I'm walking along the charming streets of one of Italy's cultural centers. The archways and porticos remind me of the academic roots the city is so proud of. A place steeped in world renowned cuisine, rich culture, and warm people.
Bologna has two amusing nicknames “the learned one” which refers to its rich academic history and “the fat one” which pokes fun at the culinary traditions that make the Emilia-Romagna region one of the best food destinations in Italy.
Here you can be quickly introduced to an Italy beyond typical tourism. If you know what you are doing after a few hours you may even mistake yourself for a local. This is a city you need to get to know like a good friend. You need to walk its streets, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when the main thoroughfares close to traffic. You need to get up early and go to the market to find the freshest produce from all around the region.
You need to discover the hidden gems and secrets of the city. Unlike other great Italian cities like Florence or Rome, much of Bologna is hidden. Part of its charm is that its beauty is more subtle. It's seen in its hidden gardens and tucked away churches. It’s in the rustic courtyards and traditional restaurants. Perhaps that's what made Bologna one of my favorite places to visit. I constantly felt a sense of adventure as if I was the first person to see this ancient city, to discover it’s winding streets and red walls.
The first recorded settlements in this northern Italian city date back to 1000 BC. It’s an academic hub boasting the oldest university in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and in its day welcomed students of all races and religions, even letting women study there at a time when it was unheard of. In medieval times the city had a skyline that looked like Manhattan’s with an estimated hundred skyscraper like stone towers, a few of which still stand today.
It’s a city that hard to pin down for one characteristic. Is it characterized by its red color or perhaps its towers? How about its rich culinary traditions which boast the invention of a traditional Ragu sauce known the world over as Bolognese? Perhaps it's an academic town characterized by its university. Maybe an architectural hub which can be classified by its miles of arches. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Bologna is a place to spend the time to eat and explore. It’s a place defined by so many things simultaneously it wouldn't be right to try and describe it with only one of its many personalities. In the end, Bologna is whatever you’d like it to be, I suppose you have to go and see for yourself.
What to do: Bologna Welcome is the one stop shop for all your Bologna related questions. From historical tours to current events.
Becoming a local: To immerse yourself in the local lifestyle and cuisine in Bologna (or elsewhere in Italy) contact Cristina Fortini at Italy Food Nest. She was my local guide while I was there and you can think of her as the secret map to all you need to see and taste in this city.
Where to stay: If you're into the exclusive and artistic the 4-star Al Cappello Rosso offers uniquely designed rooms with customized artwork. If you can find a room available...book it.