As faithful readers know, Alex and I go on annual foodie-weekends. Due to the facts that both of us had been on extended travels this year and general things happening in life, we had more of less decided to skip this year. But then I told her a friend of mine had waxed poetic about Bologna and within 24 hours we had made the decision to go. This was the fastest decision I had ever made about going on a trip!
Bologna is known for the oldest university in the world, the excellent food and the red roofs, earning the nicknames: La Dotta, La Grassa, La Rossa. Although still in the north of Italy, it has a bit of southern flair and with this year’s long summer and mild autumn, we were able to sit outside in the evenings enjoying our aperitivo.
The city center is well preserved and what catches your eye first are the many porticoes, the southern colors (rusty reds, dusty yellows and smudged oranges) and beautiful windows. There are restaurants and cafés on every corner and in every square and the because of the university, the population is young.
Basilica Santo Stefano:
This church actually encompasses seven churches, has evolved over time and dates back to the 5th century. You can feel history pulsing out from the walls. My two favorite parts of the complex were the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is built over an irregular octagonal base with a domed ceiling and the courtyard directly behind it.
Le Due Torre:
Alex and I always try to go to the top of a tower when we visit a city. Once we knew we were going to Bologna, we booked sunset tickets to climb to the top of the taller of the two towers, Torre Asinelli. Torre Asinelli is 97.2 m tall and has an off-center lean of 1.3°. The view over the city and the surrounding area is fantastic.
Anatomical Theater of the Archiginnasio:
In the old university has an anatomical theater, first constructed in 1595. It was almost completely destroyed in 1944, but luckily reconstructed using all of the original pieces found in the rubble. Sitting there, I was able to imagine what it would have been like watching a corpse being dissected on the marble slab. The building has beautiful paintings of around 6000 coats of arms.
Saturday morning we decided to head up the hill to San Luca and had high hopes for a view of the city. The walk there is under a 3.8km long arcade consisting of 666 arches. Locals were out for their morning walk or jog and it seemed like the thing to do. But alas, we were disappointed once we reached the top. We had got in a good workout (definitely necessary with all the food we had been eating), but there was no view! The front of the church faced away from the city and it was extremely windy. After a short rest, we headed back down towards the city center.
Taste Bologna Food Tour:
We were in Bologna for the food and decided to book a tour to learn more about the city’s culinary traditions. Our first stop was Aroma Café, where the owner is one of the best baristas in Italy. He roasts his beans and mixes his own coffee creations, and we were allowed to try anything on the menu. I opted for a drink inspired by the bicerin of Turin made by layering espresso, hot chocolate and cream. It was so delicious, I would have licked the glass clean if my tongue were long enough! Our drinks were served with Panettone, a brioche-like pastry filled with raisins and candied oranges and lemons, traditionally served at Christmas. After walking through the Mercato delle Erbe where we tasted real balsamic vinegar, which is at least 10 years old and is used to round off a dish rather then be used in a vinaigrette, we stopped at Le Sfogline where women make tortellini by hand and are so quick, their hands are just a blur. We were able to try making one ourselves and it certainly requires practice!
While the others in our group tasted the traditional meaty ragù, I was given mozzarella with two slices of tomato and a drizzle of olive oil. I can never get my head around how different mozzarella tastes in Italy- much creamier and with a more intensive taste. At the Salumeria Simoni our tour guide bought a selection of meats (Prosciutto, Mortadella, Salame Rossa (Mortadella’s predecessor)) and cheeses (Parmesan and Squacquerone (wonderfully squishy and very flavorful)) for us to taste and guided us to the Osteria del Sole, a bar where you bring your own food and buy your wine. We tasted a local fizzy white Pignoletto while enjoying lunch. We were quite full after our lunch and it was a good thing we had to walk to our last stop, the Cremeria Santo Stefano for ice-cream. Considered to be the best in Bologna, I have to say the three flavors (hazelnut, pistachio and something akin to 1001 nights (orange blossom water, pistachios, cardamom) I tried were delicious.
Where to eat:
We had no shortage of eating options and it was hard to decide where to go.
SignorVino: In the main square, we sat here enjoying the mild October evening sipping Moscato Giallo Frizzante “Dili”, a wine that looks horribly sweet and smells of apple juice but is actually dry and very (almost too) easy to drink. We shared 24 month aged Parmesan and Il Plin, a soft cheese while people watching, talking and listening to music being played on the square.
Va Mo Là: a small restaurant filled with books, and locals serving delicious traditional. local food.
Osteria dell’Orsa: Best known for it’s tagliatelle with ragù, the pasta dishes are all fresh and homemade. We share a crostini with Tallegio, honey and walnuts (called orgasmo on the menu) and then order the ravioli filled with potatoes and served with a mushroom sauce.
La Borbonica: This pasticceria was conveniently just around the corner from where we were staying and we stopped by twice for dessert.
Le Stanze Cafè: This small café/bar is an old converted chapel and perfect place to rest your feet after walking around town.