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Eataly World FICO: a look inside Italy's foodie theme park

Eataly World FICO: a first look at Italy's foodie theme park

Tom Shingler 13 November 2017

We were one of the first to experience Eataly World FICO – a huge theme park just outside Bologna where you can learn about and taste the incredible regional foods of Italy. Take a look at what's inside.

A theme park based solely around traditional food and drink complete with interactive exhibitions, dozens of restaurants, a gargantuan food hall and a flotilla of bright blue tricycles for getting about? It could only happen in Italy. But Eataly World FICO (FICO stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina, which means ‘Italian Farmer Factory’) is tipped to be a huge success, with an incredible three million people expected to visit the site every month. We travelled to the park, based twenty minutes from the centre of Bologna, to attend the official preview – and we were blown away by the scale of the project.

The first thing you have to get your head around is the sheer scale of the place – think of it as the Disneyland of food. It’s 100,000 square metres of pure, unadulterated food-focused fun, beautifully designed by the architect Thomas Bartoli. The main aim is to educate those visiting about Italy’s rich culinary landscape, get them to try the foods that make Italian cuisine famous and taste regional specialities all in one place. At first it sounds a bit mad – a theme park based around Italian food? – but after a short walk around the grounds, it soon becomes clear that this is a playground for any home cook interested in the country’s cuisine.

The vast majority of the food available to taste is made on-site in one of the park’s forty ‘factories’, all of which are glass-fronted so you can watch the action yourself. There are creameries, a brewery, an olive press, pasta shops, bakeries, gelaterias, butchers – there’s even someone making fresh artisan crisps. Everything you see being made is available to taste or buy, and the people working there are happy to share their stories and answer any questions you might have.

Italy is home to so many different culinary traditions, it would take a lifetime to discover them all. But Eataly World does a great job of showing just how important they are to the country’s culture. Every one of Italy’s regions is represented, and even the nerdiest of foodies would discover plenty of new delicacies. The real attraction of the park, however, is that you can taste everything you learn about; the restaurants (some of which are operated by Michelin-starred chefs), street food stands and cafés offer food and drink to enjoy there and then. You can pick up a snack and eat it whilst you walk around the park, or enjoy a full three-course meal for lunch.

The marketplace covers 9,000 square metres, making it one of the best food halls we’ve ever visited. You can stock up on the very best artisanal food and drink to enjoy at a later date – there’s even an on-site post office, where they’ll package up your purchases and send them direct to your home. If you think your local supermarket has a decent collection of olive oils for sale, take a look at the aisle at Eataly World – we counted at least 100 different varieties, all from various regions of Italy.

Inside Eataly World are six ‘carousels’ – interactive exhibitions which focus on various aspects of food production. You can drive a CGI ship to different points on a map and discover which PDO-protected shellfish are landed there, or see what the future of food will bring via augmented reality headsets. You can even plant a seed in a hydroponic garden and watch it grow over the months via an app.

Outside you’ll find Eataly World’s farms, stables and gardens, home to 200 animals and 2,000 different plants. There’s even ‘Truffle World’, where you can go truffle hunting with trained dogs.

Eataly World FICO officially opens on 15 November 2017 – it’s free to enter, and there are buses running from Bologna’s central train station to the park every day. The owners are currently building an on-site hotel, too, so those truly obsessed with Italian cuisine can base their whole holiday around the park. Anyone with even a passing interest in Italian food should plan a trip here – Eataly World might sound a little crazy, but it’s one of the best days out a foodie can have.

For more information visit eatalyworld.it/en.

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