Our five days in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy went something like this – explore, culture, lunch, walk, culture, relax, supper, sleep, on repeat. It was wonderful. The days were bright and sunny and I could almost smell summer…..almost. We covered a distance, on foot, of 10 miles a day, which meant we could completely enjoy the food without any guilt of being a little bit piggy. We used Bologna as our base and then did day trips to Modena, Parma and Verona – all under an hours train ride away.
I chose a fabulous Airbnb in the old part of the city, which is where you will find the oldest university in the world. It had a wonderful little roof terrance with vistas across the whole of the city.
A stones throw from the apartment is the University Library of Bologna, which was founded by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, a noble of Bologna, in 1712 as an Institute of Sciences. He endowed it with his own scientific collections, 900 oriental manuscripts and 120 manuscripts relating to his work. It was later enlarged in 1755 by Pope Benedict XIV with 25,000 printed volumes and 450 manuscripts. In the same year a copy of every printed work was ordered and the following year the library opened to the public. We were given a free private tour by a very enthusiastic undergraduate who was able to tell us all about the history of the beautiful library. I think they get few visitors so you will be treated royally if you visit.
Within 10 minutes of the apartment is a ‘quadrilateral’ of ancient narrow streets east of Piazza Maggiore, which is bursting with meat, cheese and produce sellers. It’s the type of place that makes your heart beat faster with excitement and your stomach begin to moan with hunger, even if you’ve just had breakfast!
Amongst these streets you will find a covered market – ‘Mercato di Mezzo’, where you can eat and drink local produce. It’s open every day and stays open until midnight.
This area is as close as you will come to experiencing Bologna street food, so is definitely worth seeking out. We had lunch there on more than one occasion.
We particularly loved Salumeria Simoni – I recommend ordering a charcuterie of delicious hams, salami and cheese washed down with a glass of chianti.
What better way to walk off lunch than by walking along the Portico di San Luca, which is one of the longest covered walkways in the world, numbering 666 arches and gaining 215 meters. It was built between 1674-1793 and is 3.8 km long connecting Porta Saragozza to the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca.
The portico walkway starts off nice and flat, which eases you in, but when you reach Meloncello Arch it begins to steepen. I won’t spoil the surprise, but lets just say the locals don’t need to join a gym if they complete this walk a couple of times a week. There are 15 chapels along its path so you can chapel crawl if you are so inclined. The view from the top is pretty spectacular and the light breeze was most refreshing.
After making it back into town we rewarded ourselves with a gelato – I opted for my favourite flavour ‘bacio’. Ridiculously good.
Refreshed and eager to see more of what Bologna has to offer consider climbing one of the medieval towers in town to get the best vistas of the city from the centre of the city. Bologna used to have hundreds of towers – a sign of its prosperity, today however only twenty are still standing. The most famous are ‘Le due Torri’ – the ‘Two Towers’ Torre Degli Asinelli and the Torre della Garisenda. For five euros you can climb the highest one, the Asinelli Tower.
It’s not for the fainthearted or unfit but the trek up is so worth it for the beautiful views.
On the hill in the far distance you can see Santuario di Madonna di San Luca. Thats a pretty good hike there and back before dinner. You’ve got to work up an appetite after all right?
Before heading out for supper you may want to have an aperitivo at Le Stanze. The location itself is worthy of a drink don’t you think?
We ate in a number of lovely places in Bologna. One of our favourites was definitely Cesari on Via De Carbonesi, 8. It is a family run restaurant with a relaxed and informal vibe with a good mix of locals and tourists. The food was excellent and as we were there out of season and arrived promptly after opening, we didn’t need a reservation. I would suggest however, that you book ahead if you can. What we often tend to do in a new city is scope out a place for dinner in the day and then make the reservation, but it’s up to you.
For pizza, Trattoria Belle Arti was perfect. In fact, their pasta dishes are also worthy of a mention. Whilst it may not win prizes for decor, it became our local as our apartment was virtually next door. They serve all the traditional dishes too – their brodo (tortellini in stock broth) was excellent as was there pasta bolognese and carbonara. It’s relaxed and informal and was always busy.
For super low key – sawdust on the floor kind of place (almost, but not really) is the Osteria Dell’Orsa. It’s basic, has all the obvious local dishes, communal wooden tables and is probably a good place to go if you are a small group or not wanting to splash out too much.
My sources also recommend the following for memorable meals:
After all this eating don’t forget to visit all the beautiful churches and Duomo and the fascinating 17th century anatomical theatre carved from spruce.