Bologna Old Town – Heart Of The Emilia Romagna Region
It was a quick train trip (90 minutes) from Verona to Bologna but since we were travelling on Saturday we thought it might be busy so decided to pay the extra premium for 1st class train tickets. We should not have wasted our money – but that is the tale for another blog.
We were delighted to be able to check into our hotel when we arrived and even more pleased with our hotel choice (Aemelia Hotel) close to Bologna Old Town. While our B&B stay in Verona had been ok, it was nice to be able to have a larger room and many comfortable spots around the hotel to lounge. Our room on the 6th floor (below the patio deck with the tepid hot tub) had an awesome view of old Bologna and the setting sun. With the profusion of red brick, we could certainly see why Bologna was sometimes called the “Red City”. Located about a 10 minute walk from Porto San Vitale (one of the 12 gates into Bologna Old Town), we would have lots of chances to explore this new city.
Several different days we headed into old town, starting with a reasonable time limit in mind, but ending up crawling back to the hotel with throbbing feet and legs. Each new corner of the old town provide yet another new site to explore. We tried a couple of the different ancient portals that let you into Bologna Old Town. In some cases only part of the old portal remained but it was still obvious where the gate had been.
Miles and Miles of Covered Porticos in Bologna
I was fascinated by the miles and miles of porticos. These arched walkways provided cover from the sun (but in many places may have been a bit darker after dark than we would have liked). Some porticos were more utilitarian but many were highly decorative and often caused me to walk with my eyes upwards.
Interesting Bologna City Sites
Like most of Italy, almost every turn also produced yet one more church. Some were under renovation and many were closed. Knowing we would be seeing many many churches in our trip to Italy, we admired the churches and bell towers from afar in this town.
We found the twin towers in the heart of the old town and were certain that one or both of them were tilting badly. There were steps in the taller one that allowed you to climb to the top to see Bologna spread out in front of you (even though the bottom had scaffolding all around it, the stairs were still open). While climbing the tower stayed on our list until the last day, after we had gone to the top of the hill of San Luca, we figured we had got the best panoramic view (if not a more close up look at the old town).
Piazza Maggiore at the centre also boasted the statue of Neptune, a hedonistic display that I was sure offended some travellers for its explicit sexual poses.
A visit up to San Luca was a highly recommended trip to see the church, the view from the top and the 666 portico route. But I was only going if I could ride up and walk down! One day we wandered to find Piazza Malpighi (the transportation hub) and the pickup spot for the San Luca Express (a little tourist train). With schedule in hand we would tackle the mother of all porticos later in the week.
The Awesome Food of Bologna and the Emilia Romagna Region
No trip to the Emilia Romagna region could possibly be complete without at least one food tour. While our hotel recommended one of the better known ones, a little research uncovered another highly recommended option with Italian Days Food Tour. At almost 150€ per person it was expensive but you would get 3 factory tours (Parmesan, Proscutto and Acetico Balsamica) and what sounded like an awesome lunch. Contacting the website we got an email confirmation with complete instructions for our day. We had originally planned to do day trips to Parma and Modena but after our food tour, we decided to pass on that for this trip.
Known as the “Fat City”, Bologna would live up to this name during our trip. Our hotel had a great selection for breakfast that gave us a strong protein boost to start the day. While we continued to picnic after visits to the market or the local food store, we tried to eat one good meal out each day. There was a local restaurant (Ristorante Cesoia) that gave us our first introduction to tagliatelle au ragu and a pleasant surprise with fresh fish. We ate like kings on our food tour day, getting samples of a broad selection of typical Bolognese dishes. We took the learning from that tour to help us order at a restaurant down a small alley that was recommended to us (Osteria Al 15). The proprietor took special care to oversee (and correct) our menu choices to ensure we got the most delicious taste experience. Probably the most unusual spot we ate was Toffee Art Cafe close to our hotel, where we ate in a converted red shipping container on the street. The food was good but the large selection of chocolate desserts sealed the deal.
When we had walked our feet off, the default was pizza. And when we followed the recommendations of our hotel and tried Pizzeria Spacca Napoli, we found both the seafood and proscuitto pizzas to be a gourmet delight.
The 7 days in Bologna flew by. We never did take the train into Florence, even though it was only a 45 minute train trip. We had done a quick day trip on a previous cruise and we were not sure we really wanted another quick whirlwind tour. We would leave Florence for another trip (when we would also re-visit Siena).
Having learned our lesson about regional train travel, we picked our train for Igea Marina with care. If you book a first class ticket and don’t get an assigned seat, it is not really first class and don’t expect anything more! This is the likely situation when booking regional trains – so consider the high speed trains if you want real first class!
What was your favourite part of Bologna Old Town – the Fat City, the Educated City or the Red City?