Somewhere For The Weekend: Bologna

The ancient city of Bologna is home to palaces, winding streets and a little invention they call 'pasta'.


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Bologna is one of Italy's most underestimated tourist destinations. Within its ancient city walls, you'll find Renaissance treasures, beautiful palazzi and one of the oldest universities in Europe. The food in Bologna is some of the best the country has to offer - after all, one of the world's most popular dishes takes its name from this beautiful city. For more information contact the Italian State Tourist Board on 020-7408 1254 or see www.enit.it

DOWN PAYMENT

Bologna's Aeroporto G Marconi (00 39 051 647 9615; www.bologna-airport.it) is located around 6km from the centre of the city. There is a regular bus connection every 20 minutes, with single fares costing €4 (£2.65) one-way. However, the airport is closed until 2 July for completion of a runway extension. Until then, you have two options; Forli, which is 60km away or Rimini, which is 110km away.

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) flies to the former from London Stansted from around £50 return; easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyjet.com) usually flies between London Stansted and Bologna, but has switched airports to Rimini during the closure. Return fares start from around £70. British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) will recommence its flights from London Gatwick to Bologna from 2 July with fares starting from around £64 return.

INSTANT BRIEFING

Central Bologna's centro storico sits within ancient city walls and is easily navigated on foot. Almost perfectly preserved, it is littered with palaces, churches and notable buildings, many of which once belonged to powerful noble families. One of Bologna's most beautiful features is over 40km of covered walkway. The focal point of the old city is the Piazza Maggiore, a car-free square lined with palazzi such as the Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo dei Banchi and Palazzo del Podesta, and the Basilica of San Petronio.

Adjacent to this is the Piazza Nettuno and the celebrated Fountain of Neptune. Bologna's main throughfare is the Via dell'Indipendenza, which runs from the Piazza Maggiore to the Porta Galliera, where the old and modern parts of the city converge.

Being medieval in origin, Bologna has no regimented street plan, with tiny streets darting off randomly. The old city's burnt umber hues and arcades assume a particular theatricality at night, when you can wander the quiet streets, peering into courtyards.

The main tourist office is located in Palazzo Podesta, Piazza Maggiore 1 (00 39 051 246 541; www.comune.bologna.it). Pick up one of its leaflets detailing several walking tours around the city. It opens Monday to Saturday from 10am to 2pm and 3pm to 7pm, and Sunday from 10am to 2pm.

REST ASSURED

Grand Hotel Baglioni, Via Indipendenza 8 (00 39 051 225 445; www.baglionihotels.it), is, as the name suggests, the city's grandest hotel. It is housed in the historic Palazzo Ghisilardi Fava, and boasts priceless frescoes by the celebrated Caracci brothers and extremely friendly staff. Double rooms start from €268 (£178) with breakfast, but it offers a special weekend rate with a minimum stay of two nights for €228 (£151) per room for the two nights with breakfast.

Nearby, the Hotel Orologio (00 39 051 231 253; www.bolognarthotels.it), Via IV Novembre 10, is housed in a centrally-located building near the Piazza Maggiore and has double rooms from €150 (£100) per night with breakfast.

Albergo delle Drapperie, Via Drapperie 5 (00 39 051 223 955), is a small pensione in the heart of the Mercato di Mezzo with double rooms from €65 (£43).

One thing to remember is that in the spring and autumn, Bologna plays host to a number of trade fairs, so make sure you book your accommodation in advance if you plan to visit around these times.

MUST SEE

Move over, Pisa: Bologna's skyline is dominated by not one, but two leaning towers. Both dating from the 12th century, the Due Torri (two towers) are the 97m Torre Asinelli and the smaller and more precariously tilting 48m Torre Garisenda. For a panoramic view of the city, buy an entrance ticket and climb to the top of the former. This costs €3 (£2) per adult, but give it a miss if you are of a nervous disposition - the narrow wooden steps curve up through the centre of the tower and have just a handrail for reassurance. However, those brave enough are rewarded with fabulous 360-degree views.

The hulking mass of the Basilica of San Petronio dominates the Piazza Maggiore. It's actually a civic temple rather than a basilica and is worth a peep for its spacious but austere interior. It was begun in 1390 but was never completed, and along the edges are 22 side chapels. It opens daily from 7.30am to 1pm and 2.30pm to 6.30pm. Admission is free.

Don't miss the beautiful complex of Santo Stefano, Piazza S Stefano. This is a cluster of four churches, a monastery and pretty cloister. It opens from 7.30am to noon and 3pm to 6pm. Admission is free.

MUST BUY

In a city so obsessed with gastronomic pleasures, food shopping in Bologna is a delight. The daily (except Sunday) Mercato delle Erbe is the central food market a few minutes' walk from the Piazza Maggiore. This is where you'll find some of the best produce Emilia-Romagna has to offer. Make sure you visit the the Mercato di Mezzo, a small network of streets behind the Piazza Maggiore, once home to the city's traditional merchants and artisans. Join the locals browsing shop after shop selling everything from vegetables and fresh pasta to delicious breads, meat and oil. Nip into Gilberto (00 39 051 223 925), Via Drapperie 5, and buy a bottle of balsamic from the nearby city of Modena or some chocolates. Most of Bologna's designer shops, Armani et al, are concentrated around the Via L Farini.

MUST EAT

The Bolognese are serious about their food: this does after all, lay claim to being the home of pasta and also produces divine mortadella ham. Tamburini (00 51 234 726; www.tamburini.com), Via Caprarie 1, is one of the best food shops you will ever come across.

Drogheria della Rosa (00 39 051 222 529), Via Cartoleria 10, is a former pharmacy cluttered with pictures and ancient jars with glass stoppers. The food is simple but delicious; pastas such as delicately flavoured ravioli and secondi such as grilled lamb cutlets. Dinner with wine costs around €37 (£24).

INTO THE NIGHT

The Bolognese like to party, and being a university town there are a host of options. The Café Le Palais (00 39 051 648 6963; www.lindelepalais.com) buzzes with the beautiful people of the city. The tables spill out onto the covered portico and are decorated with flickering candles. Inside, it's an eclectic mix of velvet banquettes, twinkling chandeliers and stuffed hunting trophies. Drinks are accompanied by a delicious array of nibbles including mini mortadella sandwiches and nuts. A glass of wine costs around €4.50 (£3).

The writer travelled as a guest of Citalia (0870 909 7555; www.citalia.co.uk). It offers three nights at the Grand Hotel Baglioni from £481 per person in June. The price is based on two sharing and includes bed and breakfast accommodation and return flights from London Gatwick to Bologna.

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