What do you know about Bologna? If you’re like most, not nearly as much as you should! The medieval capital of Emilia-Romagna, famous for its excellent gastronomy, its ancient university and the red-toned hue of many buildings in its enchanting historical centre, was typically left off the most common tourist itineraries in Italy until a few years ago, helping to preserve its authenticity and securing its place as a vibrant Italian city unblemished by the beaten path of over-tourism.
In more recent times, however, international tourists have discovered this hidden gem in the heart of Italy. As a true European crossroad, it’s possible to experience the authentic Italian art of living well just a short train ride away from Florence (35 minutes), Milan (one hour), Venice (90 minutes) and Rome (90 minutes). In Bologna, everyone feels at home.
Here’s how to make the most of two days in Bologna
Medieval market mornings
Once the lively heart of the city, separated from the main square (Piazza Maggiore) by little more than a Renaissance curtain of 15th-century palaces, Bologna’s Quadrilatero [see the lead image, taken before pre-COVID-19 social distancing guidelines] harbours a labyrinthine web of narrow alleys sitting on top of what was once Roman Bologna. Here you’ll find some of the best artisanal and gourmet food products, together with a wave of cafés, trattorias and bars (including the oldest wine bar in Bologna, dating back to 1465!). Plunge yourself into this bustling atmosphere and immerse yourself into its cramped corridors of fresh-filled tortellini, chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and hocks of mortadella that fill the Quadrilatero’s boutique markets and delis.
Films and farmers markets
Every Saturday morning the best producers from all around Bologna (including some of the best wineries and breweries) converge on the city centre to gather in the courtyard of Cineteca di Bologna (the city’s most prestigious Film Institution specialised in restoration of films and display of essay movies). Here you’ll really feel like a local waltzing between food and wine stalls and maybe even venturing into the Cineteca film library, where 47,000 volumes about cinema and more than 1,000 Italian and foreign magazines from the silent films era to recent times are preserved.
Fresh pasta in Italy’s belly
Bologna is considered one of Italy’s gastronomic superstars (often referred to as the belly of Italy), and it won’t take long to realise why it bears the nickname, La Grassa, aka the Fat One. All around the city, you’ll find laboratories of fresh pasta – tortellini, tortelloni, lasagne, tagliatelle, the list goes on and on – owned by sfogline (female pastamakers) mastering the art of sfoglia (the thin dough used to form fresh pasta). Some of them also serve their masterpiece creations to hungry crowds during lunchtime – find one for a quick and delicious meal!
Museums of music
Not many people, including among Bolognaphiles and even the Bolognesi themselves, realise that in 2006 the city earned the accolade of UNESCO Creative City of Music: a prestigious acknowledgement celebrating its rich musical tradition and its lively music scene. Both historically and contemporarily, music is of extraordinary importance for Bologna. The city’s most prominent musical institutions include the Teatro Comunale, the International Museum and Library of Music, the Conservatory, the Philharmonic Academy and the Collezione Tagliavini, an amazing collection of ancient musical instruments.
An evening of fine dining
Bologna has endless possibilities for amazing gastronomic experiences. Pick one of the many famous trattorias or restaurants around the city and have dinner unmatched in Italy or elsewhere. One suggestion, though: book in advance, as most of Bologna’s restaurants are either family-owned or small (or both), thus offering a limited number of tables. Of course, this means you get one of the best and most authentic experience ever, but as the Bolognesi love to dine out as well, you’ll need to beat the competition for the best spots in town.
Explore Bologna’s environs
Bologna’s surroundings are dotted with charming rolling hills which off a range of high-level possibilities for exploring. Food and wine lovers can visit wineries, artisanal farms and culinary producers, culture geeks will find incredible attractions hidden in the outskirts and those in search of a relaxing day will be able to relax in some of the best resorts in the area.
A castle of Moresque proportions
In Grizzana Morandi, 50 kilometres southwest of Bologna on the way towards Florence, lies a hidden jewel of the Apennines, sitting on a scenic hilltop. This astonishing castle, known as Rocchetta Mattei, shocks and awes visitors with its unique patchwork of wildly opposing architectural styles, including Medieval to Middle Eastern to Moorish (to name but a few). You can discover the fascinating story behind it and learn about its creator, the controversial Count Cesare Mattei.
Wine tasting in the hills
The Bolognese hills are an extraordinary landscape of historical and cultural heritage, recognised worldwide for the quality of its food and wine. Located to the south and west of Bologna, at various heights and with an extremely wide range of soils and microclimates, this area is devoted to the production of quality wines; from the great Sangiovese red wine – popular all over the world – to the DOCG Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto white wine.
For more inspiration on experiences in Bologna, see www.bolognawelcome.it
What safer way to travel in 2021 than exploring Italy’s regional and rural cities and towns while practising social distancing. #enjoyitalyresponsibly
Find other getaway ideas at www.italia.it