The starting point for our eleven day mini tour of Italy and Switzerland was the magnificent city of Bologna, the second most important city in Italy during the times of the Roman Empire.
What a beauty she is – shades of ochre & saffron abound, the arches & decorated ceilings of the vaulted arcades delight, taking coffee in the leafy piazzas or a gin & tonic in one of the bars that dot the narrow medieval streets.
Bologna is unhurried with wonderful architecture at every turn. It is a city of learning & music as ancient university buildings and opera & classics that drift out of open windows to waft on the breeze testify to splendid effect.
As well as the obvious attractions of the imposing and richly decorated churches (Basilica di San Petronio is the 5th biggest religious building in the world), the twin (in a De Vito & Schwarzeneggar sense) towers that reach out to each other like stamen in a flower, the mighty fine university buildings and the picturesque fountain filled squares, it is the ‘hidden’ Bologna that also thrills.
Behind heavy oak doors with black iron decor sit gorgeous patios bedecked with flora, the ceilings inside municipal buildings are works of art, frescos of the Madonna with child suddenly appear on non-descript walls without warning.
You can read about all the stand out attractions anywhere, so I will share with you some less well known gems.
How many of you have stepped onto an original Roman road? You can in Bologna if you ask nicely. On Strada Maggiore near to the leaning tower, you will find an up-market furniture shop called Roche Bois. Downstairs and well below current street level there is a stretch of road with its wonderful rounded cobbles where horse & cart, white-haired sooth sayers and armed legionnaires once travelled doing Caesars’s bidding.
Another must do (which we haven’t yet!) is to traverse by boat the the historic waterways that are completely out of view, either crowded out by more modern buildings or flowing beneath the surface where you tread. You can do a tour from Piazza Maggiore 2. Next time for sure.
Inside the covered arcade of the Palazzo de Podesta, you can discover the ‘whispering gallery’. If you and a companion stand in diagonally opposite corners and face the wall with your backs to each other, you can whisper something to the brickwork and your opposite number will hear the message loud and clear. Be careful what you say though as others could well be ear-wigging!
Go inside the Palazzo d’Accursio with its splendid courtyard and very interesting exhibition of old black & white photos showing children of yesteryear engaged in leisurely pursuits. Take the lift up to the second floor and peer inside the Sala Farnese. Wonder at the opulent ceiling and striking artwork – aside from one exhibition in a room off the left hand corner, viewing is free. The view of the main square is also brilliant.
Bologna has excellent cuisine as you would expect of the home of Bolognese sauce. It is indeed hard to find a bad pasta or risotto dish in this part of Italy, whilst pizza, sliced meats & cheese, gelato and patisserie fare are all sure to please.
Just around the corner from Basilica di San Petronio stands a little piece of Arabia. Naama Dolci sells every type of cake & biscuit from the region, all baked locally.
Baklava dripping in honey and countless other delicious morsels containing pistachio nuts, dates, figs and walnuts.
Although it is compact, if you are lucky as we were to get a seat, it is a great place to cool down and indulge, complemented by an iced tea or Arabic coffee. The immaculate bathroom is also very welcome!
The place is managed by a very pleasant young lady of Syrian descent named Aia – when we visited in June 2016 it was Ramadan, so the poor girl was surrounded by gorgeous aromatic bites, but couldn’t touch a thing.
Ramadan falling over the longest days like it did this year must be tough to take!
So there you have it, a few little tips to make your trip to Bolgna just a little bit more memorable.
Of course anybody that is even only partially fit should clamber up the long and winding wooden staircase to the top of the highest tower for fab views.
We left by train bound for Venice after our whistlestop tour and vowed to return very soon.