By Mike Dunphy
Photography by Nanna Dís
Bologna feels more organic than many other Italian cities – the narrow lanes of its preserved medieval core twist and bend according to the natural flow of history and humanity rather than central planning. Holding all of it seamlessly together is the city’s exuberant spirit, which has earned it three nicknames: “The Learned,” “The Red,” and “The Fat.” The first pays tribute to Bologna’s university, the oldest in Europe; the second, to its socialist firebrands and terra-cotta roofs; and the last, most deliciously, to its tortellini, hearty dishes, and rich ragu. Best of all, while mass tourism threatens to overrun other Italian cities, Emilia-Romagna’s capital remains largely undiscovered by tourists, which means few lines to see works by Michelangelo and Raphael – and much more pleasant experiences with the art.
Bologna’s largest covered market, the historic Mercato delle Erbe
(Via Ugo Bassi, 23-25
) places the region’s culinary traditions on full display in its central produce stalls and two adjoining food courts, which turn the bounty into pizzas, panini, pastas, and more.
Apothecary jars, scales, wine bottles, and artwork cover nearly every surface of the romantic Drogheria della Rosa
(Via Cartoleria 10
), a former pharmacy turned restaurant, where owner Emanuele Addone visits with diners to pontificate about the house tortellini and acclaimed osso buco.
Il Piatto Rotto
(Via Righi Augusto, 24) stands apart from its peers with a cozy cabinlike interior of reclaimed furniture and curiosities, and a menu of experimental dishes, such as green ravioli stuffed with truffles and pears, and a Jackson Pollock-inspired amberjack ringed with mango and raspberry sauces.
Forgive Osteria del Sole
(Vicolo Ranocchi, 1D
) for showing its age: The wine bar’s scuffed floors and bowed walls are a testament to the writers, politicians, academics, and barflies who have loved its communal atmosphere for more than 550 years. Feel free to BYO picnic to complement the house Chianti or lambrusco.
The canary-yellow walls of Camera a Sud
(Via Valdonica, 5
) provide a playful backdrop in this bistro and wine bar. The Italian poetry and giant octopuses embellishing the walls emphasize the fun atmosphere (as do stacks of books and mannequin parts), but it’s the regional, small-batch organic wines that locals cheer.
Music inspires Jukebox Café
(Via Mentana, 3B
), from signed album covers along the wall and a free jukebox in the back to cocktails named for bands, including Thyme Impala (rye, thyme, and red myrtle) and Black Lips, with cinnamon, blackberries, and rum.
The first company to create solid chocolates in Italy, 221-year-old Majani
(Via de’ Carbonesi, 5) still rolls out the crumbly slabs of chocolate scorza
(bark) it invented. Its Cremino Fiat, a four-layer cube of chocolate with hazelnut and almond creams, has remained popular since automaker Fiat commissioned the confection to help launch the Tipo 4 in 1911.
Two young cobblers stitch derbies, oxfords, monk straps, and loafers on vintage machines in their glass-fronted shop, La Calzoleria di Max e Giò
(Via dell’Inferno, 22A
); their reputation takes Max to Moscow and Kyoto monthly for client measurements. A few steps up the street, Corticelli Cosetta
’s (Via Canonica, 3
) father-and-daughter team carries on the family tradition of crafting classy and elegant kitten heels, pumps, T-straps, and other women’s styles.
Luxe lingerie maker La Perla
(Via Farini, 11
) grew out of Bologna’s once thriving textile industry and still maintains its headquarters, production facility, and flagship store here. The line gained international fame for its delicate frastaglio
embroidery (an antique Florentine technique) and for the natural fit of its lingerie, achieved by designing patterns on live models.
Step back in time at Bologna’s Grand Hotel Majestic Già Baglioni
, which occupies an eighteenth-century former seminary built by the future Pope Benedict XIV in the heart of the city. Murano chandeliers light the 109 guest rooms, many of which feature antique chests, four-poster beds, silk brocade walls, and balconies. Chef Claudio Sordi serves a refined Emilia-Romagna menu at I Carracci, housed in an annex topped with sixteenth-century frescoes – these relative newcomers are some 1,700 years younger than the hotel’s preserved Roman road, visible near the breakfast room.
TIP “My favorite restaurant in the city is the very small, very friendly Alice (Via d’Azeglio, 65B). Everything on the menu is great, but they’re famous for their antipasti – they bring you plate upon plate of different dishes to taste.”
– Larry Altruda, Virtuoso travel advisor, Bologna
Originally appeared in the March issue of