In search of... Spag Bol in Bologna

You'll never touch the slop served in Britain again once you've tasted the real thing,

Why would I go to Bologna when fabulous Florence is only two hours' drive away?In a word, food. The best you've ever eaten.

Why would I go to Bologna when fabulous Florence is only two hours' drive away?

In a word, food. The best you've ever eaten. But in addition to being the undisputed gastronomic capital of Italy, Bologna also boasts a delightful, well-preserved centre. It's not that easy to find a shopkeeper or waiter who speaks English, but, by living happily in the shadow of its southerly Tuscan neighbours, Bologna seems to remain – for many – a foodie paradise under wraps.

In striking contrast to Florence, Bologna is a modern, expensive city which has buildings of working-class red brick instead of grandiose marble. Sophia Loren lookalikes carrying yipping chihuahuas saunter along medieval streets, flitting from Calvin Klein to Dolce e Gabbana. Businessmen zip to work on purring Vespas. And the city's bustling convention centre, which draws thousands to international events throughout the year, can make finding reasonably priced accommodation a significant challenge for the tourist on a budget.

So it's out of my price range, then?

Not necessarily. Although fashions are designer and hotels are upmarket, you can find the neighbourhood corners that make Bologna an affordable weekend destination. Remember that Bologna is Europe's first university town, set up around AD1000. Students throng the cafés in the evenings and gather noisily to play guitar in the main Piazza Maggiore at all hours. There are ripped jeans and dreadlocks alongside the Bruno Maglis. (Look on the trees and walls in the university sector for details on Bologna's thriving nightlife scene.) They enjoy the city's top attractions – namely, beautiful squares and inviting eateries – on very little money. But even impoverished Italian students wouldn't stoop to eating the slop that we call spag bol, a bastardisation of the original Bolognese meat sauce recipe.

What's so different about spag bol in Bologna?

For starters, the name. If you see "spaghetti Bolognese" listed on a menu in Bologna, you've come upon a tourist trap. Instead, Italians refer to the meaty pasta dish as tagliatelle al ragú, which is very different from the spag bol you ate at university dinner-parties. This pasta is thicker, yellow, egg-based tagliatelle, and the rich sauce consists of slow-roasted meat and a little cream added to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and wine. Add a chilled bottle of the local Lambrusco to finish off the perfect meal, and you'll barely spend a tenner. Lambrusco, you gasp? Don't be judgemental: while connoisseurs love to ridicule inexpensive Lambrusco, the chilled, light red fizz goes down like champagne in Bologna.

What if I hate spag bol?

Don't worry. Bologna is also the home town of tortellini, which was originally fashioned in the shape of Venus's belly button, and you can find it served with a range of delicious sauces. The surrounding region of Emilia Romagna saw the birth of parmigiano reggiano, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and lasagne.

The city prides itself on making the dining experience a long and enjoyable one, so most restaurants, regardless of price, offer outdoor dining options in good weather (including the massive Nutelleria and the city centre McDonald's). As a result, the Bolognese like to eat out, and many osterie fill up during the week as well as on weekends. Afterwards, around midnight, the entire city– even elderly couples and families with young children – comes out for a stroll.

So if I gorge, where can I work it off?

With a pretty, safe and compact centre, this is an ideal town for walking. Thanks to a network of covered arcades running throughout the town, Bologna shelters its walking travellers from inclement weather. Look up to find the lovely frescoes and mosaic arches of these portici instead of the insides of your umbrella. While you're out exploring the city on foot, be sure to stop at Bologna's famous food markets, usually open mornings during the week and on Saturdays. One just off the main Piazza Maggiore on Via Clavature features copious salumerie (delicatessens) and formaggeri (cheese shops) which are full of bargains.

If you're a really ambitious walker, take a hike to the top of the taller of Bologna's Due Torri, a pair of hilariously tilted towers built by competing families in 1119. The gorgeous view of Bologna's orange roofs and surrounding green rolling hills makes the claustrophobic journey up worth the effort.

How do I get there?

Go (0870 607 6543; flies to Bologna from £65 return. British Airways (0845 773 3377; Book accommodation well in advance and expect to pay a little bit more than in other cities in Italy. The atmospheric Hotel Orologio (0039 051 231 253) is a good base and offers rooms with views into the Piazza Maggiore for just less than €200 (£120) per night.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam