A great day trip from Bologna
Tucked away in the hills near the small town of Brisighella in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, a family is living their dream. A long search of more than 30 farms across Italy lead them here from their hometown of Treviso, to Torre Cavina and ultimately to the establishment of DonnaLivia.
Having owned it now for three years, DonnaLivia has grown into one of the best agriturismos near Bologna. On a hill overlooking a magnificent valley, the leaves on the olive trees glisten like silver in the sun. It’s the perfect place to come for a day trip from Bologna, Italy.
Here they produce their own olive oil, operate a farmhouse restaurant, and have restored a tower into well-appointed apartments. There are also fruit orchards, pigs, horses and a variety of poultry. With incredible views all around, this business thrives on the land, following a “no waste” philosophy, with everything being grown locally and waste recycled.
Waste from the olive oil production is used for energy resourcing, food waste goes to the animals and in return, their manure helps sustain the crops. Everything grown here is organic.
The surrounding sloping farmland is home to some 280 olive trees that are almost 400 years old. The area of Brisighella is well known for the production of exceptional olive oils, largely due to favourable climatic conditions of the valley in which they grow, protected by the mountains. The authentic, certified Brisighello label can only be achieved by using the “Nostrana of Brisighella” olive variety.
Taking a tour of DonnaLivia
Our host for the day is Giulia, daughter of owner Livia, and the fount of all knowledge here on the farm. Bi-lingual, she assisted us throughout the day with the required translations during the olive oil and wine tasting. With a Masters of Gastronomy and experience running a food store under her belt, Giulia’s youthful exuberance is evident. As we walked around the property, I explored further her love for food, this farm and its associated business.
We took a tour through their production facility, a modest building producing around 600 bottles per year, depending on the weather. The olives come in here when harvested (by hand), have their leaves taken off, washed and are then pressed. All olives are processed on the same day that they are harvested. The longer the olives are pressed, the more oil but there is a reduction in quality.
Their Metodo label for example, pressed only for around 20 minutes. The olives then go into the centrifuge, where the oil gets separated from the pulp and pips. Following through on their sustainability practices, the pulp is mixed in with manure and the pips are used for burning fuel. Further separation might be required to completely rid the oil of any further waste product.
Olive oil tasting
Our visit to DonnaLivia provided us with our first opportunity to participate in olive oil tasting. Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? Why would one really need to taste it? Most people would just cook with it and not really give it another thought. Oil is oil, right? We’ve done plenty of wine tasting before but oil? It was an experience I was interested in, but not necessarily relishing the thought of actually drinking oil.
Like any product, there’s the good and the bad. The secret with premium products is knowing enough about them to be able to identify the different grades. Like wine, everyone will taste something different, and everyone will ultimately have their own view of what they like and don’t like.
The first secret to tasting an olive oil is to warm it up. Cupping the glass on the bottom warms the oil slightly, and covering the top of the glass whilst you swirl it softly around the glass prevents the aromas from being released.
The smell of the oil is just as important as the taste. I put my nose into the small tasting glasses and breath in. We’re told of the aromas we should be smelling, but at this stage, I’m a little lost. I can smell a familiar olive oil smell but I am unable to separate any of the other “flavours”. I obviously need some practice!
Putting the glass up to my lips, I take a good sip, letting the oil cover the inside of my mouth and putting my tongue against my teeth as instructed and sucking the oil backwards. As the air that is sucked in meets with the oil, I start to notice some different flavours.
I still can’t really determine what they are, but as I swallow the oil, I taste pepper! It’s spicy, and it burns just a little after I’ve swallowed it all.
We’re told that a good olive oil leaves your mouth feeling fresh and not oily. Surely this is a contradiction, oil not tasting oily? No matter how much I wanted to disprove that, it was quite simply true.
A bad oil, however, will most definitely leave an oily taste and residue in your mouth. Perhaps everyone has been using bad olive oil. There’s plenty of debate on olive oil and whether those labelled as such are accurate.
The commentary is indeed rife in the industry with regard to deceptive and misleading labelling and blending of vegetable oils with olive oils, particularly those bound for export.
It’s another reason why I rely heavily on the strict protocols of the DOP accreditation process here in Italy, which covers wine, Parmigiano cheese, balsamic vinegar, Parma ham and other special Italian foods.
Olive oil tasting is not something that I would necessarily go out of my way to do on a regular basis. However, I appreciated my new learnings about how to taste and the characteristics of good olive oil.
DonnaLivia olive oil products
DonnaLivia produces three olive oils, two are certified Brisighello oils, using 100% of the “Nostrana of Brisighella” olives.
Centario – the only blended olive oil produced here is great for using on bruschetta or salads.
Viridium – 100% Brisighella olives and recommended for use of plates of food that are already cooked. It’s a little spicier, with stronger pepper tones on my palate. It’s also a little more bitter than the Centario, but a perfect oil for everyday use.
Metodo – An award-winning olive oil also 100% Brisighella olives and produced using different methods to the other two. This oil is used mainly for fish or meat.
Eating at DonnaLivia
The restaurant here is where everything on this property comes together for me. It’s the culmination of everything that is grown on these lands, mixed with the recipes and traditions of this Italian family, serving amazing food made with their own, and locally sourced products.
The restored barn where the restaurant is located might look every bit as rustic as you would expect on an old farm, but the food prepared inside was incredibly refined.
Livia is front and centre in the kitchen, visible from the restaurant. I couldn’t help but smile when Giulia greeted her Grandma at the door, complete with herbs from the garden in her hand, bound for the kitchen, where she too was helping prepare lunch.
Alongside a nice glass of cold rosé, our lunch commenced with a full flavoured dish. The sweetest tomatoes I have ever eaten were accompanied by scrambled eggs with nettles.
Having never eaten nettles before I wasn’t so sure about the pairing. Drizzled, of course, with some home grown olive oil, the combination was light and perfectly complementary.
There’s nothing quite like fresh pasta, and here we were treated to a beautiful tagliatelle. As always, the Italians keep their pasta simple. Fresh zucchini from their garden, along with eggs, Parmigiano Reggiano, chives and mint were all that was needed for this dish to sing.
Dessert offered up more simplicity with a refreshing yoghurt and peach pot of yumminess.
Horses roam freely here amongst the olive grove and orchards, eating grass and providing much-needed fertilizer for the trees. There are donkeys that have been rescued from a previously ordinary life and two blue heeler dogs who were happy to play with me, and some beautiful Mora Romagnola pigs. Goats, chickens, geese and guinea fowl all live down by the dam, which is used in times of low rain, for purposes of irrigation.
Accommodation at DonnaLivia Agriturismo
An apartment in the restored Torre (Tower) Cavina joins two apartments as great places to stay here at DonnaLivia.
Roam around the grounds, relax in comfy chairs with a book, or take a dip in the pool on the edge of the mountain, overlooking the valley. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind on a short weekend break.
You can read the reviews and book online at Trip Advisor
How to get to Brisighella
Brisighella and the DonnaLivia Agriturismo makes for a perfect day trip. Guglielmo Marconi Airport is the closest and lies 48 kilometres away. Driving to Brisighella is the easiest way of getting here.
From Bologna, the distance is around 72 kilometres and will take around an hour via the E45.
Trains run to Brisighella via a stop in Faenza.
DonnaLivia is the kind of place and experience we love. Small, authentic and family owned, it serves to teach us more about the Italian way of life and their traditions. Coupled with the restaurant and all other value-add activities, it made me wish we owned it ourselves. It feels like you are in the middle of nowhere here.
Come for a leisurely lunch, or spend longer, taking the time to wander the olive groves or the parallel lines of the vineyards. Settle in by the pool as the sun sets with a glass of their wine in your hand. It’s one of the best things to do in Bologna.
Have no transport? Take this full day tour from Bologna to Brisighella.
More day trips from Bologna
Visitors are spoilt for choice in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. Bologna is so well placed that making day trips from here is both simple and recommended. Here some some of our top tips for day trips fro Bologna.
Parma, Modena and Reggio Emilia
We put all of these together as they are in close proximity to each other and really are a must do in Italy. All three of these cities are entrenched in the food culture of Italy and Emilia Romagna. It is here you will find the world famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Parma ham and Balsamic Vinegar, all made under strict production guidelines. This is authentic Italian food at its very best. Trains are the easiest form of transport for getting here if you don’t have a car.
Located on the Adriatic coastline in the east of Italy, this is the weekend playground for the Bolognese people. It’s also an area full of great history and festivals and of course a very popular beach in summer. Trains run directly to Rimini from Bologna.
As one of the smallest countries in Europe and entirely surrounded by Italy, it’s a must visit for its unique positioning alone. It’s also one of the hidden secrets of Europe and a fascinating city to visit too. A day is all you need here and getting to San Marino from Bologna is very easy.
The hills of Romagna hide all kinds of beautiful small villages and amazing produce. It’s also one of the best places to go truffle hunting in Italy. Drive out here and plan to spend one or two days exploring the area.
Clearly another hidden gem in Italy. the city of Ferrara has strong ties to its medieval and Renaissance past and is now UNESCO protected. It’s a quick train ride from Bologna.
Italy travel resources
- Italy travel guide: essential tips for first-timers in Italy: How to travel Italy: Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Sicily and much more
- Lonely Planet Italy (Country Guide)
- Rick Steves Italy 2020 (Rick Steves Travel Guide)
More Italy reading
All the links highlighted throughout the article will take you to more of our Italian content, where we talk about our experiences in these areas. We also love food experiences and highly recommend them in Italy. These are just a few of the ones we have done.
- Bologna cooking classes: A true Italian experience cooking with a local in their home
- The best food tours in Bologna: Experienced food and travel writers reveal their favourite food tours