A land of down-to-earth people for whom family and honest labour mean everything: Emilia Romagna has always been a magnet for tourists who are drawn to its wide and varied landscapes and bewitched by the long and rich regional heritage.
Straddling the provinces of Emilia and Romagna, Imola will host stage five of the MOTUL FIM World Superbike 2016 Championship: on 1 May, the 4936m track at the "Enzo and Dino Ferrari" International Racetrack will see the modified bikes take each other on.
The town of Forum Cornelii - Imola in Latin - located along the ancient Via Emilia grew and adapted to its surroundings, contained by the banks of the Santerno and the nearby Bologna hills: unquestionably, it is recognized for the emblematic Sforzesca Castle dating to the 1200s and used as a prison until the last century.
This is the ideal starting point for motorcyclists looking for a two-wheel adventure with a difference, maybe on their own sport tourer, exploring everything there is to see outside the international racetrack gates. First up are the banks of the Santerno then the slopes of the Apennines, climbing up and winding along roads, through woods, seeming never to end.
Ride through the section of the Apennines extending into both Tuscany and Emilia Romagna and marvel at the scenery of the Vena del Gesso regional park, the only mountain ridge in Europe composed almost entirely of chalk. It was also the scene of many battles during World War II and the Gothic Line was established here when the Armistice was signed on 8 September 1943.
Signs of the conflict are still clearly tangible in the many villages tucked into the green hillsides and in the memories of the local people: the first town to explore by bike, just a few kilometres from Imola, is Borgo Tossignano, which is remembered for the Nazi occupation, heavy Allied bombing and much more that it endured.
Despite the destruction these things brought, the town slowly recovered and preserved the ruins of its castle, which can be easily reached along the main road. A short ride away, hidden between the plains, is Castel del Rio, a small town on the Vena del Gesso chalk ridge, not too far from Monte Battaglia. Famous for its eponymous castle, this site saw some of the most ferocious clashes between 1944 and 45.
Castel del Rio oversees a number of historical sites of immeasurable value, like the ruins of Cantagallo Castle or the famous Alidosi Bridge, an architectural gem of Renaissance origin. Built in the late 1400s and stretching 42m, the single-span bridge contains five rooms. Cars and motorcycles can cross the peculiar hog-backed conformation which gives travellers spectacular views of the valley - crossed by the Santerno - from every angle, and an unusual vantage point from which to admire the stunning scenery.
Between the Santerno and Senio rivers, on the edge of Mount Battaglia, sits Casola Valsenio. Sights worth visiting in this small town, awarded the prestigious Italian Military Cross, include the very moving Monument to the Resistance. The bronze statue was built by Aldo Rontini and unveiled in 1988 on completion of a series of archaeological digs and construction work to assure the safety of the castle.
A short walk from the monument is Ca’ Malanca, a much-visited site at an altitude of 720m, offering one of the most spectacular views, as far as the eye can see, across the Apennine range.
With one foot in Tuscany, the other in Emilia-Romagna and the eyes enchanted by images of beautiful landscapes, you can stop off in the hinterland to savour the local delicacies, a plate of stuffed cappelletti or strichetti served with a tomato and meat sauce. Travellers with a sweet tooth will enjoy the jam-filled ravioli dolci or Imola's brazadèla, a typical oval-shaped biscuit with a hint of lemon.
Before heading back to Imola, you might want to push on a bit to try the snaking bends of the Passo della Futa, one of the most fascinating stretches of road from Florence to Bologna. While enjoying the ride you can also revel in the beauty of the Apennines. Work on State Highway 65 was completed in 1759 under Francis I of Lorraine, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. It continues to be a major thoroughfare for the many villages perched on the Tuscan and Emilia-Romagna hillsides: it is the main route back into Emilia-Romagna, passing through the Alpe di Monghidoro, an area straddling Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna that is a favourite haunt for motorcyclists who prefer countryside rides and outdoor sorties. Local legend would also have it inhabited by friendly pixies.
The “Enzo e Dino Ferrari" International Racetrack, nestling in the green heart of the Parco delle Acque Minerali is also home to an important place of pilgrimage for many fans: the Ayrton Senna Monument (built in 1997) by artist Stefano Pierotti, is located nearby.
The circuit itself came into being after the Second World War, opened on 25 April 1953 with the Gran Premio Coni. Since then, Imola has become synonymous with a love of motorsports, attracting thousands of fans to the banks of the Santerno every year.
Following the tragic events of 1994, the complex underwent redevelopment work and measures were introduced to increase safety. A second series of modernization works followed from 2006 to 2008, carried out by Hermann Tilke.
After the most recent changes made to the Bassa curve, the World Superbike Championship returned to Imola in 2009. Stage 1 went to Noriyuki Haga (Ducati Xerox Team) ahead of Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing) and team-mate Michel Fabrizio (Ducati Xerox Team).
Lazio-born Fabrizio took the second stage ahead of Haga and the late Marco Simoncelli (Aprilia Racing). In 2015, both races were won by Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) who went on to win the World Championship title at the end of the season.