We visited Bagno di Romagna recently, a small village near here known for its thermal springs. Bagno di Romagna is a Roman town and became an important stop on the route between Rome and Ravenna. The thermal springs are a cozy 116 degrees year round. I can imagine that a Roman soldier or trader coming from Ravenna on the Adriatic coast, across the Apennines, would find welcome relief in lounging in these warm waters. Apparently the healing qualities of these waters is known all the way to Russia. There’s a plaque saying this is where cosmonauts come to rehabilitate after being on the International Space Station. Imagine.
Bagno di Romagna is in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. It was originally in Tuscany, but Mussolini moved it to Emilia Romagna in 1923 because he wanted the mouth of the Tiber river, which flows to Rome, to be located in his home region. Ah, it’s good to be dictator. It was on the Gothic Line in WWII and was occupied by the Nazis in 1943. After a particularly bloody episode in which 30 townsmen were killed by the Nazis in retaliation for Partisans killing three Germans, this area became staunchly anti-Fascist. It was liberated by the British in September of 1944. The war devastated the town, as it did many others in Italy. They were able to rebuild their economy, but the mountain villages nearby never recovered. Today there are many intact abandoned villages, one of the many draws of this area.
We had lunch (you knew the food part was coming, right?) at a Slow Food restaurant called Alto e Savio. In fact, that’s what brought us here. It’s about a 40 minute drive from our house, so it’s an easy visit. One day we wanted to go out to lunch but wanted to go somewhere that we’ve never been. I remembered from my slow food app that there was a place a little north of here that looked interesting. That’s how we stumbled upon this delightful town with its fascinating history. We didn’t know about any of this before our visit. I love finding these gems through unlikely means. I cannot say enough good things about the Slow Foods app. We have never been steered wrong by it and most of the places are small, local places that you would probably never find on your own. Alto e Savio certainly fit that profile. It’s a little outside of Bagno di Romagna, actually in a neighboring community called San Piero in Bagno.
They had one English menu in the entire restaurant which they proudly gave us. How did they know we spoke English? It was the most endearing menu I’ve ever read. For example, a description of the antipasto platter began, “An exuberant platter of delicious. . .” and the side dishes were listed as “Pleasant Accompaniments”. The front had a narrative about the owner, Alessandro, describing how he was inspired by his grandparents’ cooking and sources all his ingredients “only a stone’s throw from my home”. The picture of him looked suspiciously like our waiter, so I asked him if he was Alessandro. Si, si. He was so proud of his food and came back often to ask us how we liked it. He had every reason to be proud of his food. It was wonderful.
We started with the antipasto plate. We usually don’t get this because it’s always so much food and it fills us up. However, he was so jubilent about it that we got it. This one was even more hearty than most. A generous platter of cured meats and cheese, a couple of bruschetta, a small plate of raviggioli (more on that later), panzanella salad, and a bowl of marinated vegetables. Another reason I usually don’t order this is that while it’s always good, it’s not really cooking. It’s cured meats and cheeses that, while delicious, were not prepared by the chef. On this delightful menu, however, Alessandro explains to us that the “sublime Alti Pascoli cheeses are from milk from animals that graze on the high mountain pastures of the region”. How could we not get this? The raviggioli (similar to ricotta, but so, so much better) was one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
This cheese is only from a certain area (I’m very happy to say that my home is included in that area) and is only made from October – March. It’s very fresh and must be eaten within a few days of production. The texture is soft and spreadable and it is shockingly bright white. Ours was served on a bed of baby arugula, which I ate to give myself the sense that something I was putting in my body was healthy. This is a raw cow’s milk cheese (there is another version nearer to Arezzo that uses sheep’s milk) that will make you cry. Buttery, creamy, soft and sweet – this cheese was like nothing I’ve ever had. And the meats were perfectly cured – not too salty, tender, not fatty (well, as lean as cured meats can be). We were happy people – but there was more to come.
I had cinghiale (wild boar) stew and it was fabulous. Tender, flavorful chunks of cinghiale severed in a rich tomato sauce. Cool weather dining at its finest. Steve had grilled sausage because one of us always has to get sausage. It was his turn. There was also a wonderful selection of handmade pastas and soups that I will try next time we go. We just couldn’t do it all, even though we gave it a good try.
Once we couldn’t hold anything else in our bulging tummies, along came a bonus round of desserts. I just love it when I get bonus food. It’s like a little gift just for me that I am obliged to eat. So I did, even though I didn’t think I could force one more morsel in my mouth. Cake, biscotti, and crostata. Just little tastes.
After lunch we walked around Bagno di Romagna. It’s a cute little town in a very dramatic setting. In the Apennines, with mountain views all around, there’s the Savio river flowing right beside town. And scattered throughout town are the various spas and hotels that offer those thermal springs.
We’ll definitely be back to Bagno di Romagna. We’ll definitely soak in the thermal springs and hike the abandoned villages. And we’ll definitely go back to visit Alessandro at Alto e Savio.