Ever since we announced we were moving to Bologna, people have been sending me articles about the upcoming FICO Eataly World. People are very excited, and so was I of course! An amusement park for foodies?!
The park only opened on November 15, so just a week later Mike, Marcella and our visiting friend Jason all headed to the outskirts of Bologna to see what the fuss was about.
The first thing I should tell you: FICO is not an amusement park. Not in the American sense anyways: there aren’t any rides or carnival games or people dressed like giant rats. It’s not that kind of place.
I tell you this not to disappoint you, but so that you come at it with the right expectations. Because despite its lack of a Space Mountain sculpted from Parmesan, I thought FICO was really, really cool. I wandered around the place, absolutely gleeful, like a kid in a candy store of meats and cheeses. I can’t wait to go back again and again (perks of being a local).
So… What is FICO?
A Food Market on Steroids
On its most basic level FICO is an enormous restaurant and market complex. One reviewer called it an IKEA of food, and that’s not crazy far off, although I personally find pizza and cured ham a lot more interesting than lamps and reasonably priced furniture.
FICO reminded me a lot of the Mercado di Ribiera in Lisbon- an accessible, convenient place to try local food from all around the country. The building, converted from an old wholesale market, is packed to the gills with shiny restaurants and food stalls offering up all the different kinds of delectable food that make Italy so amazing. Not all of the workers speak English, but enough do that you can order your food without much hassle.
You walk through the building on a set path, or you can pedal on a shiny blue tricycle (free to use!) with a shopping basket. There are dozens of restaurants and food stalls organized in sections: all the cured meats are in one area, the gelato shops are clustered in another, etc. Some shops focus on a single food: parmesan cheese for example, while others center around a regional cuisine or a type of food like seafood or potato based products (we sat down at the potato restaurant and ordered potato croquettes and gnocchi). The wine pavilion has over 100 Italian wines by the glass (no sign of the 1000 negroni varieties some articles promised though).
Along the way you can pick up any product that piques your fancy. Want to take home a hunk of parmesan cheese or a bottle of that tasty wine? Just throw it in your shopping cart. The path culminates in a marketplace area where you can buy all sorts of Italian food products from cookies to cookware. The shopping areas are filled with helpful staff who can help you learn more about balsamic vinegar or choose the perfect olive oil. Finally you pass through a cash register area and you’re done (there’s also an enormous post office where you can ship your purchases home).
We spent an afternoon snacking our way through FICO- a plate of prosciutto here, an Italian craft beer there, a plate of gnocchi, a porchetta sandwich, maybe a glass of wine… We left full, happy, and convinced we’d only seen (and tasted) the tiniest fraction of the things on offer.
An Educational Center… For a Price
In addition to the eating opportunities there are a slew of activities you can participate in. Everything from pasta making to wine tasting to truffle hunting with dogs to a workshop about bees. All of these activities cost extra to participate in- most of them are 20 euros per person but a few cost more.
There are also “carousels” or “rides” which are not coasters but multimedia walk through experiences. They have high brow themes like “The Future of Man” or “Man and Fire” These are 2 euros each or you can get a pass for all 6 for 10 euros.
We didn’t get a chance to do any of the activities on this trip so I can’t attest to their value (I promise I will fill in this gap next time around). I do think you would want to plan ahead very carefully on what you want to participate in. Otherwise you could quickly drop a lot of money here.
It’s not all premium content though:There is a ton to see and learn (although not necessarily do) just from walking around the complex. There are also outdoor gardens you can walk around and livestock you can visit (we missed these activities because it was pouring rain on the day we visited). From the main food hall you can watch workers making cheese, rolling pasta and cooking meals. There’s even a biscuit factory encased in glass.
Should You Go?
Yes! Just make sure you know what you’re getting into first.
Do you like Italian food? Are you interested in eating a huge variety of it and maybe learning a thing or two? Do you have some money to burn? If so, I think Eataly World was a great way to spend an afternoon. It’s easy to reach from Bologna, free to enter, and just a very impressive feat of engineering and planning if nothing else.
Go to FICO to stuff yourself on cured ham, to marvel at an entire wall of organic apples, and to marvel at the sheer scale of the place.
The easiest and cheapest way to reach FICO from Bologna is via shuttle bus. The bus departs every 30 minutes (20 minutes on weekends) across from the train station in Bologna. Tickets cost $7 round trip and can only be bought via credit card. The trip out to the park only takes 20 minutes.
(If you’re bringing a stroller- and if you have a small child you probably should, the park is huge), there are designated spots on the bus for them.
Entrance to FICO is free, but nearly everything there costs money. The food prices are not cheap, but not unreasonable either- on par with eating in the city center of a major Italian city. I estimate spent around 50 Euros on food and alcoholic beverages for 2.5 people (2 adults and one 1 year old).
If you plan to participate in educational activities, you can book your tickets online ahead of time from the FICO website.
FICO is open 365 days of the year from 10 AM to 12 AM. It is considerably more crowded during meal times. You should give yourself a good half day to explore the facilities, longer if you plan to do a lot of activities.