Nestled in the north of Italy in the country’s Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna remains one of the last undiscovered gems in the Mediterranean. Just a couple of hours by train from Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome, it’s easy to see why the town’s many delights have often been overlooked but it has enough history, culture and heritage to hold its own amongst Italy’s great destinations.
As the home of Ragu Bolognese, Lasagne and Parmesan cheese, Bologna has firmly cemented itself as one of the most beloved food capitals in the world but there’s much more to enjoy than just its gastronomic delights. The oldest university town in Europe, it’s played host to students since 1088 and the Piazza Maggiore – the main square – is as much a draw for young intellectuals as it is for society ladies.
Whether passing through on your way to the Lakes or settling in for a weekend of exploration, we’ve put together a guide that will allow you to live la dolce vita and eat, shop and see the best the locale has to offer.
Grand Hotel Majestic
Just a stone’s throw from Bologna’s thriving centre and overlooking the famous Due Torri (the two towers), Grand Hotel Majestic is the oldest and most luxurious five star hotel in Bologna. Marble floored galleries, antique armchairs and original frescoes all nod to the hotel’s beginnings as an eighteenth century Archdiocesan Seminary and hint at the luxury to be found in the bedrooms – each of which features a chandelier, marble bathroom and heavy silk drapes. Whether enjoying cappuccino and biscotti in the historic breakfast room or an intimate dinner in the wine cellar, every element of the Grand is an ode to Bologna’s rich and glamourous culture.
Dubbed the City of Towers thanks to the hundreds of structures that once punctuated the skyline, Bologna carefully protects the remaining 24 after the majority were destroyed over the centuries. The most famous of all are Torre Garsenda and Torre degli Asinelli, which stand side by side on Via Santo Stefano. A visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without attempting the climb the 498 steps of the first – though it’s a truly exhausting climb, the panoramic views stretching far beyond the city limits that you’ll be rewarded with at the top make it well worth the effort.
The original town hall, Palazzo d’Accursio is steeped in history and parts of it date back as far as the thirteenth century. A delightfully disordered mixture of architechures and styles, it’s home to the city’s library and boasts an array of historic paintings and sculptures but the real draw is its atrium – a cavernous room with a transparent floor that allows you to peek at the ancient archeological remains that lie beneath.
Car fans can’t visit Bologna without taking a trip to the Museo Lamborghini. Just a few kilometres out of the centre, it’s a spectacular showcase of the world’s most elite racing cars. Rather than the overcrowding that many museum visits involve, a visit toLamborghini must be booked ahead. Once there you’ll be treated to a private tour of the factory where you’ll witness the engineers assembling the engines by hand and the softest leather seat upholsteries in every colour imaginable drying out in rows. You’ll get a peek at the interiors and a detailed history of each car delivered by an expert before leaving with an appreciation of the pride and effort that goes into making these Italian supercars.
Open as a restaurant since 1980, Caminetto D’Oro is a Bologna gastronomic institution. Though linen table cloths, an aged wine collection and ancient recipes all feature, the atmosphere and clientele at this charming eatery prevent it from feeling too stuffy. It’s run by the Carati family and each has had a hand in the restauarant’s success –whether that’s through hosting the patrons or making the glorious menu and its these local roots that really shine through in the food. Bringing out the best in local produce, the stars of the menu are the Ragu Bolognese and the T Bone Steak; both of which are cut from the Romagnola – Emilia-Romagna’s native cattle breed.
A trip to Italy wouldn’t be compete without a few souvenirs – whether that’s a hunk of crumbling local cheese or a new handbag from one of its many famous designers. Put a dent in your credit card at Galleria Cavour – a covered parade that’s home to Italy’s myriad luxury fashion houses, including Gucci, Versace and Fendi. As the covered walkway connects each shop, the Galleria offers a perfect symposium of Italian art, design and history.
Writer: Bianca Barratt