DESTINATION GUIDE: What fans can eat, see and do when they visit Imola for the Emilia Romagna GP

Special Contributor

Amy Overy
IMOLA, ITALY - APRIL 23: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving (16) the Ferrari F1-75 during practice

The foothills of the Apennine Mountains have reverberated with the roar of engines since 1953 when racing first began at the Italian track, with Imola – or the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari as it has been known since 1988 – hosting the Italian Grand Prix for the first time in 1980.

Thereafter it hosted races under the San Marino Grand Prix title and would go on to host a total of 27 Formula 1 events until 2006. Imola returned as a venue for the Emilia Romagna GP in 2020 and is a firm favourite with drivers, teams and fans alike.

READ MORE: Tickets for the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on sale now

F1 President and CEO Stefano Domenicali grew up in the city and the track has played an important role in his life.

“My memories of the Imola circuit are incredible because I lived in Imola as a kid and was going to see the race and would watch it from Tosa," he says.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali grew up in Imola and eventually became Ferrari Team Principal

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali grew up in Imola and eventually became Ferrari Team Principal

“During my high school time, my school was behind the track on the other side of the river and I would go to the track to help the organisation to park trucks, control passes and so on.

“I remember sitting with the mechanics of Ferrari. I remember every single moment, Imola has always been a part of my life, it’s incredible in a way.”

Where and what to eat

Considered to be one of the richest gastronomic areas of Italy, Imola is situated in the Emilia-Romagna region of the country, with the Tuscan hills to the south, Adriatic coast to the east and the culinary hotspots of Bologna, Parma and Modena to the west making it an excellent destination for food-loving race fans.


Don't miss your chance to experience the picturesque Imola circuit...


Chances are, if you’ve travelled to the area in search of fast cars and gastronomic delights, you’ll probably want to take the short detour to nearby Maranello, home of Ferrari, and sample the delights of equally legendary chef Massimo Bottura’s menu at Ristorante Cavallino in the heart of the town.

Located opposite the main entrance to the Ferrari factory, this old farmhouse served as the company canteen when Enzo Ferrari bought the area for his car manufacturing complex.


Ristorante Cavallino is opposite the main entrance to the Ferrari factory

A restaurant since 1950, this historic building has hosted engineers, drivers and even royalty over the years.

Enzo himself ate here twice a day until his death in 1988 – and it was here that F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone and Jean-Marie Balestre, then President of the FIA, signed the foundations of the Formula 1 Concorde Agreement.

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Now with acclaimed three Michelin-starred, Modena-born chef Bottura at the helm, the Cavallino has been reinvigorated while still retaining the charm and rich heritage of the past, celebrating the abundance of local produce and serving surprisingly affordable traditional trattoria dishes with a modern twist, to Ferrari fans, foodies and locals alike.


Enzo Ferrari himself ate at Ristorante Cavallino twice a day until his death in 1988

Closer to the track and in Imola itself, Osteria de Piola is located right in the historic heart of the city – literally – as it is situated in one of the 15th century Appia gate towers that once marked the entrance to medieval Imola, and serves a small but perfectly formed traditional Romagna menu of cured cold cuts of meat with local cheese and handmade pasta, and rich ragus in a simply decorated yet warm and welcoming dining room.

Nearby is an institution which has been serving the region’s food “simply and without excessive frills” for over 50 years, according to the acclaimed bible of all things food, the Michelin Guide.

San Domenico was awarded its second coveted Michelin star in 1977 and has been lauded as a landmark in the history of Italian cuisine. Domenicali knows the restaurant well and agrees.

“Restaurants in Imola are all good, but for sure the most famous is San Domenico and that has been important because it is known not only in Imola and Italy, but all around the world,” he says.


Ristorante Cavallino also has a beautiful outdoor terrace

After spending a long day watching the action trackside, make a pit stop at the aptly named Pit Stop Restaurant, a mere stone’s throw from the Imola circuit, where a freshly made pizza from the extensive menu accompanied by a zesty spritz will surely restore you.

Good news for celiacs who may feel hard done by in a country built on gluten, Pit Stop also offers an array of delicious pasta dishes and pizzas without it.

If you’re staying further afield in Bologna, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to small, homely trattorias serving typical Bolognese dishes and locally produced wine.

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One such gem is Osteria dell’Orsa, a classic tavern-style restaurant at the heart of the Bologna social scene close to the university, where they still follow the tradition of seating people wherever there is room, even if it means sharing a large table with strangers. It’s a great place to try a mixed platter of cold cuts accompanied by the popular Emilian fried dough, gnocco fritto, in a lively and warm setting.

The perfect way to round off an evening of delicious eating is to stroll the historic centre of Imola with a scoop or two of gelato in hand – and luckily for the sweet-toothed there are many gelaterias in the city to tempt you with their tasty seasonal flavours.

Join the queue at Gioelia Cremerie to try the ricotta and caramelised fig gelato, or pop into Sesto Senso for pear and cinnamon sorbet.

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Where to stay

There’s an array of small, charming hotels and self-catering apartments located within a short distance from the Autodromo Internaziole Enzo e Dino Ferrari, making it a good choice if you don’t want to travel too far to watch the action on track.

Alternatively, further afield but easily accessible from Imola by fast train, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region Bologna has an abundance of hotels to suit every pocket and is rich with culture and history, making it a great city to explore.

Where to watch the race

The 4.9km circuit is a thrill ride with an old-school feel. To see the F1 cars pushed to their absolute limits, take a spot on the outside of Acque Minerali and watch the drivers struggle to get the speed down for the tight right-hander before blasting back up the hill to the Variante Alta chicane.

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If you don't have your own house and balcony right on the circuit, try watching the race from the Acque Minerale corner

Non-F1 highlights

Dating back to the 13th century, Rocca Sforzesca – Imola’s fortress – is a beautiful example of fortified architecture bridging the middle ages and the Renaissance, and was the home to one of the most important and powerful female figures of this time. Known as the Lady of Imola, Caterina Sforza ruled fairly by eliminating some taxes and reducing others to ensure that her towns remained orderly and peaceful.

She was not, however, above avenging her enemies, and it is said that she would throw her detractors into the fortress’ well which was reinforced with sharp blades. Local residents claim that if visitors get too close to her treasure hidden in the dungeons, her ghost appears to frighten them away.

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Said to be one of the most beautiful towns in Italy, Dozza is just 6km from Imola. Situated on the crest of a gentle hill dominating the Sellustra river valley, this small but perfectly formed gem of a Medieval town is dominated by the imposing Dozza Castle (Rocca Sforzesca di Dozza).

It’s another fine example of Renaissance and Medieval fortification combined, but with a drinkable twist because in the cellars of this impressive fortress, you’ll find the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna – a collection of over 800 wines all produced in the area, with a wine bar offering tastings allowing you to sample the delights of the surrounding vineyards before purchasing.

IMOLA, ITALY - JUNE 2008: An aerial image of Rocca Sforzesca, Imola (Photo by Blom UK via Getty

Rocca Sforzesca dates back to the 13th century

Every two years, Dozza hosts the Biennial Exhibition of the Painted Wall, an event first held in 1960 which sees more than 200 celebrated artists from all over the world invited to come and use the ancient facades of the buildings as their canvas, creating murals that range from abstract to still life, which are then left in place for two years until the next event, making the town a living open air gallery and well worth a visit.

While Imola has undoubtedly seen some of the greatest racing moments in F1 history, it has also witnessed great tragedy, and it would be remiss not to acknowledge the loss of both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna on the fateful weekend of the San Marino GP in May 1994 which changed the sport forever.

READ MORE: 10 moments of Ayrton Senna brilliance – from his first win to that magical Monaco pole lap

In 1997 a small statue of Senna was erected in front of the Tamburello curve where he crashed and lost his life, and the corner has since become a place of pilgrimage for F1 fans from all over the world, with letters, flowers and flags left in remembrance.

The memorial is accessible on foot or by bike and located in the Acque Minerali Park.

The Ayrton Senna memorial is located in the Acque Minerali Park at Imola

The Ayrton Senna memorial is located in the Acque Minerali Park at Imola

Fun fact

The traditional pasta shape garganelli, with its distinctive grooves, is made and eaten throughout the Emilia-Romagna region and allegedly first came into being on New Year’s Eve 1775 at the home of Cardinal Bentivoglio, papal legate to Romagna.

The Cardinal’s chef had run out of filling for the cappelletti pasta he was about to serve, so quickly invented a new shape with the leftover pasta squares by rolling them around a stick and then over a weaver’s comb.

Rich in history in both cultural and F1 terms, Imola has a classic charm that is sure to delight any visitor. Domenicali acknowledges the part the city has played in the sport and its importance in his life:

“The Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari is one of the tracks that has characterised the history of Formula 1 – the track was part of my life, there’s no doubt.”

He adds: “The balance that I had in terms of quality of life and what was on offer during my childhood and as a teenager was just incredible. I still have family here in Imola, and my friends who I meet every year for a special dinner just to remember the good old days. And looking ahead of course, as always. The city is always on my mind.”

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Imola destination guide

  • Currency: Euro
  • Language: Italian
  • Population: Approx. 70k
  • F1 race held since: 1980


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