Can a new theme park devoted to all things Italian food convince tourists to skip the country’s quiet byways and head straight to the superstore?
The entrance to FICO Eataly World Agri-Food Park in Bologna, Italy.Photographer: Geraldine Hope Ghelli/Bloomberg
Bologna, nicknamed la grassa—“the fat one”—for its wealth and edible delicacies, is located in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, thebirthplace of tortellini, Parmesan, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar. Foodies have long hopped on the two-hour train from Rome to hunt down the flavors nestled in the picturesque city and nearby hillside villages.
But now, you no longer need to find these delights on your own. Starting this November, you can tap vast swaths of Italy’s food culture at Bologna’s FICO Eataly World, or FICO for short. (The acronym stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina, which roughly translates to Italian Farming Factory, but also colloquially means “cool” or “attractive.”)
And cool it is, even to a pack of jaded local and foreign journalists visiting just before the Nov. 15 opening. We are herded around the theme park’s 25 acres of food stands, farmland, and exhibits by FICO’s very own Willy Wonka, Oscar Farinetti. He’s the ever-optimistic and hyperactive founder of Eataly, whose franchises stretch from New York to Tokyo, including one that recently opened in Los Angeles. Think of them as high-end megastores of Italian food and kitchenware. FICO is Farinetti’s next step in his mission to bring farmers closer to consumers (and make a buck at it).
A worker makes fresh pasta at the Sfogliamo kiosk. Photographer: Geraldine Hope Ghelli/Bloomberg
Farinetti leads us through a great L-shaped hall, dotted with stalls, restaurants, and workshops. You can walk around aimlessly and let it all sink in, or follow a path, either on foot or on one of the hundreds of new oversize Bianchi tricycles, which have wooden baskets to help you shop. Gesturing at the gleaming bikes, Farinetti can’t help himself: “Isn’t this fico?”
He waves frantically at an entire wall made of biodiverse apples (1,200 kinds), then boasts about having Europe’s largest overhead solar panel installation. His produce is fresh from nearby farms, and there’s livestock on location, which you can visit if you wander outside the shopping area into the orchards. The animals, as well-groomed as house pets, include nine different types of cows and a rare black-and-white-striped variety of pig Eataly is trying to preserve.