With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Aside from the risks posed by exposure to the sun (both in summer and winter), and the nuisance of mosquitoes, health issues in Emilia-Romagna are no different from those in other westernised countries. In most cases, free care in Italy from the national health system, the SSN (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale). For more information, call Emilia-Romagna’s health hotline (800 033 033).
There will be a hospital, clinic or local health unit (Azienda Sanitaria Locale, ASL) with a Pronto Soccorso (casualty/first aid department) in every town of any size. Pharmacy staff are trained to assist with most minor problems. If a pharmacy is closed when you need it, look for the card in the window with the schedule of the farmacia di turno (the closest one open) or call 1100 for the details of the three nearest pharmacies.
Most Italian doctors speak at least rudimentary English; otherwise the US Consulate in Florence (055 266 951), which serves Emilia-Romagna, has a list of English-speaking doctors and dentists.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on ISTM. For other journey preparation information, consult NaTHNac (UK) or CDC (US). Information about various medications may be found on NetDoctor. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
While Emilia-Romagna’s cities (especially Rimini and Bologna) get their share of petty crime – purse-snatchings, pickpocketing, minor thievery of the white-collar kind (always check your change), car break-ins and theft – violent crime is very rare. Nearly all mishaps can be avoided with adequate precautions. Scooter-borne purse-snatchers can be foiled if you stay on the inside of the pavement and keep a firm hold on your property (sling your bag-strap across your body, not dangling from one shoulder).
Remember that pickpockets strike in crowded buses or trams and gatherings; don’t carry too much cash, and split it so you won’t lose the lot at once. In cities and popular tourist sites, beware groups of scruffy-looking women with babies or children with pieces of cardboard, apparently begging. They use distraction techniques to perfection. The smallest and most innocent-looking child is generally the most skilful pickpocket. If you are targeted, grab hold of any vulnerable possessions or pockets and shout furiously; Italian passers-by or plain-clothes police will often come to your assistance if they realise what is happening. Be extra careful in train stations, don’t leave valuables in hotel rooms, and park your car in garages, guarded lots or on well-lit streets, with portable temptations well out of sight.
Women travelling alone or in small groups should not encounter any particular problems in Emilia-Romagna. If possible, try to avoid arriving or leaving big city stations late at night. There have been complaints in the past of harassment etc, though no more or less than in any other European city.
Emilia-Romagna is the most tolerant region in Italy, so much so that Pope John Paul II called it a ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’. Politically left-wing Bologna is the home to the national headquarters of Arcigay, Italy’s first and largest LGBTQ+ organisation. In country towns, a certain amount of discretion may be called for as you may encounter confusion and animosity, especially among teenagers and the elderly. However, hotel workers are unlikely to question a gay or lesbian couple requesting a double room.
Travelling with children
Italians adore children, and you shouldn’t encounter any problems travelling with yours. However, if you are travelling with minor children with different surnames, you may need proof of guardianship. Contact your Italian consulate before you leave.
Many hotels now offer family rooms; staying in an agriturismo on a farm can be a great experience for kids. Children usually get half-price admission in museums. Children aged 4–11 years inclusive pay the child fare on Trenitalia; on long-distance trains those under 15 qualify for the child fare. Children under four travel for free, although you’ll still have to pay a small fee for a reservation. On Italo trains, children under two travel for free, while those aged 2–16 are eligible for a child rate.
Information for travellers with a disability
Emilia-Romagna is one of the best-equipped Italian regions for visitors with disabilities, although wheelchair users may well have difficulties in steep Apennine villages. Most hotels have at least one room designed for wheelchair travellers; public toilets and most restaurant toilets are accessible. Trenitalia provides free assistance to wheelchair users if you let them know your plans 24 hours in advance. Big city stations have a Sala Blu for travellers with disabilities where journeys can be arranged.