Bologna has at least three nicknames: La Dotta– “the learned one,” for being home to the world’s oldest university, founded in 1088; La Grassa–“the fat one,” for its wonderful food; and La Rossa–“the red one,” originally for its terracotta rooftops, but also reflecting the city’s long-time political leanings. Speaking of leanings, the city also has two famous towers that–depending on your perspective–are now left of center. Plus miles and miles of porticoes, refuges from all the elements.
We were only there for one weekend. Two days will give you just a taste of the city’s delights. Okay, many tastes–it isn’t called La Grassa for nothing and you won’t be able to resist. And once you’ve tasted Bologna, you’ll want more.
Day 1: In the morning, we walked around the historic center of Bologna, including Piazza Maggiore, Basilica di San Petronio (with a trip up to its terrazza for a roof-top view of the city), Palazzo Archiginnasio (once the main building of the University of Bologna, and home to a gorgeous library and fascinating anatomical operating theater, built in 1636), and the food shops in Mercato di Mezzo. Then we went on a tour near Modena to visit a Parmigiano-Reggiano factory and a small balsamic vinegar producer.
Food: For lunch, we had an antipasto platter at Tamburini, followed by gelato at Cremeria Funivia and coffee at Caffe Terzi. At night, we headed to Ristorante Ciacco, where we had another antipasto platter (with prosciutto, mortadella, salame rosa, parmigiano-reggiano, and friggione–a tomato-onion accompaniment), meat-filled tortelloni, tagliatelle al ragu, and cotoletta alla Bolognese, with rice cake for dessert.
Unfinished facade of Basilica di San Petronio
Non-politically correct window-shop display: “Tortellini: To trick your husband into thinking you made them!”
Day 2: We worked off part of Day 1’s excesses by hauling ourselves up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, via one of the longest porticoes in the world: 666 arches, 3.5 km/2.17 miles long. Did I mention that at least half the route is steeply uphill, with many sets of stairs? It was, amazingly, a Sunday outing for many, with dogs, children, and power walkers making the trek. It’s an experience not to be missed–and there is a bus back down to town afterward if your legs have turned to spaghetti after reaching the top. Once we were on flat ground again, we headed to Piazza Santo Stefano to meander through the interconnected complex of seven churches therein, and then we walked back through the historic center, looking at shops and street art, listening to musicians under the porticoes, and dodging the many Bolognese residents out for a Sunday passeggiata.
Food: For Sunday dinner, we went to a non-traditional but highly regarded eatery: È Cucina Leopardi, where you never know what you will get, but you know it will be good. Chef Cesare Marretti offers you three choices: meat, fish, or vegetarian. Then you sit back and see what will appear–the waiters don’t even necessarily know what the chef will hand out; it can vary from table to table depending on what is coming out of the oven (or off the stove) at any given time. We had buffalo ricotta with an apple/pineapple compote, roast chicken breast with roasted celery and apricot, lamb cutlets with a Grana Padano cheese souffle, roast pork loin with pureed pumpkin, and three desserts (they may have brought that many by accident; we did our duty, though we were about to burst): sweet mascarpone in a persimmon puree, ricotta mousse with roasted chestnuts and cinnamon and cocoa, and a molten chocolate cake.
Next time we are in Bologna, we will have to climb up to San Luca twice!
Colorful buildings en route to the portico to San Luca
The ascent to San Luca; Cyclists skirting the portico on their way up