I blame Stanley Tucci for my desire to visit the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, this includes the largest city, Bologna. We have a trip planned for Tuscany in the fall of 2023 (rescheduled from 2020) so that is when I thought I would first make it to Italy. Thankfully, I was wrong.
I realized last fall that the airline tickets that we purchased in 2020 (we all know what happened then) were only good through October 2022. What a quandary! We need to travel by then or lose the credit.
When I approached my husband about this situation, I suggested we should go to Italy two years in a row! We had just seen the episode where Stanley Tucci visits Bologna, Modena, and Rimini and I was totally infatuated with their passion for food from the region. Since we had the tickets and we had to go somewhere, he agreed, so Italy it was! Woo-hoo! Now I had to plan it all.
We flew United from Austin to Dulles airport in Washington, then overnight from Washington to Frankfurt and finally from Frankfurt to Bologna. My friend Nancy had told me a long time ago to spring for the premium economy seats for the long journey and I am so glad that we did! She also gave me some great packing tips if you want to read all about that adventure, it is here.
Arrival time in Bologna around 10:30 am and we were exhausted. Our goal was to stay awake, possibly take an hour nap in the afternoon and plug on through to get on Italy time. We took a cab from the airport to the city center. FYI, Uber is not a thing in this part of Italy but I believe this is true for all of Italy. Taxis are still king, like it is 1999.
We stayed at Hotel Metropolitan, which is located off of one of the main streets in Bologna, Via dell’Independenza. The taxi pulled to the end of the cobblestone alleyway and we walked to the entrance of this very modern and hip hotel.
I had been corresponding with the hotel via email to arrange a transfer (a car to drive us) to Modena and was happy at how responsive they had been. The person I had been working with so kind and generous through email. I was looking forward to meeting their staff in person and they did not disappoint.
Never having traveled in Italy, or Europe, for that matter, there were some things I want to note for you to just be aware of. Not that they are good or bad, but having a few ideas of what to expect. Every hotel we ended up staying at in had these same details. The power in your room does not work if you do not have your key card in a slot. This is usually near the door. It might seem a little tedious but it actually is brilliant. They save power and you always know where your card is. Everyone wins.
Also, all of the bathrooms contained both a toilet and a bidet. I didn’t experiment with the bidet for many reasons but one of the major reasons is I am a klutz and didn’t want an ambulance called if i slipped off the bidet water on the floor.
When we arrived, our room was not ready as it was still morning. They held our bags for us and we immediately went for a walk. I had taken so many notes from the Stanley Tucci show but I also had done a lot of research myself and knew exactly where I wanted to go. I didn’t even need a map.
I had dreamt about the markets in Bologna for almost a year and they did not disappoint. The smells, the energy, the sites and sounds of Bologna were all around us and I was in heaven.
Bologna is a city filled with porticoes. I personally think they are brilliant! They are covered and arched walkways that cover over 62 km throughout the city! They are wonderful to protect you from the sun and the rain. They create a truly awesome walking experience. We walked down the side streets under the shelter of the porticoes.
I wanted my first meal in Italy to include tortellini so after walking around the Quadrilatero a bit we settled on Tamburini, a wine bar and salumi. We sat outside and were totally engrossed in people watching as we waited for our lunch of tortellini’s and lasagna. Of course we had a glass of Lambrusco. This wine is famously from this region of Italy. It is essential the table wine of Emilia-Romagna.
My first tortellini’s in Italy were actually tortelloni, larger tortellini. They were stuffed with ricotta and in a butter and sage sauce. They melted in my mouth and actually brought a tear to my eye. They were wonderful.
Scot opted for the Lasagne Bolognese. This is not typical lasagna from the US. It is made with sheets of spinach lasagna and bechamel sauce and a touch of mozzarella and Parmesan Reggiano.
After lunch, we walked through the Quadrilatero to Piazza Maggiore to see the the Neptune Fountain and back to our hotel for a quick nap.
A nap was desperately needed as neither of us had slept on the plane very well. When we got back to the hotel, thankfully our room was ready for us. The front desk person brought us up to the room. It was on the smaller side but we had our own private courtyard so we could open the door for fresh air and. have a little more space.
Now it is nap time. We set our alarms to make sure we only slept for an hour. Once we woke up, we went for a nice long walk and absorbed more sites, smells and sounds of our temporary home.
In Italy, most folks don’t eat dinner until after 8 PM. We always had our reservations on the early side and a lot of times when we would show up to restaurants, we would be the only people eating for quite a while. We knew we would not make it to a late dinner that first night due to being exhausted from travel, so we opted to go to the rooftop bar of our hotel and have some extra food at apertivo.
Apertivo? What is that? Let me tell you! It is a great custom, especially in this part of Italy to have a drink with some bites. Usually something salty like olives or chips around 530 to 7 o’clock prior to eating dinner. Apertivo opens up your stomach to prepare it to eat a meal. Most places that you go for a drink at that time automatically bring out a little tray of nibbles, bowls of chips, olives, and you can also order cheese and charcuterie, boards, and other appetizers.
We shared a lovely bottle of Amarone, which is a great Italian wine, eating cheese and salumi while we watch the sunset. The perfect end to our first day.
The next morning when we got up we went downstairs and had breakfast at the hotel. We arrived for breakfast around 8:30 and a lot of it was already gone. Breakfast in Italy is not what you think of in America. Yes, there were a little bit of scrambled eggs and very undercooked bacon but I believe that was done specifically for the tourists. There is a lot of pastries put out for breakfast! They even had a little station that had a lemon and a pistachio filling that you could put into your pastry! There was a huge honeycomb, plenty of yogurt and ricotta and always prosciutto and Parmesan cheese. I love that you could get a beautifully made cappuccino delivered to your table within minutes of being seated. Italians savor their time and enjoy doing nothing. They have raised it to an art form. Drinking cappuccino was a perfect example of this lifestyle and I wasn’t mad about it.
This was a big day. We had packed a lot in since it was our only full day in Bologna. We were excited to have reservations for lunch at Trattoria da Me. A long walk around the city after breakfast was in order to walk off the croissants and other goodies so we slowly make our way to the neighborhood that we were eating lunch.
Our first stop was at Mercato delle erbe. It is an indoor market filled with vendors selling produce, cheese, a variety of meats and fishes not to mention some really good espresso. I got lost in the market.
It’s brilliant and vivacious colors of all of the in season produce that they were offering was overwhelming. Once we left the market, we continued towards the trattoria for lunch.
Lunch at Trattoria da Me did not disappoint! It is a small but quaint restaurant that was very welcoming and cozy.
We started off with three different cheese gelatos. Yes, desserts for an appetizer and an appetizer that was dessert. All three of them were strikingly different and were the perfect introduction to this restaurant. The service suggested that I take the warm gnocco fritto, a traditional fried bread of the region, spread some of the gelato and fig jam on it and it was incredible flavor rush.
For primi Scot enjoyed was tortellini in brodo, a very typical dish of this region, and I had Zuppa Imperiale. A light asparagus soup with a type of dumpling in the middle.
For our secondi, I had raviolis stuffed with ricotta cheese with a light pea and cream sauce. Scot had pork belly is celery, root mustard and green apples. We each had a glass of Lambrusco that was paired perfectly for this meal.
After lunch, we walked to the Neptune fountain to get our tickets for the little train so we could visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna de San Luca. It is located outside of the city centre and looked like a fun thing to do.
The train took us through the part of the city that is covered with porticos the whole way up the hill. The sanctuary is located 300 m above Bologna there is a 3.8 km portico consisting of 666 arches that was built between 1674 and 1793. There is a yearly procession from the cathedral in the middle of bologna to the sanctuary. It is a pretty steep walk, and was I was very happy to be on the train.
The views from the sanctuary are incredibly beautiful after we walked around for a while we went to the restaurant that is located up the road from the sanctuary and shared a glass of wine while we waited for our return trip back down into the city square.
That night for dinner, we went to the highly recommended Ahime restaurant. We both decided to go for the “Chilled choice”, which is a five course menu chosen by the chef. When we made a reservation, we requested to be seated at the bar, which is basically a birds-eye view into the kitchen.
We had such a wonderful conversations with the folks that work there we left feeling like they were friends. It is such a warm and inviting spot that I must say was my favorite meal in Bologna.
Scot was thrilled with the wine list and we chose a wonderful bottle of Sangiovese. The wine service was perfect and not stuffy.
The menu at Ahime changes according to what they can get at the market or grow themselves in their own garden. I love restaurants that take seasons into account. We started off with their sourdough bread that they serve with juniper butter. What a flavor bomb!
The first course was turnips and lard. I know it sounds bizarre, but the fact that the turnip was sliced so thin and buttered with lard, it was a surprisingly awesome flavor combo.
Our next course was a burnt lemon and roasted shallot pasta dish. I definitely am over cooking my pasta at home! The pasta was perfectly al dente with the right amount of lemony tang.
The next course was an onion that had been cooked with miso that melted in your mouth. The main course was a goose leg that was cooked with spinach and raisin. I am not a big fan of goose so Scot finished mine but the spinach and raisin combo was out of this world.
For dessert we had a pear with white chocolate, coconut, and Garam Masala. I love a dessert that is not too sweet and this perfectly fit the bill.
I can’t say enough good things about Ahime. If you are in Bologna it is a must try.
Breakfast at this hotel was so lovely. I discussed it above but really enjoyed drinking that cappuccino every morning. Breakfast is well worth the money at the hotels in Italy. It blows American buffets out of the water. We left for Modena, more on that to come, and then headed to Rimini.
Our last night in Bologna was to end our vacation. Once we arrived at our hotel, the AC Marriott, we checked into our room and immediately took a taxi back downtown but we started at the other end of the Quadrilatero.
We got out of the taxi stand right next to the Two Towers. Pisa has nothing on Bologna! Both of these towers are leaning. We decided not to get into line to try to climb the stairs because quite frankly with my luck the tower would’ve fallen over while I was in the stairwell.
Instead, we went for a walk back down to the market that we had started to explore on our first day in Bologna. It was a Saturday so it was beyond believable on how busy it was. A lot of tours going on, but also people doing the weekly shopping. It was crowded yet magical.
We made our way down an alley to look for some lunch and stopped at Al Frasca al vicolo and sat at a small table outside right on the alley. The people watching did not disappoint. We both had a glass of Sangiovese it and started off with fried mozzarella. These are not your fried mozzarella sticks from Applebee’s folks! This was fresh mozzarella balls, fried, and not served with marinara just plain. I wanted one more serving of tortellini en brodo and so that is what I ordered and Scot was ready for some American food so he went for a burger and fries.
After we were done with our lunch, we made our way across the street to Osteria del Sol. This was wine bar I seen on Stanley Tucci’s show and really wanted to go in and check it out. It was standing room only and very loud, but you could feel the spirit of the people of Bologna in this place. I took one picture before I saw the sign to take no pictures so it’s not the greatest photo, but this is the inside of the building. The wine is very cheap and flows freely. I think of the bill for Scot and I each to have a glass of wine was six euros.
After we left there we continue to walk around the market and marvel at the beautiful produce. The vibrant colors were amazing. All the greens, purples and oranges that were out. There were just visually incredible.
We made our way around the corner and down the stairs of Gilberto Enoteca. Scot wanted to get a bottle of wine for a hotel room, and there was a huge variety of all types of Italian wine. He was in his glory.
He chose a lovely bottle to bring back with us, and we continued down the street we decided to stop at Osteria Angolo degli Orefici. It is a small restaurant with a large outdoor seating area just off of Piazza Maggiore close to the Towers of Bologna. We each had a glass of wine and shared a plate of Artisan Pickles. This consisted of artichokes, sun-dried, tomatoes, olives, and grilled eggplant. It was a lovely apertivo for our final afternoon in Italy.
We made our way back to the hotel rearranged our bag so our packing was perfect to go home. There was a little pizza place around the corner from our hotel for our final dinner. Margheri offered a wide variety of pizzas for us to try.
Hard to believe that we only had pizza at one other spot during our whole trip to Italy. Honestly pizza does not seem to be as important in this part of Italy as you might believe. We had pizza with ham and mushrooms, and it hit the spot.
Overall, I think Bologna is a beautiful city. At first, I was surprised by the amount of graffiti that was all around, but learned that this is considered an art expression and not a destruction of property as it would be considered in the United States.
For the most part, I found Italy to be surprisingly cheap! Most of our food was under €20 and the wine sometimes was almost as cheap as the bottled water. I hope you will follow along for my upcoming blog posts on both Modena and Rimini.
This part of Italy has my heart and my stomach.