This post is for those of you traveling by car.
Marco and I predominately travel Italy by car – it’s convenient and cheaper for us for travel in northern and central Italy – and on travel days we always, always have a lunch stop.
(You can do it too! Driving in Italy: How to Take an Italian Road Trip)
We ignore the notorious Autogrill reststops that line the highways. Instead, we plan a stop at a small city relatively along the way. We’ve stopped in San Sepolcro while heading south to Umbria. Treviso when heading to Friuli Venezia Giulia and Soave on the way back. We’ve stopped in Pistoia on our way north from Tuscany and Arezzo as well. Of course a lunch-break is hardly enough time to see everything, but our lunch stops are also a way to scout out an area and decide which captivates us enough to return. Arezzo certainly did!
Mind you, these stops are more than a one-hour pit-stop along the highway, but they are also so much more satisfying.
A lunch stop gives you a couple things:
1) A delicious, sit-down meal that allows you to fully enjoy in the local food even if not the food of your final destination
2) A rest from long car rides and traffic
3) A chance to see a new place
Most of our stops are in towns that we otherwise wouldn’t have made a special journey to see. We choose based on the route and where we’ll be come lunchtime. With GPS and offline maps, there’s nothing easier!
On our most recent trip to Tuscany, we stopped in Piacenza just off the highway heading north. On the advice of a friend we called ahead for reservations and stopped to a silent, sleepy town. It was boiling hot, shades were drawn and no one in sight, everyone either away for the weekend or closed up in houses and restaurants for lunch. At the restaurant we found a friendly staff, multiple tiny rooms filled with diners and delicious food from Emilia Romagna. Though our primary destination was Tuscany, we got to enjoy the different flavors of its neighboring region thanks to our lunch stop. It was like two trips in one!
Donkey, polenta, cannellini beans and pasta, gnocco fritto with freshly sliced salumi, tortellini of ricotta and spinach for Adeline and coffee with the owner afterward. What’s not to love?
For our lunch stops we always choose a relatively small city – no big-city navigation for us, we don’t want to waste time searching for parking – and we always choose a local eatery (thank you Internet and well-traveled Italian friends). It’s up to you to decide how much time you have to see the town afterward. How big is it? What’s your travel schedule like? Though we could have stopped in Bologna just as easily, the city requires more than an hour to see. We preferred small and sleepy Piacenza instead.
After lunch, we digested a bit by taking a stroll through the town before folding ourselves back into the car. We didn’t see anything in particular, even the church was closed, but we took in the facades of the city, the statues, the layout and most importantly, the food! Perfect for a road-trip lunch stop.