When offered the opportunity to visit a self-proclaimed food amusement park, you should always say yes. And, that is how we ended up visiting FICO Eataly World Bologna, Italy in its first week of operation. But, what is a food amusement park? And does FICO Bologna fit the bill? Does it bring Italian food to the world?
What is the Eataly Italy Concept
Eataly is a commercial concept where Italian food is offered online, and in specialty shops, from Manhattan to Sao Paolo to Seoul. It is the largest Italian marketplace in the world. The Eataly locations we’ve been to are essentially Italian food stores, normally with a restaurant or two inside.
We recommend the Eataly Italy locations, including Eataly Bologna and Eataly Forli in Emilia Romagna, as great places to pick up some food souvenirs, and because the Eataly restaurants on site are carefully curated. They are Eataly outposts of some of the most traditional restaurants in those areas, including da Amerigo from Savigno, and Trattoria di Giuliana from Bagno.
Its success is spawning some competitors, and rumor has it that Jose Andres and Ferran Adria are hoping to build something similar in New York to bring Spanish food to the world.
What is FICO Eataly World
But, FICO Eataly World takes the original Eataly concept and puts it on steroids. For travelers who have experienced Eataly Italy, or in the States, this version has a familiar feel. You shop. You eat. You leave. Its goal is to showcase all of Italian cuisine, from Sicily to Venice, under one roof. And, in some respects, it does that.
For other travelers, Bologna’s FICO (which stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina) is intended as a way to bring the regional foods of Italy all under one roof. There is a bit of a nod to Emilia Romagna, the “hosting region,” with stalls and kiosks dedicated to some of the DOP and IGP products of the area, that are known around the world. This includes traditional balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and Mortadella IGP.
But, you can also find Italian craft beer from Baladin, which you can enjoy with a Napoli style pizza from Rossopomodoro, an Italian food chain with locations in London and New York. There are a few outposts of Michelin Starred restaurants, but their marketing is a little disingenuous by claiming to have “starred restaurants.” That’s not really how the Michelin Star system works. For example, yes, Chef Alberto Bettini has a one-star restaurant in Savigno, named da’Amerigo, which I would recommend. But, his offering at Eataly World is Pasta di Amerigo. I am sure it is very good, but it is not Michelin Starred.
There is also one restaurant at “Eataly Italia” is entirely dedicated to truffles, which no surprise has some of the most expensive prices in the place. There is also an entire section dedicated to desserts, from chocolate to pastries, to candied almonds, and, of course, gelato.
In addition to the dining options, FICO Eataly World offers educational opportunities focused on farm to fork. Yes, there are pigs and cows and goats on display and a truffle-hunting demonstration area, and they are growing their own produce. The website claims that you can taste the best Italian recipes prepared with ingredients from FICO’s 40 production facilities. Of course, there is no way for the farming facilities to sustain the amount of food produced and consumed at Eataly World. And, they are quick to remind people that all of the farming is really just for demonstration purposes only.
Exploring Eataly World
Just before we arrived at Eataly World, a writer for The Guardian described it as an Italian IKEA, and to some extent, I agree. The marketing behind Eataly World focuses on education, but most of the educational options are an extra charge. Instead, to me, it seems like an entertainment complex. A place to go with friends for lunch or drinks that offers loads of different options under one roof. I say “entertainment” more than education because it is fun to walk around and see all that is on offer at Eataly World. And, it’s entertaining to watch the cows and goats outside. But, the two main functions of Eataly World are dining and shopping.
And, the IKEA feeling really hits you at the exit. They recommend you grab a shopping cart at the entrance. We used it to wheel around our winter coats. But, if you’ve been shopping the entire time, picking up a bit of pasta or balsamic vinegar or craft beer along the way, you pay for all of your purchases at the end, at a series of cash registers. And, as the last minute impulse buys at IKEA, there is a large marketplace at the end for last minute purchases. The good news? There is a post office at the end in case you bought more than your suitcase will hold.
Visiting Eataly World
Eataly World is located just outside of Bologna Italy. If staying in the city, it’s possible to take a taxi (€23 one way), or Eataly World offers shuttle buses from the train station for €10 round trip. They are open 7 days a week, from 10:00 am to midnight.
It is free to enter and explore Eataly World, but everything else inside costs extra. The “amusement park rides” are what they call carousels, which are small interactive displays for €2 each. Or, it’s possible to book Eataly workshops and tours ahead of time. The one-hour courses start at €20 and range from beer making to cheese making to pasta making. Confirm that the course you choose is taught in English. We took the Italian craft beer making course, and learned a lot from the beer man at Baladin. But, I get the impression that most of the courses are more demonstration than roll up your sleeves and get dirty.
For travelers in Northern Italy, I would recommend stopping at Eataly World because it’s an experience. Perhaps allocate a couple of hours to wander around, and enjoy a lunch. It also might be a good way to spend a bad weather day in Bologna or to have guaranteed open restaurants on a Sunday.
But, I am still a strong proponent, particularly in the region of Emilia Romagna, of purchasing your souvenir products from local, more artisan producers. Of learning about production methods where they actually occur. Of exploring the cities and towns that make Emilia Romagna one of our favorite places in the world!
Where to Stay When Visiting Eataly World
There is no hotel (yet) at Eataly World, so it is best to stay in Bologna when visiting Eataly World. Here are a few recommendations on where to stay in Bologna:
Casa Bertagni is like a retreat in the center of Bologna. An exquisitely renovated and restored Italian family home, just a 10-minute walk from Piazza Maggiore. With only 6 rooms, their specialty is making guests feel like they are truly home. A must-stay hotel in Bologna.
Hotel i Portici is one of the top luxury hotels in the city and has an enviable position on the center road leading into town, Via Independenzia. Breakfast at i Portici is set inside their stunning restaurant, in a restored theater, underneath a fresco painted ceiling. Rooms include funky attic suites.
Hotel Roma is a more classical and traditional option, just steps from Piazza Maggiore.
We were hosted by Emilia Romagna Tourism for our umpteenth trip to the region, but as always, our views are our own. They arranged this trip for us specifically to check out FICO Eataly World.
Don’t forget, to learn more, download or order The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna from Amazon.
Travel to Bologna?
Where to Stay in Bologna: Get Bologna hotel recommendations here.
Learn more: Get the only guide you would ever need on Bologna food: the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, from Amazon. Or, get a copy of Pellegrino Artusi’s The Art of Eating Well to learn to cook traditional Italian cuisine at home.