Russet-coloured Bologna, rich in history, art, culture, cuisine and music, is often overlooked in favour of the country’s more well-known tourism honeypots nearby but is all the more appealing for it.
Consider Bologna’s merits: it’s the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, its prestigious cultural institutions earned it European Capital of Culture status in 2000, and its well-preserved historical centre is one of the largest in the entire country. Add to this its lively university population and its culinary prowess and Bologna’s appeal is truly multi-faceted.
The city’s foremost attractions lie within its architectural gems from Renaissance palaces and medieval towers to antique churches and more famously, 40km (25m) of elegant, ochre-coloured arcades. Many tourists start their discovery of Bolongna at city’s twin piazzas, Maggiore and Nettuno, handsome public spaces sealed on all sides by medieval palazzi. Here, amid attractive terracota, burnt orange and yellow hued facades, the Bolognese come to shop, pray, chat and attend lectures; the city’s university, founded in 1088, is the oldest in the world, earning Bologna the nickname La Dotta ('The Learned').
Bologne also goes under the moniker of La Grassa ('The Fat'), thanks to its hearty, local cuisine. It goes far beyond the world famous spaghetti bolognese (something the locals never eat - they call the sauce ragu and would never mix it with spaghetti, but with tagliatelle). Other local specialities include mortadella (sausage), tortellini, cured pork meats such as prosciutto and salami.
There's also an unexpected side to the city. Two centuries ago, Bologna featured open canals that today are visible in the form of underground waterways. Head to Via Piella where through a hole in the wall, visitors can glimpse a scene reminiscent of Venice - water lapping the foundations of colourful, multi-storeyed buildings. This is also evident at Piazza XX Settembre.
Thanks to its location and new high-speed rail links, visitors keen to explore further afield can easily reach Florence, Rome, Milan and Venice, making Bologna the perfect hub for day-trippers. Other places to visit include Rimini, Ravenna, Ferrara and Modena. In addition, the breezy Adriatic beaches are less than an hour away.