Bologna

Boasting an ancient university, Renaissance churches, and a modern master painter, the city has an enviable cultural life. Even the local food is considered an art form.

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

The high-brow Bolognese are relishing the opportunity to show off their city as one of the European Cities of Culture for 2000. Umberto Eco is directing the programme - and since the city's 43 museums are all staging special exhibitions, you're spoilt for choice. Until the end of the year there's a big programme of events, from outdoor film screenings to full-scale operas. However if you think of Italy in more pragmatic terms, then Bologna - which was once dubbed "the red, the proud, the learned" - is fast becoming a byword for shopping and eating.

BEAM DOWN

For direct flights, you have to start from one of the London airports. Fares are likely to be lowest on Go (0845 60 54321, www.go-fly.com), which has daily, no-frills flights from Stansted with return fares starting at around £90. Alitalia (08705 448 259, www.alitalia.com) flies twice daily from Gatwick, with prices from £142, and British Airways (0845 77 333 77, www.britishairways.com) twice daily from Heathrow, with return tickets for about £178. Guglielmo Marconi airport is just north of Bologna, and there is a cheap bus connection to the city centre.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

The statue of Neptune (1) in Piazza del Nettuno adjoins the largest square, Piazza Maggiore (2). The red- hued architecture is a lovely, but confusing, mixture of 13th-, 15th- and 16th-century façades. Crane your neck up the Via Rizzoli from here and you'll see the two towers that are visible from most points of the town in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. The largest, Torre Asinelli (3) (97 metres) stands next to the leaning Torre Garisenda (4) (47 metres), and they take their names from the two feuding families who built them. Most of the small streets in the ancient quarter surrounding the central Piazza Maggiore are traffic free.

CHECK IN

The hotel with by far the most elegant address is the 5-star deluxe Grand Hotel Baglioni (5) on the Via dell'Indipendenza (00 39 051 225 445, doubles from £212). In this former 18th-century palazzo, the décor is exquisite and all creature comforts are taken care of. The upper rooms have unhindered views of the city rooftops across to the Church of San Luca. More affordable is Corona D'Oro (6) in the historic centre, a medieval printing house that has been turned into an art nouveau hotel (00 39 051 236 456, doubles £78). The Roma Hotel (7) is convenient for the elegant shops on the pedestrianised Via Massimo D'Azeglio 9 (00 39 051 226 322, doubles £80). In the heart of the merchants' quarter on Via Drapperie, off the main square, is the budget Hotel Apollo (8), (00 39 051 223 955, doubles £35)

TAKE A HIKE

The porticos that fringe so many of the buildings in the city centre total 40km in length. They were created to provide more space for students, and built high enough for a man on horseback. Clear your brain from history overload, by walking the 4km from via Saragozza (9) under the 18th-century portico to the church of San Luca. Alternatively, pass the awesome palazzos on Via Santo Stefano (10) and arrive at Giardini Margherita (11), complete with boating lake and café in the middle, for some shady refreshment.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

The fat of the land, more like. Before you leave, stock up with the ingredients that will brighten up any British kitchen in the cold months ahead: hand-made pasta, shaved white truffles, or a brick of Parmigiano Reggiano - just one of the cheeses made from the local "red cows". Look out for formaggio della fossa and squaquerone, buy it at La Baita Freo (11) on Via Pescherie. And don't forget a bottle of Modena Balsamic vinegar, which was invented here for Henry III.

BRACING BRUNCH

The Via Zamboni (23) is crammed with small pizzerias and cafés; designed for the city's 90,000 flirtatious students to squeeze into. Almost any one of them is worth a visit. For a funky Latin atmosphere and great pizza, go to Bravo Caffe, Via Mascarella 1. Try Café Zarini (24) on Piazza Galvani for home-made pasta, or La Carmella di Gino Fabbri (25) on Via Cadriano for rice cake and raspberry and mascarpone cake.

SUNDAY MORNING, GO TO CHURCH

The choice is mind-boggling. The tiny, quiet Piazza San Stefano (22) is also known as the "Jerusalem of Bologna", with its seven churches. The Basilica of San Stefano has three parts; Church of the Crucifix (11th century), Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Holy Trinity - worth a visit for the statue of Christ modelled from the image on the Shroud of Turin.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Rushing through lunch probably contravenes a local by-law. Either seek out a spaghetti al ragu (the local name for spaghetti Bolognese) in a backstreet trattoria, or assemble a picnic. The farmers of Emilia-Romagna have turned curing pork into an art form. Don't miss out on the prosciutto, mortadella, cotechino and salami piacentino. Salsamenteria Tamburini (12) on Via Caprarie is a food shop with a restaurant at the back, good for stuffed peppers, aubergines and chickens on the spit for take away.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Food is the main attraction. In the shadow of the two towers, Tamburini (20), at Via Caprarie 1, has been selling a dizzying range of pasta, hams, and cheeses since 1932. Via Pescherie and Via Drapperieare your best bets for speciality shops selling sausages and salamis. Shoe and bag fanatics can snap up bargains along the "passagiata route" - start behind the Notary's palace (21), then along Via D'Azeglio, left down Via Farini, duck into the Arcade Cavour (the Bond Street of Bologna) and back along the Portico del Pavaglione.

DEMURE DINNER

Opt for the faultless Battibecco (19) for its mouthwatering mushroom and saffron risotto, beef tournedos, and to-die-for tagliatelle gramigna (spicy sausage and tomato sauce, more of a local speciality than spaghetti Bolognese). With spot-on service in slick surroundings, Cantina Bentivoglio (20) is a late-night eatery serving up classic seasonal dishes and live jazz. Just outside the city walls is Bitone (21) (Via Emilia Levante, tel 00 39 051 235536), where the locals go for quality grub at affordable prices.

AN APERITIF

The Piazza Maggiore, lined with cafés and gelateria, is the best spot to soak up the surrounding views of San Petronio and the Palazzo Comunale in the medieval square. Sip a glass of Campari or the best local red wine, Barbera della Stoppa, while you contemplate the choice of 43 restaurants within the city walls - it's the equivalent of a gastronome's red-light district.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The Archiginnassio (13) was once the seat of Bologna's university, the oldest surviving in Europe, and it contains one of the richest libraries anywhere. Today the university houses dozens of museums, such as the Palazzo Poggi (14) with its Observatory and Astronomical Museum. For rooftop views, enter the Palazzo Comunale (15) and climb to the upper levels via ramps designed for access on horseback. Wander the halls decorated with 17th-century frescos and the rooms housing art collections. The Pinacoteca Nazionale (16) is a treasure house of art from the Bologna school; such as Raphael's the Ecstasy of St Cecilia and a room devoted to the Carracci brothers (open 9am to 2pm, 1pm on Sundays). The Strada Maggiore (17) and Via Santo Stefano are both lined with ornate palaces, fanning to the south-east of town from the Asinelli tower. The finest palace is the Renaissance Palazza Bevilacqua (18), built in the Bologna/Florentine style. Finally, witness the watercolours that reflect the translucent light over the Bologna Hills in 281 works by Giorgio Morandi at the Museo Morandi (19) in the Palazzo d'Accursio.

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