If you have the opportunity to visit the beautiful area of Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy, then don’t pass it up. I had the pleasure of living and working here for four months one summer and it’s a gorgeous area with some of the best food in Italy.
I’m well aware that you can’t go wrong with food in Italy. I stand by the assertion that it is one of the best foods in the world, and definitely the best food in the West, and I’m still saying that after living in Asia. But, if I had to narrow it even further, I truly believe that Emilia-Romagna is home to some of Italy’s best dishes. We’re talking Parmigiano-Reggiano, balsamic vinegar (only ever from Modena), tortelloni and proscuitto, to name just a few, and believe me when I say that the list continues indefinitely. I think even amongst Italians, this area is said to be home to some of the most delicious food Italians have ever created.
But if having some of the best food in Italy isn’t reason enough to visit the area, then consider the gorgeous rolling hills and beautiful cities as well. It’s a hard life. If you’re looking for a medieval Italian city then Bologna is the best one in the region. As a place, it’s pretty compact so quite an easy city to get around, but that’s not to say that it’s not packed with charm and medieval beauty on every corner. There is a long list of things to see and you’ll no doubt stumble upon. But as always, and I especially recommend it with Italy, get lost. Italians have one of the most amazing cultures in the world, and their laidback friendly attitude makes it easy to slip into life here. Don’t be afraid to sit down and watch the world go by over an espresso or an ice cream – or both, because why not?
Fly in or jump on the train.
Unless you have a scooter and a death wish (crazy Italian driving) then just walk. It’s the best way to see the city and the whole place is pretty small anyway. There are regular buses for tourists who want to explore places a little further out, and the Piazza Maggiore is a good place to start with finding them. Keep in mind that you’re in Italy – being on time is not a bus driver’s priority- just go with it.
Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno
The two main squares of Bologna are a pretty good place to start your exploration seeing as though a lot of the things to see are located off various roads in every direction. The Piazza Maggiore is the heart of Bologna and has been the home of Bologna’s political and social existence long before you were born (the 1200s). Surrounding the squares are the Palazzo D’Accursio, Basilica of San Petronio, Palazzo Re Enzo and the Torre dell’Arengo – to name but a few.
Squares are often the best places to start and end your adventures when wandering through Italian cities because they tend to be little social hubs. These are no different and quite often you’ll be caught up in music or film events – so yes, sit on the floor, watch a movie with some Italians and eat some damn good food, life really doesn’t get a lot better than that.
Whilst these two squares and the buildings that surround them are truly magnificent, my personal favourite lies only a short walk away. Piazza Santo Stefano is a much more secluded, laid-back (although everywhere in Italy merits the title of laidback, hence it’s a truly perfect country) little area. Head here as the sun is setting and sip on an aperol spritz like a local before heading out for the best ragu and tortelloni you’ll ever consume.
The Bologna Towers
Of course, what’s a trip to Bologna without climbing up the 498 steps of the leaning Torre degli Asinelli for a truly breathtaking view over the city. I should mention that Bologna has the oldest university in the entire world and students who attend here have always believed that climbing it whilst studying means that you won’t graduate, so if you’re a student and superstitious, don’t do it. When I was exploring Bologna, I was a student, I did graduate, but maybe I was a lucky one.
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
Just outside of the city centre (I walked but there are trains and buses a few times a day for tourists) is the beautiful Basilica Santuario della Madonna Di San Luca. It might be a mouthful to say but once you’ve climbed the many stairs to get here and finally take in the beautiful view, I’m sure you’ll have little else to utter safe for three syllables – ‘Bellisima’. If, like myself, you decide to walk here, you’ll be wandering through the longest portico in the world, measuring just under 4km and a comprised of a whopping 666 arches.
I don’t suppose that this is a place usually on the map when touring Italy and I’m biased because Imola was my home for four months and what a lovely home it was. Safe for the racecars on its famous Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, it has a languid Italian pace paired with the bustling friendliness that Italy seems to offer in most of its towns and villages. You’ll find the majority of people cycling around the town at a leisurely pace and if you can find a bike it’s quite a nice way to get around. I spent the entire summer two wheeling it along roads through vineyards – terrible I know. It’s only a short train away from Bologna and makes for a pleasant day trip.
Make sure you munch on:
I’m fairly certain I already mentioned that this region has the best food in the whole of Italy, so as you can imagine, it all comes together in Bologna.
Obviously try Ragu, because it is somewhat life changing and nothing will ever come close to living up to it in the future, except if you happen to get an old Italian grandma to make it for you (this did happen many times).
Drink an Aperol spritz and munch on tortelloni/tortellini.
Mortadella or to be honest any kind of cold cut – Italians are really good at them.