Published by Suitcase Magazine, April 2017
Bologna is an affluent city of medieval skyscrapers, left wing politics and fantastic cuisine.
The first thing that strikes you is the fiery colour palette. The tangerine walls, scarlet shutters and sizzling terracotta roof tiles are warm and welcoming. Befittingly, Bologna is nicknamed la Rossa, or ‘the Red’ – though it’s not derived from the colour of the city’s buildings, but to its political history. Since the turn of the 20th century, Bologna has been predominantly governed by the left and was a communist stronghold during the postwar years. Bologna is also known as ‘la Grassa’ (‘the Fat’) for its Baroque cuisine rich in meat, cheese and butter, and ‘la Dotta’ (the Learned’) for its university, which is one of the oldest and most important in Europe.
Architecturally, the city is characterised by its elegant marble porticoes and soaring red brick towers. In the Middle Ages, Bologna was a sort of medieval Manhattan, with hundreds of towers punctuating its skyline. Only a handful survive today, including the leaning Torre Grisenda and its neighbouring Torre Asinelli, which you can climb for breathtaking views over the city and its surrounding hills. Back on street level, covered walkways snake around the city. There are 53km of arched porticoes that keep pedestrians, cafe dwellers and shoppers cool in summer and dry on rainy days.
Being relatively untouched by the tides of mass tourism, the capital of Emilia-Romagna is refreshing and authentic. Gorgeous on the eyes and delicious on the plate, Bologna is a very well kept secret and it’s ripe for the pickings.
It’s generally accepted that you eat better in Emilia-Romagna than anywhere else in Italy. The most iconic Italian ingredients hail from this region, including Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan cheese), balsamic vinegar and prosciutto di Parma (parma ham). Be sure to try one of the city’s native pasta dishes such as Tortellini in Brodo (stuffed pasta in broth) or Tagliatelle a Ragù, which is not Spaghetti Bolognese as we know it, but a rich meat sauce that clings to thick strips of fresh egg tagliatelle, heaped with Parmigiano.
Trattoria Meloncello is an unpretentious place for a tasty lunch. Popular with locals, it’s a little out of the centre but a perfect paired with a walk up to Basilica San Luca. The suckling pig is to die for.
Via Saragozza, 240/A, 40135 Bologna
Via Con Me is a friendly restaurant with a modern twist on typical Bolognese fare. The interior is stylish and dishes are creative and delicious.
Via S. Gervasio, 5, 40121 Bologna
Cantina Bentivoglio is a romantic wine bar with a superb menu of local dishes and an excellent regional wine list. Watch fresh pasta being made from your table and enjoy some of the best live jazz in the city over dinner and into the early hours.
Via Mascarella, 4/b, 40126 Bologna
Osteria del Sole is the oldest bar in Bologna. The 15th century osteria is packed with soul and the concept is simple – you bring your own food, and they serve wine at negligible prices and provide wooden boards and cutlery. Pick up meat, bread and cheese from one of the delicatessen nearby and enjoy a relaxed evening at one of the long wooden tables.
Vicolo Ranocchi, 1/d, 40124 Bologna
The Italian ritual of the evening aperitivo is a social occasion of drinks and nibbles at around 7pm, and it’s serious business in Bologna.
Le Stanze is a wonderful spot for aperitivo. The converted palazzo has high frescoed ceilings and a beautiful, candlelit interior. Between 6-9pm, a buffet of pasta, bread, cheese and cured meats is the perfect accompaniment to a cold glass of local white wine or the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz before dinner.
Via del Borgo di S. Pietro, 1, 40126 Bologna
The bar at MAMBo (the city’s contemporary art museum) is hip and, although slightly more expensive than elsewhere, the cocktails are excellent and they do a good spread for aperitivo.
Via Don Minzoni, 14, 40100 Bologna
Camera a Sud is a studenty place with a living room feel. It’s typically Bolognese and is a peaceful place to spend an hour over a glass of wine and a book. Open late.
Via Valdonica, 5, 40126 Bologna
Most designer names can be found on Via Farini and the adjoining Galleria Cavour, as well as countless boutiques, shoe shops and luxury tech. High street shops line Via dell’Indipendenza, and the best foodie souvenirs are to be found in specialty shops on the pedestrian streets in between the two.
L’Inde Le Palais is one of the most popular boutiques in the city with a beautiful collection from both Italian and international designers such as Moschino, JW Anderson and Balmain.
Via Dè Musei, 6, 40068 Bologna
Fabrica Features is a little concept store opposite the Leica shop on Strada Maggiore that champions young product designers and creatives. They have outlets in Lisbon and Istanbul, though this is the original. Expect art mags, homewares and cool little toys and trinkets – a perfect place to shop for unusual gifts.
Str. Maggiore, 7/E, 40125 Bologna
Tamburini on Via Caprarie is the finest delicatessen in Bologna. The display of fresh egg pastas, cheeses and celebrated cured meats is exquisite, and all the produce can all be sampled at the self-service cafe, which is open at lunchtime.
Via Caprarie, 1, 40124 Bologna
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (National Museum) has a fantastic collection of impressive works from important regional painters to the Italian masters such as Raphael and Titian.
Via delle Belle Arti, 56, 40126 Bologna
The city’s contemporary art museum MAMBo is a little walk out of the centre but well worth a visit. The museum is temporarily hosting the Morandi Collection whilst the Morandi museum is restored. Morandi is one of the best known Italian painters of the 20th century and lived most of his life in Bologna – the collection gives wonderful insight into his life and work.
Via Don Minzoni, 14, 40100 Bologna
Walk under the longest portico in the world (666 arcades!) to Basilica San Luca. It’s a steep hike, but worth it for the views at the top.
Via di San Luca, 36, 40135 Bologna
Torre Prendiparte (prendiparte.it) is a unique hideaway in the heart of town. There’s just one suite, which is laid over the first three floors and decorated in a transitional style. Thanks to a painstaking restoration, all 12 floors can now be visited giving access to the roof terrace and astonishing 360 degree views.
Piazzetta Prendiparte, 5, Bologna
I Portici (iporticihotel.com) is a bright, modern hotel set in a 19th century palazzo. Located under the porticoes on Via dell’Indipendenza, it’s right in the heart of the heart of the city and just a short walk from the train station and the main hub of Piazza Maggiore in either direction.
Via dell’Indipendenza, 69, 40121 Bologna