ump in a cab at Bologna airport and twenty minutes later you’ll arrive in the historic centre: the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region goes by a handful of monikers – La Rossa (the red), La Dotta (the learned) and La Grassa (the fat). Their origins? The city was a beacon of anti-fascism during the Second World War, it’s Europe’s oldest uni town – and a culinary mecca.
All roads lead to Piazza Maggiore, its arched colonnades providing shelter from the heat: glance up at Basilica di San Petronio and its still unfinished facade. Nearby don’t miss medieval Asinelli and Garisenda, the leaning Two Towers: in the twelfth century, when they were constructed, they represented the social prestige of the noble families that owned them and played important military functions.
Start the day at this dinky joint with one of their specialities; we opt for a rich, nutty Melange (cold frothed cappuccino with hazelnut) and a thick, creamy Fiordilatte (buzz-inducing espresso with artisan panna cotta). Beans are from Lelli, a local company who work with small plantations from Central and South America, India and Africa. Our choices may be more dessert-like than a standard cup of joe, but who cares when they slip down so easily? With more conventional options, this isn’t a novelty café. Staff are super friendly, explaining everything carefully in fluent English. Via Porta Nova, 12/b
Stop on the corner of Via Drapperie: here, the must-order is ‘il porco’, a mountain of wafer thin porchetta served with a selection of pickled vegetables and hunks of crusty bread. Herby and moist, the fatty meat is balanced by the vinegary, still-crunchy veg. Be sure to grab an alfresco high-top table and people-watch whilst devouring what is a generous plate. Pair with a glass of fruity red Lambrusco (yes, you read that correctly, it’s a popular drink in these parts). Via degli Orefici, 23
Fancy a cool afternoon treat? We enjoy a two-scoop tub of Italian-style ice-cream whilst meandering through the maze of narrow walkways. Made using traditional methods using natural ingredients, we’re hard pressed to make a decision upon entering this stylish shop – golden mango sorbet or classic strawberry? We select flavours altogether naughtier and in the end gorge on silky milk chocolate with pieces of Piedmont hazelnut, alongside salty Bronte pistachio. Via Caprarie, 1
Drink: Dal Biassanot
Thirsty after seeing the sights? We took a tip from Rick Stein’s telly show and sup on Pignoletto frizzante at this casual eatery. Hailing from a small hilly village west of Bologna, the signature tipple is made from the grape variety Grechetto Gentile and is lightly sparkling with a gently peachy aroma. Dry and citrus to taste, it’s a quaffable alternative to fizzier prosecco. Sample with a bowl of their gramigna alla boscaiola (small tubes of curled pasta doused in a sausage and mushroom sauce) or tortellini rosa con prosciutto (ham-filled parcels coloured by beetroot). Via Piella, 16/A
Dinner: Trattoria Valerio
A homely and inviting space, settle in for the evening here with a carafe or two of easy-drinking and well-priced (10 euros per litre) house red. Family-run for over 100 years, it’s a no-frills restaurant serving up typical dishes of the locality using long-cherished recipes. To start, we wolf down a salad of shaved courgette strewn with cherry tomatoes, slivers of savoury Grana Padano and a smattering of syrupy Balsamic: a prime example of how to use top-notch ingredients simply.
Next up, baked pasta: perfectly al dente spinach sheets (we count eight) layered with modest helpings of deeply flavoured beef ragù, béchamel and Parmesan. Compared to versions back in Blighty, this is a complex and surprisingly light dish that holds its form and benefits from restraint. Finish the meal with zuppa inglese, a sweet trifle-like pudding – custard and ladyfingers soaked in alkermes, a spicy, magenta-hued liqueur. Via Avesella, 10
Main image: Tourist Board