We have just come back from a very good value package in this fascinating city. It may not be as high profile as other Italian cities, but Bologna rivals most for culture and cuisine. Bologna’s nicknames neatly sum it up: “La Grassa” (The Fat – that rich cuisine), “La Rossa” (The Red – for its traditional political leanings and its ochre roofs) and “La Dotta” (The Learned – its university has a good claim to being the world’s oldest).
Bologna Airport was a dream (especially after Stansted) only 5 km from the centre and from the airport and throughout the weekend we found local taxis reliable and good value. The Grand Hotel Elite on Via Auerelio Saffi was really good, ignore the negative reviews they amount to little more than “OMG, this place is Italian!” It is a 70’s business hotel but it was very well done at the time with quality fittings and furnishings and has been well maintained. It is very clean, towels and linens are good, showers work well, bathrooms are excellent and the reception staff are helpful. As an example they gave us one room early when we arrived at 11.30 and when the other two members of our party went back in the afternoon they were given a suite with a bar, kitchenette and lounge – all this on a cheap deal? Also important was it serves a really excellent breakfast buffet from 7-10 so you can help yourself to an excellent and generous selection of breads, cereals, fruits, yoghurts, cheeses, salamis and meats, hot foods washed down with teas, coffees and good quality juices.
The Hotel Grand Elite is on several bus routes to the centre of this historic and fascinating town and the tourist offices at the airport and the Piazza Maggiore are very helpful – there is both a toy train and hop off / on bus tour which leaves from there which are very helpful for orientation. Also, the town centre is closed to traffic at weekends and has a great atmosphere with always something on. Via Aurelio Saffi leads onto the Porto Felice, one of the six gates to the walled 13th Century (but dating back to Roman times) historic centre of the old walled city – Centro Storico.
Combining haughty elegance with down-to-earth grit and one beautifully colonnaded medieval grid, Bologna is a city of two intriguing halves. One side is a hard-working, high-tech city located in the super-rich Po valley where suave opera-goers waltz out of regal theatres and into some of the nation’s finest restaurants. The other is a bolshie, politically edgy city that hosts the world’s oldest university and is famous for its graffiti-embellished piazzas filled with mildly inebriated students swapping Gothic fashion tips. Bologna has earned so many historical monikers. La Grassa (the fat one) celebrates a rich food legacy (ragù or bolognese sauce was first concocted here). La Dotta (the learned one) doffs a cap to the city university founded in 1088. La Rossa (the red one) alludes to the ubiquity of the terracotta medieval buildings adorned with miles of porticoes, as well as the city’s long-standing penchant for left-wing politics. Bologna’s youthful vibrancy means you’ll never be stuck for a classical concert, play, gig, club night or exhibition. Bologna is also known for its porticos, with about 34 kms (25 miles) of arcaded streets, so it doesn’t even matter if it rains.
Do go to the University area around Piazza Giuseppe Verdi for the night-time vibe with music, bars, events and great eateries. Do take the shuttle from the Railway Station to Eataly World which is just a wonderful foodie experience on 20 hectares, they even give you a bike to cycle around the site. Do go up the fascinating arcade to San Luca to understand this ancient city of the Norvoricans, Celts, Etruscans, Romans, Lombard’s and one of the great cities of the Renaissance.
The locals say there are two Bologna’s – Bologna the learned, the home of the oldest University in Europe which changed all our lives with alumni such as Galvani and Marconi. Many cities have ceremonial tombs to princes and bishops but at the Church of San Francesco Bologna has the “Tombs of the Jurists”, pyramids which are the tombs of the first professors of this venerable seat of learning.
Another lazy Sabbato in #Bologna cars kept out of the centre, pianos playing in bars and children in fancy dress for the Children's Carnival
Posted by David Caldwell on Sunday, 11 February 2018
And there is “La Grassa”, Bologna the Fat, the home of Italian cuisine. Mortadella known in America as Boloney, Tagliatelle alla Ragu and Tortellini. Either Bologna is best savoured at night wandering the revered and atmospheric streets and the 34 km of Porticos, arcades bordering the streets affording shelter from sun and rain and designed to be high enough for a gentleman riding a horse and wearing a hat! The original home of balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and Bolognese sauce, the region of Emilia-Romagna is one of Italy’s culinary superstars. Here, eating well is a simple fact of life. How could it be otherwise in this abundantly fertile region, an agricultural powerhouse since Roman times?
If you are planning to visit several museums can save money with a Bologna welcome card (from €20). There’s an impressive collection of works by Giotto, Titian, Raphael and other old masters at the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (€6 adult, €3 for 18-25s), plus contemporary art at MAMbo (€4-€6, children free). The latter also houses the Morandi Museum, a tribute to local still-life artist Giorgio Morandi. In the early evening, wing by MAMbo’s bar for a drink and a sumptuous aperitivo spread (€8 with first drink). Museo della Storia di Bologna (€10 adult, €8 19-26s, €6 6-18s) in Palazzo Pepoli has interactive, hi-tech exhibits on Bolognese society through the years. Exhibits are in Italian, but there’s an engaging English-language audio guide.
Carne Vale del Bambino #Bologna
Posted by David Caldwell on Sunday, 11 February 2018
Film fans can journey back to the golden age of Italian film making at the vast library on the history of cinematography at the Cineteca di Bologna art-house theatre (Via Azzo Gardino 65). No visit to this Unesco world city of music would be incomplete without a stop at the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica di Bologna (€3-€5, children free) in the frescoed Palazzo Sanguinetti. Small in size, yet broad in scope, the museum displays an array of historic portraits, documents and more than 80 instruments.
The Santuario della Madonna di San Luca basilica keeps an eye on Bologna from a hill 10km south-west of the centre. It can be reached on the San Luca Express, a tourist “train” running from Piazza Maggiore, but it’s more enjoyable to spend an afternoon trekking the twisting path, with its (supposed) 666 porticos, from Piazza di Porta Saragozza on the western edge of the centre. Scholars believe the demonic number is no coincidence – the final stretch can feel particularly devilish.
All in all, this was a really excellent trip to the lively, historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, in northern Italy. Its Piazza Maggiore is a sprawling plaza lined with arched colonnades, cafes and medieval and Renaissance structures such as City Hall, the Fountain of Neptune and the Basilica di San Petronio. Among the city’s many medieval towers are the Two Towers, leaning Asinelli and Garisenda, the latter being ideal for those who enjoy climing 498 steps for a rewarding view of Bologna.
Enjoy the city like the Bolognese do, with a stroll at night when the streets and porticos take on an ethereal quality of their own or on Sunday morning when the entire city is taking a Volta in the open air living room which is the Piazza Maggiore.
Trip arranged through: www.travelinteraction.co.uk at £189 per person for Ryanair flights Stansted / Bologna and 3 nights B & B at the 4 star Grand Hotel Elite, Via Aurelio Saffi.
Bass’otto Self serve on the Via Ugo Bassi near the Piazza Maggiore is a typical office workers large self serve restaurant serving a great variety of well priced dishes and snacks. Closes at 15.00.
Simoni in a street of similar salumeria on the Via Pescherie Vecchie off the Piazza Maggiore won the prize for the best salumeri in Italy and their pride in their produce is palpable. For can eat and drink well here for €36 – try the large tagliere of meats and cheeses for €18 and a bottle of very good Gewurztraminer from the Alto-Adige also for €18.
Osteria dell’Orsa on Via Mentana has great food and a shoulder to shoulder vibe where 4 people can dine and drink well with liquors to finish for €90. Reliable place to try Tagliatalle a la Ragu ot Tortellin im Brodo.
Trattoria Pizzeria Belle Arti on the via Belle Arti is one of those solid family owned Italian restaurants everybody loves where the matrons of Bologna eat great pizzas such as Fruiti dell Mare for €7.50 and the chef proprietor strolls between tables telling you about the great deserts her mother has made fresh today. Top value with a meal for four less than €90.
Ristorante Papagallo in the Piazza della Mercanzia in the Quadilatero District has a lovely dining space with a wall of signed photos of patrons over the years from Alfred Hitchcock, Sophia Loren, Lionel Ritchie and many more. It is one of those restaurants with a short but classy menu of dishes of pasta and meat it does very well such as roast cockerel in a beer and mustard sauce.
You could of course ignore all of the above and find your own pit stops in La Grassa, you won’t go too far wrong!