Fico Eataly World opened in Bologna in November 2017 to great fanfare. Widely covered by international media, which dubbed it a ‘Disneyland for foodies,’ even before it opened, FICO describes itself as “the world’s largest food and agriculture park.” At 100,000 square meters, large indeed it is; food, yes, there’s plenty; agriculture, meh; a park? Not really, it’s basically a mall – of food sure, but not necessarily of the best food.
Because FICO is so big, if you decide that you want to visit, better to go prepared, especially if there are specific things you’re interested in seeing/doing. Read on for a concise guide to FICO Eataly World, which will also help you understand if FICO may be a fit for you or not.
Plan (or Not) Your Visit to FICO Eataly World in Bologna
What is FICO Eataly World:
FICO is a 10-hectare space dedicated to Italian food, whose underlying theme is to show people how the food we eat is made by focusing on some of Italy’s top productions. Its motto is ‘dal campo alla forchetta’, literally from field to fork (the farm-to-table concept).
There is a two-hectare outdoor area which comprises vegetable, cereal and herb plots, fruit orchards, an olive grove, vineyards, a truffle plantation, for a total of 2,000 cultivars (types of plant), as well as stables with 200 farm animals, including some of the most typical Italian species of beef and dairy cattle, sheep, pigs (for example, Chianina, mora romagnola, Altamura, etc.). The remaining eight hectares are indoors and feature, along an L-shaped walkway, 40 food factories, where you can see how ingredients are transformed (for a fee), 44 kiosks and restaurants, as well as shops and a market, where you can buy Italian products. There are also six multimedia educational pavilions (€2 fee), called ‘giostre,’ dedicated to exploring the relationship between humans and the elements of nature.
How to get to FICO:
FICO is in an unappealing area of town, far from, well, everything.
To get to FICO, hop on the FICO shuttle that departs from Bologna’s train station every day starting at 9:30 am. It leaves every 30 minutes on weekdays, every 20 minutes on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. It takes about 20 minutes if traffic isn’t too bad (around the train station it’s usually a mess). The FICO shuttle costs €7 round-trip.
FICO’s Tours and Experiences
At the main entrance you’ll find a welcome desk where you can book the experiences and classes you’re interested in. I’d suggest you have a look online on the FICO’s website to get an idea beforehand of what you’d like to do so that you can plan your visit around the times and days that your activities of interest are offered.
A general tour of the premises, the so-called FICO Tour, is offered daily, three times a day. That will give you a comprehensive view of the space (which may otherwise feel overwhelming the first time you visit), including the outdoor fields. The tour is led by FICO’s “Biodiversity Ambassadors” (their name for FICO guides). I think the tour is overpriced (€15 for an hour – pretty much everything is overpriced at FICO though), but it may be worth it to get an idea not just of the space, but of the concept behind it all.
You can obviously just tour the premises by yourself; many panels along the way and outside display snippets of information and anecdotes about Italy’s rich biodiversity.
My Thoughts on FICO Eataly World
While the concept the founders claim to be behind FICO is in theory good – the whole ‘let’s show people how the food we eat is made so we raise awareness on the value of food,’ the way it’s been/being put into practice makes me wonder about how much of it is just a brand identity marketing move.
One of the things I find especially disappointing at FICO is that most of the producers on display are big names, and big companies – hence, industrially-produced goods. If the idea is to show the “culture, traditions, and craftsmanship that make Italian food the most famous in the world,” then I would have liked to see more smaller producers, niche producers, and a larger representation of Italy’s artisan-made products. And where’s the attention on sustainable practices?
In addition, many of the products on sale at FICO can be found at a regular supermarket (exactly because they’re mass produced), often for a lower price.
The other aspect that makes me skeptical is the outdoor area with “fields” and “stables;” it just feels completely out of context – because it is. The landscape around you is cement, therefore rather unappealing, and seeing a cow or a goat or an olive tree framed by concrete rather than hills just doesn’t do it for me.
Should You Go to FICO Eataly World?
Ask yourself: would I rather be wandering the alleys of a food market that has been in the same place since the Romans (hello, Quadrilatero of Bologna), or the artificially-lit lanes of a shopping center that could be replicated anywhere in the world? Would I rather drive around the Italian countryside, see the animals in their natural environment, meet the real producers of a prized Italian product, or experience the diluted version under strip lighting and with concrete in the background?
Now to break it even further:
If you have one day in Bologna: by all means, stay in the city center. You can see and taste many of Bologna’s and Emilia-Romagna’s signature delicacies in the ancient Quadrilatero market area and at the Mercato delle Erbe. You can eat at a typical trattoria, and it’s likely going to be cheaper (although, with the increase in tourism, prices for eating out are increasing in the city as well).
If you have two days in Bologna: you may consider going if you don’t have time to go out to the countryside, but you’d like to learn about the production of, say, Parmigiano Reggiano, and you want to pack in a few foodie-related activities in a day, such as learning to make fresh pasta, pizza and gelato, do some chocolate-tasting, see how mortadella is made, or learn how to taste wine. Not all activities are offered every day, so make sure you visit FICO’s website to check days and times when the activity is offered. They do plan a lot of themed-events too, so you may want to check their events page as well.
If you have three or more days in Bologna: it means you have time to explore, so definitely do that and go see other art cities, the countryside and the high-quality productions of Emilia-Romagna like balsamic vinegar, prosciutto di Parma, culatello, Parmigiano Reggiano by going directly to the producers.
If you’re coming to Bologna for the day to specifically go to FICO: Not worth it.
Have you been to FICO? What did you think?
6 thoughts on “Is FICO Eataly World (Bologna) Worth the Trip To the Outskirts of Town?”
Tad cynical, I thought. I was in Bologna for 10 days last year and it was a great half day out. The smaller producers, you mention, I wouldn’t have thought could have both a site here and in Bologna. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Great for gifts although a whole leg of Parma Ham would have been to heavy for me to bring back to UK. I went fairly ealy in the day, before the tours started and it was excellent.
The smaller producers cannot be there because they don’t have the resources to be there. If you’re presenting yourself as the place to showcase Italy’s rich food traditions, then make it more inclusive. I’ve met lots of food artisans through my work as a journalist who are doing a great job of carrying on traditions AND being sustainable, but they don’t get celebrated because they don’t have access to a major marketing machine like the one behind FICO and Eataly. So perhaps not cynical, just jaded! FICO is not the authentic experience of Italian food to me, and I find it mostly geared at foreign tourists to make them spend a lot of money.
I agree completely with the content of the article.
I agree with the article as welll.
Thanks for writing this very honest piece. Although I am in Bologna quite frequently, I have not been to FICO — no interest, really — but its feet really should be held to the fire about showcasing farmers and academics who are devoting themselves to developing sustainable agriculture as we undergo climate change. This should be where you go to get all your questions answered about agroforestry, soil replenishment, the impact of solar and wind farms or biomass fuels on farmlands and vineyards. Otherwise it is a completely missed opportunity to educate and engage consumers about how to support and participate in the great food revolution of our lifetimes. Sounds like they should also be planting a lot more trees out there, including on rooftops. Hope they dig and make themselves a serious project instead of a cruise ship excursion (which is in itself an unsustainable business model)
Hi Kathleen, thank you for your thoughtful comment! I couldn’t agree more – and it is a missed opportunity, while the need to raise awareness about sustainable practices and care for the earth and our resources becomes ever more pressing.