Into action – creating a sustainable tourism offer in Romagna
an excerpt from ‘You Lucky People’
[STOP PRESS - Are you a Travel Agent, tour operator - come and visit - 2021 FAM trips and special deals unveiled HERE]
Quickly we got to work creating a team of friendly locals and preparing to show Romagna to travel agents from the USA.
The idea was simple, we would choose such brilliant co-operators with such brilliant products and services and full of such passion for what they did that what we created with them would shine out as the real Best of Romagna. Naturally we chose people that we liked and could have fun with too. After all what we did had to be happy and it had to infect our clients with joy or it wouldn’t work.
So, we ate great food at super restaurants, Valentina tasted wine at great vineyards, we inspected lovely small hotels, we talked to artists and guides and lots of other people.
Finally, we had our initial team of 20 – all people we really liked and that were full of passion and professionalism. And they were full of fun. Our dream team in fact.
We had three great vineyard owners: one historic, one organic and one biodynamic. We had five great restaurateurs, all offering different twists on great Romagnolo cuisine and all making their pasta fresh by hand every day. We had five hoteliers all with different styles of hotel but all giving warm hospitality with superb service, we had a master cheese affineur, an olive grove owner and oil producer whose family had been doing the same thing in the same place, wonderfully, for seventeen generations.
As this is the land of Federico Fellini we had a couple of great film- makers and philosophers. Naturally we had an organic piadina maker. We had a bunch of artists in metal and fire and other unusual stuff. Above all Casa Artusi had become a partner too – here our clients could experience the culture of Romagnolo food started by the “Father of Italian Home Cooking” – Pellegrino Artusi. Our team HERE:
Then we put together our offers and created our website.
Our customers would get what we considered was the very best of Romagna food and wine, history and culture sights and hospitality. They would stay not in five-star chain hotels, but lovely local country houses with warm hospitality, they would visit beautiful ancient historical places with local people and they would enjoy wonderful local food and wine.
And then we welcomed our American travel agents. The idea was that these travel agents would just love Romagna, our choices, our offers and our ambience so much that they would tell all their customers about it and come back with groups of nice Americans.
So, half a dozen at a time, Valentina and I showed our travel agents our Best of Romagna. They stayed in delightful country house bed- and-breakfasts, they tasted delicious wine in lovely vineyards, we fed them fabulous food in happy restaurants, and our guide Cinzia introduced them to fifteen hundred years of colourful stories where they happened – in Ravenna. Of course there was much, much more – and they loved it!
They all went back home happy and enthused knowing that our initiative was something really special really authentic and certainly not mass-produced. We hoped that now they would spread the word in at least the twenty states that they’d come from. We hoped that they would enthuse their clients who we were sure wanted something more fulfilling than today’s commodity tourism.
Then, in the autumn, Valentina and I started showing off our cooperators’ offers to our visiting American travel agents.
We had become so proud of them all and all of them had fascinating stories, which we understood better and better in the telling.
For many years I’d known that travel loses its true value when it becomes just a formula of accommodation, transport and price.
By now I had come to understand the level of thick necks that the Romagnolo people sported. Every small entrepreneur I met had a deep conviction on exactly how everything should be done. And our co-operators were no different.
Take our vineyards. At Villa Venti, Mauro was so sure that he needed to own his own vineyard and produce obviously perfect wine that after a short career in the rubber industry, he studied to be a sommelier, worked in a top restaurant, persuaded his wife and his family to work with him tearing down an old fruit farm, planting the perfect grapes for the terrain and lived on little more than fresh air for 5 years before his (perfect) organic, biodynamic wine appeared, while his wife Manuela slogged away in the kitchen and the terrace creating breads and jams and chutneys by hand from their own raw materials.
On the other hand, Augusto at Zuffa wine had the responsibility to carry on his grandfather’s work. Nonno had not become organic because he was part of any green movement. To him it was simple, his family deserved the best, they weren’t going to have to drink any old chemical rubbish – they would drink pure wine just like their forefa- thers had. Augusto had to get a degree in chemistry so he knew what to avoid and why, and on the way he created organic wines so good that they got noticed by the Italian Ministry of Health and chosen to repre- sent Italy at the World Expo. Obviously, Augusto is just as determined as his granddad was.
And at Fattoria Paradiso as we arrived there was always a noisy and colourful argument going on behind the scenes – reminded me of my days at Saintseal with Nanni shouting at Dr Fabbri in my early days in the industry.
God knows why they were shouting at each other. But this fourth- generation vineyard had a colourful history with superb wines and a superb wine library to prove it. The founder, great wine character Mario Pezzi, had created a truly noble vineyard in a truly noble medi- eval estate. He had re-introduced great indigenous grapes to the area,grown and matured world-beating rich sangioveses when everybody else had said they would not mature.
Poor American travel agents. Finally, they got it and loved it but, for the day after they arrived, they were totally fazed. When we said we were going to take them to a restaurant and its own farm they thought they were going to see a big homogenous establishment like they would in the USA.
In fact we’d take them to a campsite, with some chalets and a big restaurant full of local workers eating their lunches. And the Ameri- cans had no idea of sizes. I’d order some stuff and the waiter would bring some carafes of their own good wine and then troll up with a massive platter of assorted meats and cheeses for everyone. Plus a few baskets of their hot, just cooked piadina flatbread.
The platter would be piled high with the family’s own prosciuttos, salamis, collar, head and cheek of their own cured pork, ultra-fresh squacquerone cheese, and dozens of fabulous crostini topped with exquisite delicacies. Delving into the food and the wine they finished practically every morsel and sat back, sated. The nice waiter (they all were) cleared away.
They thought it was all over.
Valentina Valentini, the owner would look on - "I'm trying to learn English" she would say with a lovely warm smile!
Until the waiter reappeared with another even more enormous platter – this time loaded with three different sorts of pasta, hand made that morning. Usually there were tortellini stuffed with cheese and covered with sage and crispy prosciutto; there were strozzapreti (stran- gled priest pasta without egg) covered with vegetables, and always the family pasta speciality – tagliatelle with a fabulously rich sauce of pork, beef and sangiovese wine. Our guests were not quite so hungry for this course although the food was always miraculous, the Americans would try to finish. The waiter would clear away.
And then he would reappear. Now he would bring the main course! Usually great spicy pork sausages, big juicy meat patties, enormous pork chops, great long thick slices of bacon, beef and veal steaks, all grilled to perfection on a roaring open fire and all from their own animals.
Plus, the grilled vegetables – fat deep red tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines and red peppers – also grilled, also their own produce – plus superb potatoes, crisply roasted with rosemary and Cervia sea salt. Delectable. A hush would descend over the table, draughts of wine would be quaffed as energies were recouped to deal with this feast... and of course, more hot piadina would be brought.
Done with everything they could eat, our guests would sit back in their chairs – full warm and happy. When the desserts and the dessert wines were brought.
One dessert was always Zuppa Inglese – what? English soup? Well, a very traditional Romagnolo dessert actually. It’s a concoction of sponge soaked in Alchermes – an ancient cochineal liqueur – covered in a rich egg custard and melted chocolate.
Or, if you couldn’t eat a dessert, there was always the option of dipping rich eggy Ciambella sponge into sweet late harvest Vin Santo. Coffee of course, naturally with a range of home-made ‘digestivos’ – usually including Limoncello, Banane and Licquorice.
Done? It’s time to go and walk off lunch usually with a tour around Ravenna and its amazing Byzantine heritage of glorious glistening mosaics.
The imperial Roman Capital of Galla Placidia was always a highlight of the visit for our American travel agents. How could they resist a little time travel? Back 8 centuries to where Dante’s bones were buried then back 9 centuries to the Franciscan monastery – then straight back nearly 17 centuries to the Ravenna of Empress Galla and 21 centuries to the Roman port begun by Emperor Augustus.
Hot and hungry work this time travelling – lucky that Ravenna provides a home for the gelateria that currently occupies number 1 spot on my list of great gelaterias! This one is on the outskirts of town and is simply amazing, so it should be if it’s top of my list.
Anyway, its gelato is organic (not as unusual as you may think but a big plus nonetheless – at least you know that there is no messing around with the ingredients). But the killer issue here is the family’s quirky tastes like beetroot gelato and blackberry and sage, arabica coffee gelato is amazing and for texture, just try the ricotta gelato: light and fluffy and
And back to the hills, another extraordinary dinner and a good sleep with wonderful country air.
Quite a day! And that was just ONE day!
The American travel agents had amazing times in Romagna. So much so that they were more than happy to tell everybody about this new (actually old!) place to go.
And Best of Romagna was on the way. Obviously lots more work to do but the sun was smiling on all of us!
Valere is CEO of Best of Romagna and author of 'You Lucky People' the story of travel - the world's most delightful and devastating industry. Find out more about it HERE
More info on Romagna: www.BestofRomagna.com
Valere Tjolle is the travel and tourism insider. An entrepreneur, consultant, developer and journalist, he has been in at the beginning of almost every tourism development for the last sixty years. There is no one better placed to expose the seedy side of tourism nor its enormous opportunities to unite people across the globe.