The Hedonist: Bologna

What to see and where to be seen

By Elena Pala
Monday 24 October 2011 18:19

The day starts late, with a guilt trip. My lucky friend is being treated to an afternoon's shopping and a sumptuous dinner by her mother, to make up for her imminent departure from Bologna (something to do with CERN and some unworthy physicists). And I am invited. We meet under the Garisenda and Asinelli towers, and after the inevitable joke about Italians and their towers (yes, these two are leaning, too), I am introduced to the mother, or, as I shall call her from now on, The Benefactor.

We head straight to Via Farini for a stroll under the frescoed porticos. After a few inauspicious shops, Via Farini broadens as in an ode to fashion: Hermès, D&G, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Gucci, Burberry, Bulgari, Prada.

Punishing The Benefactor's plastic won't be a problem here. Indeed, as I unleash the pair of them, my friend makes straight for Bulgari declaring she "absolutely adores everything on display".

It is now 5.30pm, not exactly aperitivo o'clock, but what the heck: I know the perfect spot. A stone's throw from the shops we've just been raiding, Caffè Zanarini (00 39 051 27 50 041) is a Bologna institution, spreading out on Piazza Galvani with a dozen small tables covered by immaculate white table clothes. Within moments, a handsome young man in a navy blue waistcoat materialises at our table. I order three Spritz (Aperol liqueur, prosecco and soda).

After the fourth round, it is decided by The Benefactor that I will spend the night at the hotel with my friend, as The Benefactor is leaving and the room is already paid for. For the same reason, it is also decided that I will go to Rome the next day with my friend for the weekend. I am sent home to change and pack, and then told to meet them at the restaurant for 7.30pm. I learn that a reservation had been made at Pappagallo (00 39 051 23 28 07;, right under the two towers.

The high arched ceiling makes me dizzy, so I focus on the walls, covered in autographed pictures of the famous people who have dined here since the restaurant opened in 1919. We decide to order, amused to see that we have been given three ladies' menus (no prices).

The Benefactor and her daughter opt for the inevitable tagliatelle al ragu bolognese (as all self-respecting hedonists will tell you, bolognese sauce is never served with spaghetti), while I try to impress everyone with goats' cheese ravioli with aubergines and thyme. After the second bottle of Merlot, The Benefactor abandons us, duly paying the bill on her way out. We force the last spoonful of white chocolate and liquorice mousse into our greedy mouths, then plan the next stage of our entertainment.

Judging from the crowd gathering at La Capannina's bar counter (00 39 051 33 09 10;, we're about 30 minutes from our mojito. Luckily, Italians have no concept of "queue", so I clasp my friend's arm and nonchalantly make my way through a sea of waxed chests and Gucci bags.

The bartender winks and our drinks are soon safely in hand, so we walk away in search of a quiet spot. Easier said than done, as the music is a sad combination of Eurotrash and 1980s cheese (an unlikely soundtrack given the sleek décor). We ditch the prospect of another trip to the bar, and head instead towards a pair of suit-clad thirtysomethings brandishing a magnum of Veuve Clicquot. Hello, boys.

Later, my friend and I hail a cab to Via dell'Indipendenza. Upon arrival – and to my great surprise – a doorman helps me out. This way, madam, and watch the steps, madam. Turns out we're staying at the Baglioni (00 39 051 22 54 45;, the only five-star in town. I take a moment to soak up all the marble and velvet and Moroccan leather and shimmering chandeliers in the lobby, then climb on to the plushest of beds and sleep.

Morning brings a closer look at the Baglioni (actually the Majestic since 2010, but everyone still calls it by the name of its founder): all stuccoed ceilings, damask wallpaper, gold-plated taps and rich carpets. But, frankly, what I'm really looking forward to is the breakfast, which doesn't disappoint. Then it's off to the train station for more of the same in good old Rome. But that's another story.

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