Bologna is the kind of city that enchants you from your first step into its stunning Piazza Maggiore. Though often overlooked for nearby fashion capital Milan to the north, or the captivating Tuscan jewel of Florence to the south, Bologna is more than worth getting to know. Standing in the center of the piazza you can peer over centuries of history and beauty through sites like the Neptune Fountain, the Basilica of San Petronio or the leaning Asinelli Tower. The city’s arched colonnades and hidden canals reflect its neighbor to the northeast, Venice. But, Bologna has a charm of its own that is comparable to nothing else. It must be seen firsthand to understand that special charm.
Aside from the history and physical beauty of the city, Bologna is a culinary capital, famous the world over for its pasta – tortellini, tagliatelle and lasagne. Here you can indulge in rich Bolognese sauce with beef and tomatoes, ham from nearby Parma, sharp parmigiano-reggianao or ancient balsamic vinegars from Modena. Dining with friends and family is a deep-rooted part of the culture in Bologna, and visitors aren’t spared the tradition. Throughout each season its not unlikely that you will run into food festivals or restaurants putting on some sort of special menu inspired by local produce and ingredients.
If you come to Bologna with food in mind, I suggest heading straight for the markets. Take a moment to rest at your beautiful hotel; I love the I Portici Hotel Bologna, and walk over to one of the best green markets the city has to offer, Mercato delle’erbe. After taking-in the fresh greens, fruit and vegetables that arrive here daily, I would stop by Drogheria Gilberto for their fresh tortellini (they even have a chocolate variety). These are merely suggestions, as most any market you stumble into will speak to your inner Julia Child.
Medieval Bologna will leave you happier and fatter than when you arrived – the city is nicknamed “The Fat” by Italians. But, this is okay. You shouldn’t stop yourself from indulging in what the city is known for – food, art, architecture and music. In 2000 Bologna was named Europe’s culture capital by UNESCO, and they made no mistake as the city rises to the occasion. If you’re in Italy, even if you’re outside of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna should be added to your itinerary. Whether a few days or a week, you might leave dumbfounded at the fact that you’re just discovering it now.