A Food Lover’s Weekend in… Bologna
Bologna is so food-centric that it’s known among Italians as La Grassa, meaning ‘the fat one’. And when the Italians are shouting about a destination’s food pedigree, you know it’s good. As the birthplace of Bolognese sauce (ragù) and the capital of the Emilia Romagna region – home of Parma ham, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar among others – it really is a feast for the senses.
Arrive hungry, wear loose-fitting clothes and schedule a gym visit for the day after your flight back. This is not a city for the light of appetite.
Plane to produce
Whatever time you land, your first stop-off should be a fabulous feed – after all, there’s a lot to stuff in. If you’re arriving late after work, drop off your bags and head straight to the Quadrilatero area. Bang in the centre of town, this is an atmospheric grid of narrow streets lined with restaurants, bars and delis (many of which are all three rolled into one).
Make a beeline for La Baita Vecchia Malga, which is a treasure trove of hanging hams, cured meats and cheese wheels piled high. Settle on one of the outdoor stools and get acquainted with the region’s finest wines, meats and cheeses. You’re right round the corner from the city’s famous Due Torri (two Medieval leaning towers), so take a look while you’re there – they are atmospherically lit at night.
Bologna’s Middle Market is an ideal place to start the day. Set in the midst of all manner of markets selling everything from oils and vinegars to plants, clothes and crafts, it features communal seating surrounded by more than two dozen stalls selling food (and drink) to go. Keep breakfast light as there’s a whole day of eating to be done. Try a pinza, a shortcrust pastry in a ravioli shape stuffed with a fruit mostarda – apples, plums, almonds, raisins and a touch of mustard – and definitely add an espresso to the mix.
Education… and eating
A university might be an unusual attraction to seek out, but it’s worth the walk to Bologna’s, set in the north-east of the centre. It is the oldest university in the world, dating back to 1088, and has some pretty impressive buildings to match.
Handily, that short sightseeing detour will leave you in easy reach of another destination worth seeking out: Osteria Marsalino. This lively and thoroughly local restaurant is a favourite among the city’s cool and fashionable set, with tables filling up fast for its short daily-changing menu of Bolognese classics with a contemporary twist. If anything involving the city’s famous ragù is on offer, order it.
Following an afternoon of taking in Bologna’s beauty, or perhaps working your way through its many fashionable shopping streets, it’s time to get back on the food and drink; and in this part of the world, it amounts to sacrilege to head to dinner without first stopping off for an aperitivo. Be good and head to church. By which we mean go to Le Stanze, the former private chapel of the Bentivoglio family, which now boasts a superb bar and unrivalled aperitivo buffet. Order a Negroni.
Dinner and drinks
Close by is a pizzeria known as one of Bologna’s best. Call into Nicola’s for a quick but superb quality Neapolitan-style pizza before heading out for the bars, just like the locals do. Expect chewy bases and generous quantities of rich tomato sauce.
From there, make sure you stop by Enoteca Italiana, a treasure trove of all things vinous that could best be described as a library of wine. It’s a shop, so you can buy bottles to take away – if you have check-in luggage, make the most of it – but they serve a good number by the glass, too. As you continue on your bar trip you’ll find no shortage of bars that are good for a spritz stop in the area, but one that’s definitely worth finding is Caffe Rubik. Cheap, cheerful and far from the best in terms of quality of drinks, it’s appeal lies in its walls lined with cassettes, which you can choose to play on the old-school stereos. It’s open until the early hours and a favourite among local students.
Coffee and a climb
Grab a bracing coffee and a light bite before embarking on a walk to the top of one of Bologna’s towers for the city’s most scenic view – it’s well worth the stairs.
Cute and quirky Caffeteria Lilù nearby is an excellent choice, as are its pistachio biscuits. Fresh fruit juices compete with cappuccinos and espressos as the most popular order. Right by Basilica San Giacomo Maggiore and the city’s most famous square, it’s also a good excuse to do the sightseeing you missed while you were eating your weight in pasta.
Long last lunch
For a final, blow-out lunch head to Grassilli, a delightfully old-school-looking but far from dated restaurant close to the Quadrilatero area. Tuck into Bolognese classics including ravioli burro e salvia, stuffed with ricotta and served in a sauce of melted butter and sage, and tortellini in brodo, stuffed with pheasant and served in a light, meaty broth. Fun fact: the restaurant’s chef was previously a private cook for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and there’s a letter from them on the wall saying that they would like him back.
Check-in and cheese
It’s time to go, and you’re not ready to say goodbye but Bologna has one last treat in store to help soften the blow. Vecchia Malga, which was your first prosciutto pit-stop upon landing, has a second branch in Bologna Airport. That means you can check in, pass security and settle with a glass of wine and a slab of formaggio before you fly.
Certainly beats the Jamie’s Italian at Gatwick…
Feature image credit: Dimitris Kamaras