While the golden triangle of Milan, Turin and Genoa is known globally as Italy’s industrial beating heart, Bologna and surrounds are known for food.
The region of Emilia-Romagna is without doubt, Italy’s gastronomic heartland. It’s the motherland of homemade pasta.
Bologna is home to the single most internationally marketed Italian dish of all time, bolognese. And the region is home to Italy’s most exported DOP goods (DOP is the Italian acronym for Denominazione Origine Protetta or in English, controlled destination protected – in layman’s terms: 100% real deal!). Namely Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico di Modena and Prosciutto di Parma. And aside from food, Emilia-Romagna exports another couple of little known brands to the world – Ferrari and Lamborghini!
My weekend in Bologna started perfectly. For anyone that loves luxury travel, perfect means arriving to the front of the city’s only 5 star hotel, having your car door opened for you, luggage carried in and walking through the glamorous glass doors of the luxury that is, the Grand Hotel Majestic Già Baglioni.
The opulence and special touches spread from the chandeliers hanging in the lobby to the plush red carpets in the hallways, right through to the garden courtyard dining and in-room lux Italian cosmetics, Culti.
This was my home for three days – a long weekend of food, food and some more… Food! I mean Bologna didn’t affectionately gain the nickname La Grassa (the fat one) for fun!
Bologna is prettier than I expected. It boasts stunning porticos, a set of historic tall twin towers and vibrant student life. What really captivated me were its colours.
The red and gold ochre is present at every turn and this wash gives the city an indescribable warmth.
But on to serious things. I went to Bologna to eat. And I did. In a serious way.
You don’t usually forget your first meal in a city. Famous for it’s pasta and especially the stuffed kind, my first tortellone in Bologna were pretty special. Large ricotta filled pasta parcels pan fried in butter and sage served in style in the restaurant bar at the Majestic hotel.
It quickly confirmed that the food in bologna is hearty, rich and beyond amazing and this was only a taste of what was to come.
Here are the highlights of a gluttonous 3 days in La Grassa:
My best meal was at Osteria Bottega. Listed on just about every guide and food blog in the city, I had to see what all the fuss was about. Loved it. Here I tried the traditional tortellini in brodo (meat filled tortellini in clear broth), the cotoletta alla bolognese (breaded veal cutlets pan-fried with with prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano) which sounds like a heartattack waiting to happen and it is. And it is phenomenal. Finished off with torta di riso, a traditional bolognese rice cake.
The historical center is compact and you can navigate it by foot quite easily. The main square Piazza Maggiore features a beautiful fountain of Neptune. But it’s the Basilica of San Petronio which dominates the square. It is the 15th largest church in the world, the 6th largest in Europe and the front of it remains unfinished with different styles – all the cause of a dying architect, lack of funding, politics and papal government in-fighting (nothing much has changed since in Italy!).
Walking distance from here are the old twin towers, Asinelli and Garisenda and the Cathedral of St Peter is a beautiful display of 16th-17th century baroque architecture.
While these famous monuments impressive and to-be-seen, the portici (porticoes) of the city are what made a lasting impression on me. The city boasts 40kms worth of them and on a rainy weekend they really came in handy! These unique covered archways or arcades are elaborately decorated and are distinctly Bologna.
A great place for lunch in the city centre is zerocinquantuno where the lasagna was my pick.
The larger than life, foodie obsessed Alessandro has been running this food tour company in Bologna with his girlfriend Barbara for a few years. They just treat you like a friend or family from the moment you make contact with them. Their food excursions are for the serious foodie and take you away from the city for a whole day. Our morning started at 7am with the first stop, a Parmigiano Reggiano factory. Parmigiano Reggiano, refereed to as the king of Italian cheese, is produced in line with extremely strict quality guidelines set by the DOP convention. By law it is made once a day (this has been the case for centuries!) and only in 5 Italian cities (Parma, Reggio Emilia, Mantova, Modena and of course Bologna) in 385 factories. Each wheel is handmade with 550 litres of grass only fed cow milk, aged for at least 1 year then formally inspected to determine its DOP rating.
Our next stop was a family-run factory that produces Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic vinegar of Modena) – another Italian DOP product. Each quality checked bottle has been aged for about 12 years. We did a tasting which also included white balsamic (which I didn’t know even existed) and the original stuff on vanilla gelato which is a dangerous combination!
The day of the tour was a national Italian holiday and so we missed out on the prosciuttificio to see Prosciutto di Parma being made but it allowed for a longer lunch. In the hills outside Bologna, our long lunch at a beautiful agriturismo (farmhouse style restaurant) was extra long. The courses just kept rolling (all 5 of them) and so did the wine.
Alessandro is passionate about food and his animated manner of storytelling has you hooked from word one. I recommend this tour to anyone visiting the area. The combination and perfect balance of food, tradition and history really made for the highlight of my trip.
Bologna is a university city which means it has a vibrant and lively student population and nightlife. The university and student bar area is spread around Via Zamboni. Although having well and truly past my student years, we headed on recommendation, to Le Stanze.
Located in the student quarters but attracting a mixed and older crowd, this restaurant come late night bar is super cool and used to be 16th-century private chapel. Go figure!
How to Get There:
FrecciaRossa, the fast Italian rail service gets you to Bologna from Rome in about 2 hours with ticket process starting from €60 return. Regional trains are cheaper but take longer. The Freccia fast trains run from most major Italian cities and together with other train services can be booked online at www.trenitalia.com.
Where to Stay:
Located on the main drag, Bologna’s only 5 star hotel the Grand Hotel Majestic ‘Gia’ Baglioni, couldn’t be more central. The staff, rooms, food and amenities make for a plush oasis in the heart of the city.
Grand Hotel Majestic ‘Gia’ Baglioni
Via Indipendenza, 8
Ph: +39 051 225445
Via Santa Caterina, 51
Ph: +39 051 585111
Salumi and cheese:
Via Drapperie, 5
Ph: +39 051 231880
Tamburrini Wine Bar
Via Caprarie, 1
Ph +39 051 234726
Via del Borgo di San Pietro, 1
Ph +39 051 228767
Via de’ Pignattari, 1/f
Ph: +39 051 228694
Especially if you’re on limited time, Italian Days provide an unforgettable food experience showcasing the best Bologna and surrounds have to offer.
Don’t leave Bologna without eating:
Tagliatelle bolognese, mortadella, lasagne and tortellini.
Signing off from Trastevere
HeartRome was a guest of both the Grand Hotel Majestic ‘Gia’ Baglioni and Italian Days, but as I always say, my positive recommendations can’t be bought and my hand is never forced to write.