It was inevitable. After my promising first visit to Bologna I just had to visit a second time. The Italian city of porticoes (arched walkways) made an impact: I love the city’s raw edges, the Italian authenticity, it’s endless porticoes (of course), but also the city’s position as a regional hub to other fascinating places like Modena, Ferrara and Brisighella. In this post I will show you the Best of Bologna. These are three of Bologna’s most surprising places: the leaning tower, the longest portico and the most authentic pasta in town! If you are new to my blog, make sure to first check out my earlier piece about Bologna.
Bologna: my favorite Italian city
1. Climbing a medieval tower
These two medieval towers (Asinelli and Garisenda) have become famous landmarks in Bologna. Asinelli is the tallest one with its 97 metres, but Garisenda is even more impressive with its extreme lean. In the 13th century the city possessed more than 100 (!) towers but only 21 still stand today. These are the ones that survived demolishment, wars, earthquakes and fires. Towers were once the status symbol of rich families: the higher the tower, the more money was spent building it.
Asinelli tower can be climbed and attracts lots of visitors. It’s a steep climb (400+ steps) up a wooden stairway, but views are rewarding. During my first visit the tower was closed for renovation. But this time I promised myself to go up all the way. You buy a ticket carrying a certain timeslot which ensures not too many people go up or down at the same time. It’s a safe climb, no worries.
The views on the city are wonderful, where sunset timeslots are popular. Make sure to hang around the towers a bit. I liked the medieval atmosphere of the area with the towers at the very heart of it. From the towers, it’s a 5-minute walk to one of my favorite squares in Bologna: Piazza Santa Stefano. Here you can find some of the most beautiful porticoes.
2. Walking the longest portico
Bologna has multiple viewpoints which are all great in their own way. I wrote about the San Michele in Bosco church right on top of a hill in the outskirts of Bologna. Another option is Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, just outside the city. San Luca has great views over the landscape, but honestly speaking too far away for a good city view (Michele in Bosco is much better for that).
However, San Luca is not so much about the destination. It’s the trip uphill that makes it fascinating. The path from the city to San Luca is around 4km and actually is one big portico!
You can walk all the way up to San Luca starting in Bologna at Porta Saragozza gate. If you are limited in time, you can start at the beautiful Meloncello Archway that crosses Via Saragozza. Be warned, the portico can be a steep climb for some.
Better option for most is to drive up to San Luca (either by bus, taxi or the San Luca Express tourist train), enjoy the view and walk all the way down. The porticoed arcade has more than 600 arches and was constructed between 1674 and 1715. Connecting San Luca with the city, it was built to provide shelter for the yearly procession that since 1433 transports the Byzantine portrait of Madonna and Child to the cathedral in the city during Ascension week.
I felt the walk to be quite tranquil; no traffic that bothers you, only some pedestrians and joggers. It took us longer than expected to reach the city on our way back. Maybe that was my fault where I kept on taking pictures of the porticos…hope you like them!
3. Eating the most authentic pasta
Anna Maria, 72 years old and owner of Trattoria Anna Maria, gave us a big hug when we stepped out of her trattoria after a wonderful dinner. “Please come back, please do.” We were not the only one: no guest leaves the premises without her personal goodbye. The way Anna Maria greets and says goodbye to each and every customer is remarkable. Never have I seen such dedication in providing customers a perfect meal and a perfect evening.
Anna Maria treated us like old friends. She sat next to us, pinching us after making a joke and grabbing our hands to show how important our visit was to her.
She started her trattoria back in 1985 using authentic pasta recipes of her mother’s mother. Never did she change them; the recipes are her big secret. On the picture Anna Maria with her chef Simonetta, colleague and lifelong friend for over 30 years.
We went to the trattoria on our final day in Bologna. Our friend Laura Bizzari introduced us to Anna Maria and translated the conversation we had with this remarkable woman. Laura herself offers language courses aimed at learning Italian through engagement with locals).
Anna Maria’s personal success is contributed to discipline and routine. Anna Maria sleeps for just a couple of hours a day because she can be found in her trattoria almost continuously. We caught her walking down the street towards her trattoria after having inspected the pasta making process. Every morning her team prepares fresh pasta right next door. A fascinating process that you can watch; just ask if you can come in to have a look.
The trattoria looks like a museum. The walls are covered with pictures of guests from the past decades, some with a personal note. I recognize famous ones like Alberto Tomba, and Andrea Bocelli. This place for sure is a gem in Bologna.
Anna Maria never skipped a day from her work at the trattoria. She never traveled, but when asking she answered: “I have not traveled, but I don’t regret. I might have not seen the world, but the whole world has come to my trattoria.” We look again at all the pictures of visitors from all over the world and I start to smile. Treating people with respect and friendliness combined with offering irresistible food is news that travels fast….