A citadel of food, a multi-factory, and a giant shopping mall. FICO Eataly World is a concept never seen before.

You’ve probably heard of FICO Eataly World, the first and biggest food-themed “park” in the world. FICO stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina, or Italian Farming Factory. Imagine eight hectares of indoor area (farms, restaurants, stores, and much more) and two hectares of outdoors (fields and stables), covered by solar-paneled canopies, to be enjoyed rain or shine. FICO Eataly World opened on November 15, in the city of Bologna, Emilia Romagna region, not far from city center, international airport, and train station.

FICO Eataly World originated from a concept of Oscar Farinetti, the man who brought you Eataly (here’s what you need to know about Eataly Los Angeles recently-opened location), with the purpose of showcasing Italian excellence in the food and wine world, and let everyone enjoy it. The project is ambitious, but, as Farinetti put it at the press conference, “We have to try. Worst case scenario, we fail. But we are doing our best”.

But what does FICO Eataly World have that Eataly has not? Together with stores, marketplace, restaurants, and educational areas, FICO features the necessary steps that come before that: agriculture, animal breeding, and transformation of the product. It’s almost as if it was saying: “You want food? You gotta earn it! “. FICO Eataly World displays the whole production chain, from milking cows to tasting and buying cheese, from picking olives to using extra-virgin olive oil on the focaccia that you can buy by the square. It also offers guided tours and recreational classes, promoting what Italy can do best in the wine and food universe.

FICO Eataly World Pizza

Pizza by Rosso Pomodoro at Eataly World

What you will find at FICO Eataly World

As entering FICO Eataly World, you go through a wall of 12,600 apples, donated by popular brand Melinda. A sign reminds you that there are 1,200 apple varieties in the world, 1,000 of which only in Italy. This pretty much explains the concept of biodiversity that FICO Eataly World cares a lot about. The Italian territory is so rich and varied to give birth to more than a thousand native types of apples! Along with 540 native olives and 1,200 native wine varietals, so to speak…

Once in, the first part of FICO Eataly World is a large piazza with the welcome desk, a fountain, and dioramas anticipating what you will find inside, along with the first one of the six educational carousels. After all, what’s a theme park without its rides? Don’t expect to find roller-coasters, though. We are talking about six immersive, sensorial experiences illustrating the relationship of humankind with fire, animals, land, sea, food transformation, and the future.

“It’s almost as if it was saying: You want food? You gotta earn it!”

cheese at FICO Eataly World

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheels on display at FICO

There is smell of amazing food in the air. Bread is being baked, pasta is being cooked, prosciutto is being cut, and milk is turning into cheese.

FICO Eataly World selected certain brands to represent Italian excellence. Think big names, such as Lavazza coffee, Balocco cookies and panettone, or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. A concentration of beauty, goodness, and authenticity. These companies will be the ambassadors of Italian quality, and will tell about it to the 6 million visitors from all over the world expected to take a stroll in the park every year.

RELATED: How to pick the best panettone

Most of the brands have a real factory for in-house production, and will serve and sell their products directly to the visitors. Don’t expect ordinary stores, but real emotional experiences. At the Venchi chocolate space, for example, a machine realized by an Italian MIT professor analyzes your emotions while tasting chocolate.

Besides the big brands, FICO Eataly World gathers farmers, producers, artisans, cooks, and retailers, and displays the whole production chain every single day, through demonstrations, workshops, tastings, courses, and activities—some specifically for kids— for a total of up to 30 daily classes and events. So don’t forget to book a few when you’ll plan your visit!

Making olive oil at FICO Eataly World

Learn all about olive oil making, then pour some on your focaccia

Go truffle hunting at FICO (or just shave it on your risotto)

The park is divided into themed areas, each with its glass-walled production laboratory, store, and eating zone, for a total of 47 among restaurants, cafès, bistrots, and street food kiosks.

Speaking of eating, you can taste specialties from each and every Italian region, from panzerotto (fried savory turnover with tomato and mozzarella from Apulia) to arrosticini (roasted lamb skewers from Abruzzo), from piadina (thin pliable flatbread from Emilia-Romagna) to cassata and cannoli (traditional desserts from Sicily). FICO Eataly World also features a truffle bar by Urbani Tartufi (biggest truffle retailer in the world), a mortadella bar by Mortadella Bologna IGP Consortium, and two crudité bars, one for fish and one for meat lovers. As for drinking, wine is ubiquitous (yay!), but if you feel like something different, you will find two beer stations, as well as a cocktail bar, only using Italian products.

RELATED: Truffle risotto and other Northern Italian specialties at Estrella, West Hollywood

Some flagship stores will offer products that are not available in ordinary stores, along with others that were specifically created for FICO, such as a special beer by Baladin brewery, or five cheeses (from caciocavallo to pecorino) by dairy company Granarolo.

Italian pastries at FICO Eataly World

Room for dessert?

FICO Eataly World is also home to 200 animals, including cows, pigs, donkeys, horses, geese, rabbits, hens, and… truffle-hunting dogs. Every day, these dogs will show their abilities in a dedicated outdoor area that recreates the woods where you would typically find truffles. This is one of the most peculiar experiences you can have at FICO Eataly World. You know, in case making fresh pasta, Neapolitan pizza, gelato, or beer wasn’t cool enough.

The FICO Eataly World experience is completed by a congress center, classrooms, a movie theater, a bookstore, a beach volley field, a mini-golf course, and stores dedicated to kitchen appliances, home décor, and even souvenir (fig plush keychain, anyone?). Did I mention that you can tour the park on Bianchi bikes, each equipped with two baskets so that you can keep shopping? You will feel like you’re touring Rome on a Vespa!

the Bianchi bikes at FICO Eataly World

Take a stroll through FICO with one of these

FICO is not your regular theme park, and that’s a good thing

FICO Eataly World is a concept never seen before, an authentic citadel of food, a multi-factory, and an incredibly comprehensive shopping mall. Not only a temple of enjoyment and consumerism, but a school of food, teaching people how to eat well and live well, the Italian way. FICO Eataly World will show the world that food does not just come from the grocery store.

The theme park will be a great attraction for international Italian food lovers, but a precious reminder for Italian people, too. Truth is, we tend to forget about how lucky we are to have so many products, ingredients, traditions, and the best nutritional model in the world. Indeed, UNESCO classified the Mediterranean diet as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

RELATED: Massimo Bottura’s fighting food waste, and you can too

The underlying hope beneath FICO Eataly World is that Italy will look up at its tremendous potential and start appreciating its precious resources. As Tiziana Primori, CEO, remarked at the press conference, FICO Eataly World was designed to be the reflection of Italy. It might have its own problems and challenges, but it is filled with expertise and spirit, necessary to rediscover its own richness and make the best of it.


Photos by Serena Boschi for Foodiamo. All rights reserved.