Bologna: a Foodie's Paradise
Bologna might not be at the top of your Italian wish-list (cue Venice, Florence, and a little place called Rome), but if you enjoy food in any way, it’s a must.
Home to the saucy bolognese, the winking mortadella sausage and a mecca for fresh, flirty pasta, this not-so-little town in northern Italy is known as La Grassa - "the fat one". Nestled in the heart of the Emilia Romagna region (a.k.a a foodie’s paradise), come with an empty stomach and politely leave all carb-phobic diets at one of the many gates on the way in.
We arrived in the city late at night, toting our suitcases across cobblestones past a smorgasbord of cars worth the same price as a little London flat. We spent our nights at the glorious Art Hotel Orologio, right off the main town square and perfectly placed for all our Bolognan adventures.
Mornings started gloriously late, the already-hot sun streaming through our windows accompanied by shouts of morning traders rolling up the shutters on their stalls. We shuffled along to Caffe Terzi, which had come highly recommended. I must admit I do not know the name of the coffee which I ordered no less than three mornings in a row. I spied a fellow patron sipping on this cream-topped delight, unabashedly pointing to it and asking the delightful barista for the same. Belissimo.
Bologna is not only all about food. It is home to the world’s oldest university and is something of a living, breathing archive of centuries-old knowledge and wisdom. It is a beautiful city - quite unexpectedly so as it is not normally one plastered all over Italy’s tourism beacons. The historic town centre is Europe’s second largest. Chocolate dark, medieval towers handsomely line the Piazza Maggiore, while terracotta coloured porticos characterize the wide and narrow streets around the historical town. Neptune keeps watch over the city, atop some mermaids who are gravitationally challenged thanks to their generous, er, bosom. It is one of Italy’s economic powerhouses, wearing the wealth of the area with a subtle pride.
Our first stop was the Biblioteca dell'Archiginnasio, the grand public library nearly 400 years old. It is bursting at the seams with historical texts and home to centuries old lecture theatres, including a large hall kitted out for anatomical lessons complete with a marble slab for, uh, anatomies. The place is incredible, radiating a sense of superior knowledge which will dwarf your measure of your own smarts.
A late breakfast was had at Cafe Zanarini, a marble-slicked establishment where choosing between their sweets is a near-impossible task. We wandered along the many portico-lined streets, craning our necks to catch a glimpse of one of the many medieval towers standing tall (sometimes slightly crooked). We were on a mission to see the University of Bologna - Europe’s first - which sadly we had to peek in behind closed gates as it had well and truly shut its doors for the summer. The run on our luck continued. Osteria dell-Orsa, which arguably serves the best ragù alla bolognese in town, was also closed for the summer weeks as we arrived licking our lips. All was not lost. We had some delicious fresh ragù and tortellini at one of the many little restaurants tucked away on Via Calzolerie (I almost read that as ‘zero calories’, which it most definitely is not). To say we devoured Bologna would be fair. We were trying to ‘save’ ourselves for our most gluttonous meal over in Modena a couple of days later, but that would, like, never happen in practice. Our pasta was often promptly followed up by my all-time favourite dessert, tiramisu.
Our other favourite, non-food related, excursion involved an early-morning wake-up call to beat the heat and head up to Santuario Madonna di San Luca. Perched a-top a hill overlooking the city, the 18th century church is a sanctuary for the city. We were thrilled to learn there was a tourist train (and it sure was the most touristy train we ever did see), to trundle us to the top so we would arrive in less of a sweaty mess. On the way up the winding road, we spied early morning dog-walkers and a troop of scouts slogging their way up the endless spiral porticos, suffering in the baking heat. Hats off to them. We whiled away an hour breezing through the shaded cathedral, hearing the morning songs lilting out of the grand double doors.
We chose (read: missed our train) the long way home, walking back down around and around the hill, taking a slow meander back to the city. Of course we altered our route to ensure we stopped by the best-rated ice-cream parlour in town, La Sorbetteria di Castiglione. My go-to flavour through the entire trip was nocciola - hazelnut. Sometimes accompanied by pistachio. Deeeeelishus.
Our final night in Bologna was August 2nd, a dark date marking a terrorist attack which struck the city in 1980. Piazza Maggiore had been transformed overnight into a massive, open-air concert hall featuring spine-tingling, moving performances from a full orchestra. Tables and chairs were scattered across the square, and we spent the evening soaking it all in amongst the locals. It was one of those eerily beautiful nights you never forget.
Thank you Bologna! I still don't think our waistlines have recovered...
With Love, Kate
(P.S Read all about our next stop - dining at the world's best restaurant - here!)