Can you keep a secret? Italy may be a go-to destination for tourists but we’ve discovered somewhere you can enjoy an authentic Italian experience with hardly a tourist in sight. Emilia Romagna, in northern Italy, is Tuscany, Lombardy and Veneto’s quieter neighbour, bashfully hiding its many charms. The region features buzzing ‘art cities’, picture perfect countryside and enough local foods to satisfy the most demanding foodie. Often overlooked for nearby Milan, Emilia Romagna is a style mecca too, with luxury fashion labels MaxMara, Alberta Ferretti and Sergio Rossi all having links with the area.

What you drive is just as important as what you wear in ‘Motor Valley’, home of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati. It’s the ideal location for a stylish road trip – even if you can’t get your hands on a supercar. Any road trip here must include the Via Emilia: a Roman-built road that cuts a determined course from Rimini in the East to Piacenza in the west, with plenty to see, eat, drink, taste and experience en route.

Day One: Bologna

“Mmm, bolognese!” is my first and only thought when we land at Bologna Airport. A guided walking tour quickly dispels the notion that this is all Bologna’s about. The skyline is striking and vividly displays the city’s past, and we soon get neck ache from staring up – in awe -. at the many towers, thought to have been built by noble families for status and protection. Bologna’s streets are also covered by almost 40km of historic porticos, defining the architecture of the city and providing us with much needed shelter from the baking sun. The ‘art city’, so called for its stunning art and architecture, doesn’t disappoint.

Bologna’s culinary delights are just as impressive as its art, architecture and culture. We venture to Mercato di Mezzo: the city’s oldest indoor market, where locals fill the restaurants, stalls and delis, enjoying leisurely evening meals. Our aperitivo of local meats, breads and cheeses at La Baita is deliciously slow-paced and complemented by refreshing Pignoletto, a sparkling white wine from the region, and sangiovese, an earthy red. We sample both. After all, it would be rude not to.

Day Two: Modena

Bologna has set the standard for food and drink but our next stop, Modena – birthplace of balsamic vinegar – doesn’t disappoint either. We have a guided tour of Acetaia di Giorgio where a local family have been producing traditional balsamico in their home for 130 years. Traditional versions are made using a process that results in a thick, rich syrup that clings to the palate and delights the taste buds. RIH recommends a few drops on vanilla ice cream – delizioso!

Modena’s architecture is something to savour too. There’s a bell tower that leans gently over – a less famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. This, along with the Piazza Grande and Romanesque cathedral, have rightly seen the area named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral’s exterior tells the Genesis story in evocative pictures, created to bring the bible to the illiterate, but equally as interesting to literate tourists today.

Day Three: In and Around Parma

You can’t visit the Parma region and not try the local Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It’s a rule. The obvious way to sample artisan-produced Parmesan is at a restaurant but you could always visit a cheese factory instead. Admittedly, this isn’t your standard holiday activity but why not give it a go? And here are a variety of guided tours of local factories available.

Parma proclaims itself the “land of art, music and fine food” and those who’ve visited are sure to agree. Along with Parmesan, the city is known for its prosciutto and holds an annual prosciutto festival, so great is the locals’ love of the meat. If you want to sample another local delicacy, you must try torta fritta: fried portions of fluffy, pillow-shaped bread which we can’t get enough of.

Music lovers are amply catered for at the Teatro Farnese, an intricately decorated Renaissance theatre in the Pilotta Palace, where classical operas are still performed. The theatre was originally designed so the floor space could be completely flooded during performances featuring the sea which must have been quite a sight to behold. World War Two bombing left the theatre badly damaged but it has been rebuilt to the original design so it can still be enjoyed today.

Day four: around Parma and Piacenza

Hidden in the countryside around Parma is the is the Labirinto della Masone: a site that probably isn’t on your holiday wish list but definitely should be. Created by publisher Franco Maria Ricci, it features his eclectic art collection, as well as the world’s largest maze; one to tick off the bucket list. You could easily while away an afternoon exploring over eight-hectares of bamboo maze and getting lost amongst more than 200,000 bamboo plants. Before entering the maze you’re given a sheet with an emergency contact number, should you be unable to find your way out!

Maze completed, we recommend toasting your success and trying a tour of a local vineyard. We drive up winding hills and through sleepy villages to the vineyard that produces Cardinali wine. Laura Cardinali takes us on a barefoot tour, pointing out the different varieties of grapes and the vivid red roses bushes, planted at the top of each row of vines, not only for their beauty but to detect disease before the vines are harmed. By this point we’ve built up a thirst and enjoy wine tasting and a light meal prepared by Laura and her family.

As I look out over the vineyard there isn’t a tourist in sight, just unspoilt Italian countryside and the odd goat clinging to a rolling hill. For now, we can enjoy Emilia Romagna’s relative calm but I wonder how long it will be until the secret gets out.

For further information on Emilia Romagna, visit the tourist board’s website, follow them on Twitter or find them on Facebook. British Airways flies direct to Bologna airport from £72 one way and Ryanair flies direct to nearby Milan from the UK from £18 one way. RIH stayed at Art Hotel dei Commercianti where prices start from start from £127 per room per night, Albergo Delle Notarie which starts from £62 per room per night and Antica Grancia Benedettina which costs from £79 per room per night.