, stepped out of the train station and on to a water taxi. We negotiated a rate of 15 euros per person for a 45 minute tour of the city. While it was a fun experience, the taxi stayed in the main waterways, which were very busy. Feeling like we have done nothing but eat on our trip so far, we decided to forgo the two hour lunch and instead spend the time exploring Venice. We took a ferry to Murano and watched the obligatory glass blowing at the factory directly across from where you first step off the first ferry stop. I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t a tourist trap! We returned to Venice after the tour and before long found ourselves on a Gondola gliding through the back canals and admiring the most beautiful and unique city in the world.
With a paper map in hand and without the benefit of a GPS, we spent our last day driving to Tuscany to first locate, then tour the castle and winery of Barone Ricasoli. The Ricasoli family has been making wine here since 1141 making it the oldest family run winery in the world. Set in a medieval forest, he castle was beautiful although you could only view limited parts of it since the family still lives there certain times of the year. Castello di Brolio is the label of their chianti and it was well worth the visit. Reservations are a must and they have a restaurant as well.
We were honored to have been invited for this wonderful experience and feel lucky to have had such warm and gracious hosts as the folks at Imola Ceramica!