Italy's 'red city' of Bologna is not yet a big tourist destination, but CARLA CAPALBO learns that there's every reason why it should be.
Bologna is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. An illuminated city in both thought and architecture – there are over 37km of arcades to keep you from getting wet when it rains – it was the seat of Europe’s oldest university, and was elected Cultural Capital of Europe in 2000. It is a great city to walk in: its porticoes, darkened and cool by day, but lit up warmly at night, lend the streets an intimate air. Indeed, the harmonious play of reds, oranges and ochres that colour the buildings have earned Bologna the title of ‘la città rossa’, the red city. Bologna’s great gastronomic wealth is dominated by the colour wheel too, from the creamy tones of parmigiano, through the yolk-yellows of egg pasta, through the pinks and reds of local meats – prosciutto di Parma and the rarer culatello are native to the region – to the deeper reds of the Sangiovese and Barbera wines, whose fruity freshness and lively acidity complement perfectly these rich but delicious foods.
Eating and drinking
Put away your calorie counter and indulge in Bologna’s soul food: pasta! The queen of hand-rolled egg noodles is Anna Maria Monari. Her lasagne and tagliatelle are thinner than paper, and light to digest, and her lively restaurant, Trattoria Anna Maria, is colourful and always packed. Afterwards, stop at Cantina Bentivoglio for a decent bottle of wine and live jazz in the large cellars of a Bentivoglio family palazzo – they also serve unfussy dinners. Diana is a classic-style family restaurant specialising in traditional Bolognese cuisine. The pasta is rustic and abundant, with huge trolleys of roast meats for those who have room. Pappagallo is more refined, as is the wine list – though the emphasis in Bologna is always more on food than wine. In vaulted rooms at the foot of the medieval towers adorned with autographed photos of stars like Sophia Loren, it serves carefully prepared fish, meat and, of course, pasta.
Trattoria Anna Maria, Via Belle Arti, 17/A. Tel: +39 051 266 894
Cantina Bentivoglio, Via Mascarella, 4/B. Tel: +39 051 265 416
Ristorante Diana, Via Indipendenza, 24. Tel: +39 051 231 302
Ristorante Pappagallo, Piazza della Mercanzia, 3. Tel: +39 051 232 807
Where to stay in Bologna
The most characterful hotels in the centre are under the same management. Dei Commercianti is literally inside Piazza Maggiore, and has a few lucky rooms with private terraces overlooking the duomo. Corona D’Oro 1890 is just a few streets away. Both have personalised furnishings with antiques and sculptures, excellent service and intimate atmospheres. The most luxurious hotel in town is Grand Hotel Baglioni, in the historic Palazzo Ghisilardi-Fava. Its elegant restaurant, I Carracci, has 16th-century ceiling frescoes by the Carracci school.
Hotel Dei Commercianti, Via de’ Pignattari, 11. Tel: +39 051 233 052
Hotel Corona D’Oro 1890, Via Oberdan, 12. Tel: +39 051 236 456
Grand Hotel Baglioni, Via Indipendenza, 8. Tel: +39 051 225 445
Food and wine shopping in Bologna
The historic food shops of Bologna are as beautifully presented – and culturally rewarding – as museums. The market quarter that flanks the duomo to its west hosts some of the greatest. Salsamenteria Tamburini has everything: mortadella sausages, Parma hams, scores of ready-cooked dishes to take away, parmigiano and pasta. You can even lunch in the back. On either side are Atti’s handsome stores, with their homemade pastas and breads in myriad shapes. Tortellini has been their speciality since 1880. Another centenarian is Drogheria Gilberto, which houses an eccentric mix of sweets upstairs and one of the city’s best wine selections in its cellar, divided by region. It also stocks real Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, sold in boxed bottles from the Consortium: as exquisite and expensive as perfume. Chocoholics can run across the street to the Bottega del Caffè for a fix of Domori’s pure cocoa crus (try the 100% Puro). From here, walk to Enoteca Italiana for a glass of great wine and a taste of artisan salami and cheeses. The expert shop sells over 1,000 selected wines, including the Emilian Pignoletto – a white in frizzante and still versions. Gelato lovers should not miss Sorbetteria Castiglione, a few streets out from the centre, for some of Italy’s finest artisan ices; the Sicilian pistachio and Piedmontese hazelnut are unbeatable.
Salsamenteria Tamburini, Via Caprarie, 1. Tel: +39 051 234 726
Pastificio-Panificio Atti, Via Caprarie, 7 and Via Drapperie, 6. Tel: +39 051 220 425
Drogheria Gilberto, Via Drapperia, 5. Tel: +39 051 223 925
Bottega del Caffè, Via Orefici, 6. Tel: +39 051 236 720
Enoteca Italiana, Via Marsala, 2/B. Tel: +39 051 235 989
Sorbetteria Castiglione, Via Castiglione, 44. Tel: +39 051 233 257