Searching for La Dolce Vita, Pt. 2: Bologna, Italy’s uncommon destination

(Editor’s note: This is the second of two travel posts about Italy. You can see Pt. 1 of “Searching for La Dolce Virta” here.)

Inspired by Stanley Tucci’s “Searching For Italy” and a few recently read novels, my travels took me to a multiple dream destinations in Italy this September including Bologna.

Bologna is the seventh-largest city in Italy and known as “Fat City” for its culinary impact as the capital of the  Emilia~Romagna region, from where many of Italy’s most popular food items hail; “Learned City” as it is home to the oldest university in the world in continuous operation and “Red City” for its red roofs and leftist leanings politically.

Unlike many of Italy’s major cities, Bologna is not one of the common tourist destinations so doesn’t have the major attractions.

But it is a “real” city with a young population and a surfeit of foodie locations.

You don’t need more than a couple of days if you aren’t planning on leaving the city.

What To Do

Photo by Jackie Harding

Eat! ~ Bologna is the capital of one of Italy’s prolific food producing areas. The Quadrilatero is a market worth exploring, with great places to eat and of course tasty food to purchase. Every little street offers tiny stores jammed packed with deliciousness. Book a food tour to get the full experience.  

The city even has an interactive food theme park called FICO, which is a 15-minute bus ride from the train station. Here you can take tours, go on courses to learn to make gelato, pasta and so many other tasty foodstuffs, along with wine courses and – of course – eating.

This place is foodie heaven!

The porticos at night (Photo by Jackie Harding)

Walk the Porticoes ~ Bologna is famous for its covered walkways or porticoes. They are recognized by UNESCO and cover more than 40 kilometers in the city alone. They provide places to socialize, a welcome shady place to walk in the summer and a dry place in the rain.

The most famous portico is Via Saragozza, the longest in the world. Made up of 664 arches and almost four kilometers long, it leads to the Sanctuary of San Luca, which offers fabulous views over the city.

City Walks ~ The meandering ancient streets offer a wonderful opportunity to just roam, whether it is with an organized walking tour or by yourself. Delightful old churches, interesting little stores and fabulous food stores to drool over! There is even an area that once was Bologna’s version of Venice with canals running through the centre. Now there is one remaining canal and I think you need to see it after heavy rain…given Italy’s long hot summer this year it was more of a muddy alleyway when we were there.

Food tours are a must as this city draws together some of the best food in Italy.

Asinselli Tower (Photo by Jackie Harding)

Climb Towers ~ The city once had more than 100 towers but today the “Two Towers,” or Le Due Torri, are the big attraction. Built in the 11th century, the tallest tower, Asinelli, is a fitness testing climb with 498 steps and a view of the city from 97.2 meters. 

(Author’s note: Do not attempt this if you have health issues or a fear of heights.)

Get Out of Bologna to nearby cities ~ Parma, famous for Parma ham and Parmesan cheese; Modena, home to balsamic vinegar, opera and Ferrari; Verona is famous for being the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and all are within a couple of hours car drive, or by travel by public transport. 

Where To Stay 

The historic centre is the best area to stay in the city and has some great hotels. Unfortunately, we didn’t book early enough so did not have a great experience I can recommend.

Where To Eat

I’m not going to mention the city’s most famous export, but if it is what you are craving you can find the pasta dish everywhere. There are more great restaurants than you can shake a stick at in the city, so just follow the great smells or ask your foodie tour guide.

It is unlikely you’ll be disappointed … unless you go to McDonalds!

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Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here

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