As a regional economic hub, that sits nowhere near the sea, Bologna isn’t Italy’s most obvious holiday destination, but it’s one of the country’s very best cities for food and culture.
With an enchanting blend of Renaissance and medieval-era architecture in the historic city centre, the capital of the Emilia Romagna region is compelling both for its visceral past and lively present.
Home to arguably the oldest university in the world, there’s a large student population here, giving the city plenty of verve. Countless bars cater to them on and around the main arteries like Via Zamboni and Via del Pratello. Many roll out generous buffets for aperitivo, where a pre-dinner drink gets you any number of delicious snacks.
If you’re careful not to fill up too much, dinner will be memorable. Known as 'La Grassa' (the fatty), Bologna has an incredible culinary legacy and is home to some of the finest restaurants in Italy. Choose from dozens of trattorias in the centre serving tagliatelle al ragù – or spaghetti Bolognese to you and me, though the pasta is a little different (1cm-wide strips). Be sure also to try handmade tortelli (filled parcels of pasta) and try the region’s assorted breads, hams and cheeses.
Once you manage to drag yourself away from the dinner table, this multi-faceted city has plenty else to offer. There are several world-class museums and galleries, including the renowned MAMbo (Museum of Modern Art). There are also beautiful churches to explore, including the recently restored 600-year-old San Petronio in the beautiful central square, Piazza Maggiore. And you can’t fail to avoid the Two Towers nearby – the soaring brick skyscrapers from the Middle Ages, one leaning precariously towards the other.
Set in the picturesque Po Valley, Bologna’s pleasing patchwork of blushing-peach buildings is surrounded by green hills, one of which hosts the impressive Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca – definitely worth hiking up, not least for its views of Bologna below. From here you can take in the city that has everything: beauty, culture, intriguing history and incomparable food.