Bellini Travel’s founder Emily FitzRoy curates her city guide to Bologna
The city of three names: La Dotta – The Erudite – Bologna is still a thriving university city, the University of Bologna was founded in 1088. La Rossa – The Red – in part due to the red tiles and roof tops that you can see from the top of the Asinelli Tower (see below) but really for the strong Communist ties the city has always leant towards. And finally La Grassa, Bologna has to be the greediest city in Italy and is especially jolly in the run up to Christmas. Visitors are welcomed but not feted which makes eating out a pure joy. You’ll find tortellini in brodo on most menus, the smaller the better and a sign of real craftsmanship (modelled on Venus’ navel).
Top of the range
It may be tiny and have a rather modest unexciting facade, but Osteria Bottega is nigh on impossible to fault. Excellent restaurants abound in Bologna but here traditional dishes are made to absolute perfection with the finest ingredients. This is the place to taste tagliatelle con ragù and the salumi is amongst the best we’ve ever had alongside Bolognese specialities of lardo di colonnata and mortadella. Leave room for a main course as the pigeon on our last visit was sublime.
Just an easy stroll from Piazza Maggiore, Diana is a stalwart of the Bolognese lunch scene. The atmosphere is formal, so expect white jacketed, elderly, potentially grumpy waiters who have been there for decades. Try and go during the autumn for truffles and porcini mushrooms and the home made tagliatelle. Bollito misto is carved at the table from an old fashioned trolley with a fabulously tart sauce and allow room for a traditional rice tart for pudding.
Ristorante al Pappagallo
Foodies might disagree on the best restaurant in Bologna, but this old friend is nearly always at the top of everyone’s list. A faithful following have been visiting for decades, including the likes of Einstein, Hitchcock, and Toscanini. You’ll find “The Parrot,” on the ground floor of a Gothic mansion across from the 14th-century Merchants’ Loggia (a short walk from the leaning towers)..
La Drogheria della Rosa
This oh so cosy restaurant used to be a drogheria (the old-fashioned name for a food shop) and still retains the original furnishings and an eclectic collection of objets d’art. The Bolognesi are a jovial bunch and with charismatic owner Emmanuele at the helm, this is a marvelous place for a very jolly evening with excellent food and a wine list to match.
Al Montegrappa Da Nello
Da Nello is set in the cellars of one of the city’s numerous historical palaces. The restaurant’s signature dish is tortellina Montegrappa, pasta served in a cream and meat sauce. The restaurant is also known for using fresh white truffles and mushrooms.
Cesarina is set in the delightful triangular piazza where the famous seven churches of Santo Stefano lie. It is famous for its rich regional cooking and also offers wonderful fish dishes. The speciality of the house is cannelloni stuffed with thin tagliatelle, porcini mushrooms and parmesan.
A lively, small trattoria offering traditional Bolognese main courses but with the owners’ southern influence on delicious pudding like cassata siciliana. Set in a tiny alley in the old Jewish Ghetto, the series of small interconnected dining rooms are always full.
Trattoria da Leonida
Just behind the two towers, Da Leonida is an excellent lunch spot (NB it is not particularly romantic.) Expect all the classics and a very good regional wine list.
Lunch at Giovanni Tamburini’s emporium is a must. You will have to queue and collect a tray as if you were in a canteen before bagging yourself a table in one of the scruffy dining rooms, but it is well worth it. Before lunch, take a turn around the side streets next to Piazza Maggiore which are essentially a bustling food market and have an aperitivo on Via Clavature.
A well-established hot spot with good food and live jazz, which makes it fun for dinner. The cellar and enoteca has over 400 labels, both Italian and international. Since it opened in 1989, the venue has attracted the greatest international names in jazz.
This family-run trattoria is very simple but also absolutely delicious. In summer you can eat in the delightful courtyard.
Cocktail and Dancing
It has to be Le Stanze for dancing and late night drinking. Housed in a former chapel, the setting is divine and the crowd even more so. Open very late.
Don’t forget to visit . . .
The Torre degli Asinelli
To bring the city into perspective, you need to climb the wooden staircase of the second of Bolognas leaning towers, the Torre degli Asinelli. There are just under 500 steps so possibly best done before settling into lunch.
Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio in Piazza Galvani.
Bologna is home to the oldest university in the world. Expect a riot of Baroque (in wood no less) and a delightful central marble slab that was used for dissections. Check before visiting as it is often used for events.
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vita
The wooden statues depicting the ‘Lamentation’ from 1464 by the relatively unknown sculptor Niccolo del Arca are not to be missed. The vitality and movement and anguish in the faces of the ladies grieving over Christ’s body are incredibly moving.
Stuffed full of the grand fromages of Northern Italy’s Renaissance.
Italy’s greatest artist of the 20th century can be found in the Museo Morandi, housed on a floor of the city’s Modern Art Gallery MAMbo (personally we found his lovely still life’s not nearly as impressive when grouped together in one long corridor).
For a petrol heads dream, take a taxi for the 15 minute journey out of town to the Ducati Museum in Borgo Panigale. Actually, the design is so brilliant you don’t even need to like motorcycles.
And if you want to work off all that food, the walk up to the chapel of San Luca in the hills is fabulous.
Excellent for all manner of epicurial treats.
Wonderful bookbinder who is well worth a visit.