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.
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.