Our next stop was Bologna – the gastronomical capital of Italy. We had two activities planned: Eating and wandering around between eating.
Not ones to miss meals – especially in Italy – we had to come up with a lot of wandering ideas if we didn’t want to leave Bologna at least 10 pounds heavier than when we arrived.
Luckily, Bologna is an accommodating city.
For starters, the historical center is filled with porticos. In fact, no other city in the world has as many as Bologna. And not only are they incredibly helpful in protecting one from the sun and rain, many of them are quite beautiful as well.
Another well-known site is Piazza Ravegnana, home to the Two Towers of Bologna. The Asinelli and Garisenda towers were built between 1109-1119 and while they are the most famous, at one point, Bologna had up to 180 towers within the city.
Eating as much as we were, we thought long and hard about climbing the higher tower – Asinelli. But we had heard the views were much more rewarding in Florence, where we’d be in a few days. And with the weather as hot as it was – in the 90s, we decided to sit the climb out and save ourselves 498 stairs (one way).
A more leisurely activity that we decided to take part in was to visit the University Library of Bologna.
Harder to find than one might expect, we accidentally found the modern library first. Quickly pointed in the right direction, we found ourselves in the entryway, being told in Italian to wait 10 minutes for our guide. A little confused, we agreed.
It turns out that local high school students are given rotating jobs every summer and one of them is as a free guide to the library. All we really knew about the library in advance was that the University of Bologna claims to be the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere.
Our guide was much more knowledgeable: It was a private library created in 1712 to house the scientific collections, books, related manuscripts, and collected oriental manuscripts of Luigi Ferdinando Marsili. Forty-three years later, Pope Benedict XIV donated 25,000 printed volumes and then ordered the typographers of Bologna to provide the library with a copy of every work they printed. The following year, he ordered the library to open its doors to the public.
Now home to over 1,250,000 volumes it’s an impressive library indeed. And unlike the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin, we only shared the space with our guide, a fellow reader, and a clerk.
Plus we got some great anecdotal stories from our guide. Including his unsureness about which job was better: His current one, in a beautiful, old library, where his only amusement was random tourists because his boss was a grouchy old woman…or last summer when he had to do manual labor in the sweltering heat – but at least he had his buddies around.
The only other “site” we went to was the Basilica di Santo Stefano, also known as the Seven Churches. According to tradition, the earliest churches were built in the 4th and 5th centuries, with the latests being built in the 13th century and some reshaping in the 17th century.
The colors of the churches are a beautiful rose red and they have wonderful detailing. The courtyards were a beautiful and serene place to relax.
Everything else we saw, we came across by wandering. Bologna has a wonderful amount of street art on the metal gates that are pulled down to protect closed shops. Vivid colors and varied designs, they are sure to catch your eye.
We also passed this beautiful staircase every time we went to and from the train station. There’s a lovely park that sits behind it.
And I’m sure it’s impossible not to wander through Piazza Maggiore, whether you’re there to see Neptune, are in the nearby market for some shopping, or are attending an event at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Our last night in Bologna, they played Pan’s Labryinth and we had a great date night!
But none of these were the main event. The main event was FOOD. Food was the reason we spent three days in Bologna. We needed enough time to eat a meal at each of the restaurants we researched and planned out.
And the restaurants did not disappoint. Like Ristorante Da Cesar with their amazing tagliatelle with truffles and pumpkin ravioli. It was busy the whole time we were there, but we never felt rushed.
Another mouth-water meal was at Trattoria Leonida. This was the most vegetarian-friendly trattoria I could find online and their ricotta tortelloni with a creamy red sauce and tagliatelle with asparagus did not disappoint!
A favorite meal that surprised us was at the Botanica Lab. One of the only vegan restaurants in Bologna (unsurprising that there are so few of these!), their unique menu blew us away. We ended up with some sweet potato pasta, as well as pineapple tempeh. Not usually one for sweets, Chandler fell in love with their raw cheesecake. They also had a nice selection of bio wine – including a Rosso di Montalcino by Col d’Orcia that we can get here in Accra!
Another nice ambience (though Botanica Lab wins in this category) was Caminetto d’Oro. We also ordered a bottle of wine here – we couldn’t resist! They had a lovely Verdicchio and that’s one of Chandler’s favorites – from the Marche region, it is a particularly salty white that we don’t come across too often. Our veggie lasagne and (you guessed it), tagliatelle with mushrooms and truffles were delicious as well.
Sometimes, however, we opted for less fancy fair.
One of the best pizzas we had in Italy was our 4.50 euros margherita pizza from Nicola’s Pizzeria. Takeaway for the win.
On the salty side, great post-bottle-of-wine square pizza sheets can be found at MozzaBella. We went here when we were stocking up on fresh produce at the Mercato delle Erbe market. Which, by the way, had much better prices than the markets around Mercato di Mezzo near Piazza Maggiore – though I would recommend a craft beer or glass of wine here before a show at Il Cinema Ritrovato.
And for some absolutely incredible take-away pasta (we got the gnocchi with red sauce) check out Bottega Portici. They also have an eat-in fancy restaurant, but we were more than happy with this little shop.
And of course, no stop in Italy is complete without copious amounts of gelato consumed. This summer was a summer of nuts. I fell in love with hazelnut gelato, encountered salted peanut (just once!), and of course, I’ve always loved a good pistacchio.
Cremeria Santo Stefano was probably my favorite, but I also enjoyed the more mass-marketed Venchi as well.
I’m happy to report Bologna held up as the gastronomical capital of Italy. We’d happily go back for seconds : )
This is more a ‘eat where I ate’ kind of episode….and has made my mouth water! Also I’m very jealous of the library tour – looks like my ideal summer job!
Right? Grouchy old lady or not, count me in!