Fionn Davenport joined Kieran on the Hard Shoulder for a brand new series, Europe’s Hidden Highlights, this week he visits Bologna.
An alternative destination to Florence that won’t let you down is Bologna, which is just 40 minutes by train from the capital of the renaissance and is every bit as elegant. The famous colonnaded centre was just made a UNESCO world heritage site, but that is just the dressing for a city that is famous for its food – this is the gastronomic capital of Italy, and you won’t eat better pasta anywhere else. It’s also home to Europe’s oldest university (1088).
But let’s get back to the food:
Food is taken seriously here: more than 30 official recipes – including much-loved dishes such as tortellini, lasagne and tagliatelle – are even registered at the Chamber of Commerce and it's the local foodie culture that makes the strongest impact, with colourful markets, historic bars and atmospheric restaurants serving traditional cuisine.
A perfect day in Bologna
Start at the Piazza Maggiore, the main square.
- Get your Bologna Welcome Card at the tourist office in the Palazzo del Podesta
- Book your ticket for the Asinelli Tower
- Try the whispering corners in the main vault of the palazzo
Palazzo d’Accursio – town hall and home to a good art collection
Basilica di San Petronio – at noon the sunrays illuminate the 67m-long floor meridian - amazing
Quadrilatero food market – foodie heaven. Try Simoni deli (Via Drapperie 5/2a) and 150 year-old Paolo Atti bakery (Via Drapperie 6); order your wine at the bar of the Osteria del Sole (osteriadelsole.it), founded 1465.
At the pre-arranged time – climb the 498 steps of the Asinelli tower for the best view of the city and the surrounding countryside.
Head down Via Rizzoli to reach the Mercato delle Erbe. Absolutely brilliant choice of street food.
For cocktails, try Bizarre in the cluster of streets behind the market; for dinner, here are my choices:
- Il Rovescio (rovescio.it) organic tagliatelle or sourdough pizza in farmhouse-style interior.
- Trattoria Bertozzi (Via Andrea Costa 84) Bologna's best restaurant – but its entirely unassuming. Tagliatelle al ragu is incredible.
- Trattoria Da Me (Via San Felice 50) A challenge to Italy’s usually conservative cuisine, this is an exciting restaurant that reinterprets classic dishes.
- All'Osteria Bottega (Via Santa Caterina 51) try the culatello di Zibello ham, tortellini in capon broth, Petroniana-style veal cutlets (breaded and fried, then topped with prosciutto di Parma and parmigiano reggiano, and pan-sauteed in broth), off-menu speciality pigeon and other Slow Food delights.
Bologna's network of municipal museums (museibologna.it/museien), which include the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Museum of Music and the intriguing Museum of Industrial Heritage, offer free entry the first Sunday of each month from October to March. Between April and September they're free during the last two hours of admission each Thursday.
follow the world's longest portico (about 5km) out of the centre via the Porta Saragozza city gate and up the steep route to the San Luca basilica. The views across the city are spectacular, especially from the cupola. There is a land train if you don’t fancy the walk.
Where to Stay
Prendiparte B&B (Piazzetta Prendiparte 5; www.prendiparte.it) You will never – repeat, never – stay anywhere else like this. Forget the B&B tag: you don't just get a room here, you get an entire 900-year-old tower (Bologna's second tallest) - €500
Otherwise, if you’re looking for something a little less…pricey
Bologna nel Cuore (Via Cesare Battisti 29; www.bolognanelcuore.it) centrally located, immaculate and well-loved B&B.
On 6 August Italy also introduced the DCC (known here as the carta verde, or green pass) requirement for entry for everyone over the age of 12. The DCC is required to go into restaurants, bars, ice cream parlours and pastry shops; you’ll need one to go to any public performance, whether indoor or outdoor; into swimming pools and gyms; and into all museums and galleries. Businesses can be fined up to €1,000 for not enforcing the rules, so most are pretty compliant.