La Dotta, La Rossa, La Grassa


You’ve heard of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’? Well the triple pronged moniker for the fine folk of Bologna dates back even further. ‘La Dotta’ – The Learned, thanks to Europe’s oldest university; ‘La Rossa ‘ – The Red, for the beautifully rouge roof tiles; and ‘La Grassa ‘ – The Fat, a nod to the city’s dedication to great food and wine. Rather underestimated by tourists, Bologna is a truly charming and unspoilt destination, ideal for a long weekend exploring and dining, without the pressure to tick off huge bucket list sights. If you have a little while longer, its geographic location in the heart of northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, makes a perfect hub to discover nearby small towns and rural villages.

Those travellers who do reach Bologna tend to come over the summer months, but low season mid-October to February can make for a fantastic winter getaway. At this time prices are lower and attractions less crowded, but in a city with year round residents and a lively dynamic student population you won’t experience the seasonal closures in restaurants, shops and sites of a more tourist driven destination. You may however, find cold weather with temperatures around 0-10°C and some overcast days. Dress warmly and join the locals at carnival events in February, chestnut and truffle festivals of autumn, or the tree lighting and yuletide markets at Christmas.

Beautiful Historic Centre

Gazing up at the iconic medieval towers of Asinelli and Garisenda, something seems a little ‘off’. Yes, they are most definitely leaning. In fact the shorter Garisenda tilts a scary 4 degrees which is a touch more even than the renowned version at Pisa. The two towers, along with the campanile of Santo Stefano, do portray a distinctive skyline, but it is perhaps the pretty porticoes that are the city’s most memorable feature. These exquisite arches range in date from the 11th century and it’s possible to walk almost 25 miles through the city admiring the varied features, seeking shade from the sun, or in low season, from the rain. The porticoes are up for inclusion on UNESCO’s list so watch this space to see if they make the grade. If you still have any energy hike up to the sanctuary of San Luca, or just wander the central squares of Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno. These are framed by a cluster of medieval palaces, historic churches, the university’s dignified Archiginnasio, and the now beautifully restored and somewhat controversial statue of Neptune.


Petrolheads Rejoice

Even if it is not usually your thing, I challenge anyone to resist being at least slightly thrilled by the sleek sexy curves of Italy’s luxury vehicles. The ancient Roman Via Emilia between Bologna and Modena is aptly known as Motor Valley, making area ideal to discover your inner speed freak.  Take a factory tour, experience exhilarating simulators and learn about the fascinating motor industry at the excellent Enzo Ferrari or Ferruccio Lamborghini Museums; check out Panini’s stunning collection of Maseratis or the gorgeous motorcycles at the Ducati Museum.


More than Bolognese Sauce

The meaty ragu may be named for the city, but the Bolognese enjoy a much more far-reaching gastronomic tradition. Learn to make delicious fresh egg pasta like tagliatelle and mortadella and the tiny swirls of tortellini said to represent the belly button of Venus. In fact on a cold day a steaming bowel of tortellini en brodo is just what you need for a delicious warm up. You can also explore, either independently or with a local guide, visiting the fertile plains along the Po Valley and the areas of protected origin of iconic Italian classics like Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Aceto Balsamico, touring the production facilities of family-run operations and of course sampling the wares.

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Top Experiences

Climb the Asinelli Tower

There are now just 22 of these impressive medieval structures in Bologna, of the perhaps 200 originals. At 97 metres, Asinelli is the tallest and it is possible to climb the 498 steps all the way to the top. Get your timed entry ticket online and enjoy stunning views of the red tiled roofs.

The Anatomical Theatre

Once the main university building, the palatial Archiginnasio houses an eerie Anatomical Theatre. Wooden statues of renowned medical figures like Hippocrates, Galen, and Apollo, god of medicine, surrounding the room. In the centre stands the original marble slab where corpses were dissected.

Backstreet Artists

Take a different kind of guided tour to meet the artisans carrying on centuries-old traditions handed down through the generations. Go behind the scenes and explore the workshops of herbalists, goldsmiths and sculptors crafting innovative products using time-tested, ancient techniques.

Insider Tips

  • As autumn rolls round, take a scenic drive to see the leaves in their beautiful shades. Explore the Taro Valley, sampling famed Borgotaro porcini mushrooms and visiting the 1000 year old Castello di Compiano and the eerie Castello di Bardi set on a rocky outcrop amidst a tragic history.
  • The façade of San Petronio Basilica may look like a clever design feature, but in fact was never finished, the lower white and red marble giving way to boring bricks. It was to be the world’s biggest church but the project was seriously downsized by Pope Pius IV in favour of the Archiginnasio.
  • Bologna is Italy’s finest university and almost 100,000 students enroll annually for courses there or at the city’s cooking colleges or language schools. Students should note the superstition that either climbing Asinelli Tower, or crossing Piazza Maggiore means they are surely doomed to fail.

Good To Know

  • The Bologna Welcome Pass can save you time and money, and you don’t need to do absolutely everything to make its purchase worthwhile. It is easy to buy online and download the pass to your phone. It includes entry to museums, Asinelli Tower, San Luca’s dome as well as many bus routes.
  • Don’t miss the city’s produce market, off Piazza Maggiore, a warren of colourful shops selling pasta, meats, hams, veggies. Explore the maze of alleys lined with goodies and many vendors selling freshly cooked food to go, like the famed cheese shop’s frittata di verdure, a light vegetable omelette.
  • A UNESCO City of Music, Bologna is full of live music. Check out Jazz Street in the Quadrilatero neighbourhood where the works of Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald are commemorated, or the Roxy Bar, dedicated to musician Vasco Rossi, for great people watching and aperitivos.

Food & Drink

Trattoria Caminetto D’Oro

An elegant yet relaxed two roomed restaurant on Via de' Falegnami. The staff pride themselves on delicious home-cooked cuisine with an artistic twist, securing their reputation as one of the very best venues in Bologna. Try the tortellini in capon broth or Fassone Piemontese meatballs.

La Bottega di Franco

Situated in a beautiful villa, this lovely venue offers a wide variety of options, with its famous homemade fresh pasta, seasonal specialties and truffles from the nearby Apennine Mountain area. It is a must for traditional hearty Bolognese cuisine and has great options for fish and seafood.

Ristorante Da Nello

Choose to eat like a local at this traditional Bolognese restaurant serving authentic Italian dishes which range from seafood and mushrooms to truffles and pannacotta. You’ll find this hospitable place, founded in 1948, on Via Montegrappa, just two minutes from the Piazza Maggiore.

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