After visiting the breathtaking hilltop principality of San Marino and exploring the Roman mosaics in Ravenna, my Italy travels continued with a stop in Bologna. The famous university city in the Emilia-Romagna region is best known for its culinary treasures, and those were what I set out to discover during my trip.
As with the other places I visited on my Italian odyssey, I didn’t know much about Bologna before traveling there. The tourism board was flaky and unhelpful, and the information online was sparse. Thankfully a few of my foodie friends that had visited the city gave me some recommendations for restaurants in Bologna. Given that food was the main reason for my visit, their suggestions sufficed for a travel guide.
My friend and I arrived in Bologna after a 1.5-hour train ride from Ravenna. Once again, tickets were compliments of Rail Europe and the journey was easy and quick, offering great views of the countryside along the way.
The main train station in Bologna was located a short walk from our accommodation, the Metropolitan Hotel. It was in a great location just off Via dell’Indipendenza, the long arcaded shopping street in the heart of the city. The hotel had offered us one of its apartments in Bologna for the night, and the flat’s sleek contemporary decor and spacious rooms wowed us as soon as we walked in the door.
The apartment had one full bedroom and another area off the living room that contained a large bed. There was a full kitchen (although the appliances had signs notifying us that they weren’t to be used), and a big bathroom. While we explored the rooms, another friend from London arrived to join us. The apartment was a great place for the three of us to stay, and a nice alternative to a hotel room.
After getting settled in, we took a walk to the main city square, Piazza Maggiore, with its grand historic buildings and requisite statues of famous Italian heroes. Right off the square was a narrow street lined with all kinds of restaurants, cafes, gelaterias, and specialty food shops.
One such shop was Eataly. Eataly’s main location is in Turin, but it has become so famous that it has recently opened outlets in Bologna and New York City. We found the former in the upstairs of a bookstore on Via degli Orefici.
At first the concept of a food shop and restaurant in a bookstore was a bit confusing. But once we were seated at a table on a balcony overlooking the stacks, I realized that it was my own personal heaven. Books+food=bliss.
My friends and I ordered a feast of traditional pasta Bolognese and a big bottle of red wine. It was a cliched lunch for sure, but when in Bologna…
The food was every bit as good as Eataly’s reputation suggested, and afterwards we drifted out of the bookstore to continue our culinary adventures in Bologna. We didn’t have to wait long, either.
Next door was a gelato shop, which lured us in with flavors ranging from rich chocolate to refreshing fruit. Oddly, the shop didn’t allow photography (apparently its interior was copyrighted….), but that didn’t stop me from snapping a few photos before the gelato disappeared into our greedy stomachs.
Around the corner from the gelateria was a tiny street called Via Drapperie that was lined with fruit and vegetable stalls, butcher shops, and rustic salumerias. If we hadn’t just eaten, we could have grazed away all afternoon.
But we had just eaten, and so we spent the afternoon walking off the calories in preparation for dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bologna called i Portici. My friends surprised me with a decadent birthday dinner in the sumptuous dining room, where a live harpist serenaded us while we enjoyed a five-course tasting menu. It was a great birthday present, and the perfect way to end our day in Bologna.
The next morning we were up early to catch our train to Florence. As the train pulled away from the city, I wished we had been able to stay longer to discover more of the culinary highlights of Bologna. And the sightseeing ones, too. After all, I’m sure there’s more to do in Bologna than just eat. Well, maybe.