It’s about that time of year when we start thinking about where to spend our summer holiday. Italy is always a fantastic choice and last summer (I know, I’m ashamed it’s taken me so long to write about it!), the city of Bologna was one of our destinations.
Hands down Bologna is now one of my favourite cities, and I definitely could have stayed longer than 2 nights, but I think that I still got a feel for the place. As a university city (with the oldest university in Europe) it has a buzzing atmosphere but is laid back and far less touristic and crowded than cities like Florence. There is so much to see and do, with its wealth of galleries and its superb food scene, being situated in Italy’s most famous food region, Emilia Romagna.
On our first day, having flown from Cluj, Romania for our friends’ wedding (read about our trip to Cluj here), we checked in to our B&B, the charming Antica Residenza D’Azeglio. We couldn’t have asked for a more friendly and hospitable host than Agostino, who delighted in chatting with us, and the room was very comfortable. The B&B is in a great location, situated a short walk away from the Centro Storico.
We set off on our first sightseeing excursion, excited to see what Bologna had in store for us. We had a great day meandering around the city, stopping off at a wine bar here, admiring the beautiful architecture there. We interrupted our meandering to sample some of Bologna’s food, and shared a platter of delicious meats and cheeses at La Prosciutteria Bologna which is near the university part of the town.
We carried on our sightseeing with satisfied stomachs to the Archiginnasio, a former palace commissioned by Cardinal Borromeo between 1562-1563, which used to be the seat of the University, and has been the Municipal Library since 1838. We had a good old look inside the Anatomical Theatre, built in 1637, which was used for anatomy lectures and displays. It’s shaped like an amphitheatre and is very impressive with its many statues of doctors throughout history adorning the walls.
The Allied bombings in January, 1944 caused extensive damage to the room but it was subsequently, and admirably, reconstructed using the surviving materials saved from the rubble.
I particularly enjoyed taking a peek at the library, which is the largest in Emilia-Romagna, boasting around 850,000 volumes regarding the civil, cultural, religious and social history of Bologna.
We rounded off the day with a scrumptious dinner at La Drogheria della Rosa, which came highly recommended and lived up to its hype. As the name suggests, it used to be a pharmacy and has kept much of its former paraphernalia, but has swapped the apothecary jars for tasty wines from around the region. We enjoyed a lovely meal sitting outside on its little terrace, savouring the dishes which are a mixture of traditional Bolognese cooking and influences from other parts of Italy. I could have had seconds of my Tortellini in brodo, a very traditional pasta dish from Bologna, as well as my steak main which came in a balsamic vinegar sauce (it was utterly delicious).
Our second day was again focused on sightseeing, wanting to make the most of our last full day in Bologna. A must-see for me was the Two Towers; the Asinelli (the taller one) and the Garisenda, both of which are leaning. We enjoyed the most wonderful views from the top of the Asinelli Tower, which was built between 1109 and 1119. I just couldn’t get enough of that teracotta vista, a sight you don’t see in England!
We also visited the Basilica di San Petronio, the most imposing church in Bologna, which was constructed in 1390; as well as the Seven Churches complex, also known as the Basilica of San Stefano. This is one of the most recommended sights in Bologna, and although it actually now only holds four churches, it’s still extremely impressive and it’s easy to while away a couple of hours there.
I would also recommend just walking around the Centro Storico, the city’s most culturally-rich area, as there is no shortage of beautiful architecture or attractions to visit. And don’t forget to sample the city’s famous gelato! We stopped for a rest and a sugar hit at Il Gelato di San Crispino.
The last hurrah of our trip was our final meal, at the I Portici restaurant, the only Michelin-star restaurant in Bologna’s city centre. It has a beautifully elegant Art Nouveau setting and is great if you’re looking for a fine dining or celebratory option. There is an a la carte menu as well as several tasting menu options – I highly recommend the latter as the food is extremely inventive and tastes incredible.