I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I went to Bologna with my lovely blogging chum Alice from Project:Wanderlust. I think it’s taken me that amount of time to recover from eating the entire tray of Tortellini I made (ahem, FROM SCRATCH), but more of that later.
I was invited to Bologna, to be a guest of Hotel Touring, a family-run business – from aunts and uncles, to cousins, brothers and sisters, such a lovely change from big corporate hotel chains. We definitely noticed the personal touches throughout our stay.
We were picked up from the airport by the lovely Giacomo Colombo (what a great name!) who runs a private taxi service in Bologna. I never tire of walking into arrivals and seeing my name written on a board! I’m sad like that. Anyway, Giacomo was so lovely – charming, knowledgeable about the area (after all he was born and bred there) and it also helps that he was also rather handsome! The price of the transfer was approximately €25 as the hotel is only a 10-minute drive from the airport. Highly recommended.
We arrived at the hotel a little too early to check-in and so we made our way to the small bar area, where we were given tiny cups of delicious Italian coffee and fresh croissants – the perfect welcome. We even managed to sneak in a small Aperol! Alice and I spent over an hour chatting, drinking and eating before realising that our rooms were actually already ready but the staff didn’t want to bother us because we seemed to be having such a good time! (We definitely were.)
Our room was beautiful. Two twin beds with plenty of storage, a spacious bathroom, immaculately clean and overlooking a lovely quiet street. Sadly, a quiet street is something I tend to look for now I am at a certain age! There was even a mini bar in our room that was already filled with cold soft drinks and a bar of dark chocolate that I may or may not have found (and eaten.)
The plan was, well we didn’t really have a plan for our first day, other than to potter around the city and Bologna is perfect for that as it’s not too big and sprawling. The main square (Piazza Maggiore) is a five-minute walk from the hotel, and from there you will find restaurants, bars and shops, but if you walk in different directions from there you’ll also find food markets, clothes markets, shops like Zara and H&M … there’s even a McDonalds. (But don’t let that put you off.)
We found a small bar/restaurant just opposite the square and sat outside to drink a welcome beer (or two). A few people came up to ask to ask for money, but the staff were quick to handle the situation and we were then left to finish our drinks.
Thursday night’s dinner had been put on for us at Osteria de Poeti, a restaurant that was only a ten-minute walk away from the hotel, and they had kindly given us a map so we found the restaurant easily. As two women travelling on our own, I have to say there wasn’t one moment where we felt unsafe. Yes, we weren’t there in peak season and the streets were fairly quiet, but Bologna has a very serene feel to it and everyone we met was so friendly that we just felt right at home.
When we arrived, we bumped into our taxi driver, Giacomo, who was dropping off some businessmen from Milan, so we took that as a good sign we were about to eat a great meal. We were led down some stone steps to a candle-lit restaurant that was surrounded by hundreds of bottles and barrels of wine. It was like going into a cool, underground cave – talk about atmospheric! Our waitress was wonderfully accommodating – my pidgin Italian only extends to ‘grazie’, and she kindly brought us an English menu so we knew what we were eating!
Alice is a vegetarian and thankfully there was plenty for us to both choose from – and I mean plenty! I think I counted seven different courses but I stuck to a salad to start with (OK, it had hot bacon pieces in it), and steak and rosemary roast potatoes for my main course. Oh, and you can’t go to Italy without having Tiramisu, right?! It was delicious. All of it. From the hot bacon salad, to the dark cocoa of the Tiramisu. Such a bad move wearing tight jeans.
We strolled back to the hotel and enjoyed a glorious night’s sleep, followed by the most amazing breakfast. The photos will speak for themselves, but any hotel that serves home-made cake for breakfast, is alright by me. Think heart-shaped doughnuts filled with lemon custard, fruit tarts, something in a Bundt tin that looked delicious (I think it was polenta cake), the list is endless. There was also fresh fruit, eggs etc, but my attention was definitely diverted to the cake section!
Friday morning was dedicated to making pasta! I’m a complete novice but the cooking course, run by CIBO – Culinary Institute of Bologna, was pretty amazing. I’m going to talk about it over on my other blog, We Blog Travel, later this week in more detail because it deserves its own blog post, so keep an eye out for that.
There’s nothing better than pottering around a new city, it’s the best way to discover those hidden gems, and so we made our way to the area best known for it’s fresh food produce. We found a smallish indoor food market (think Borough High Street in London), where we made a pit-stop for an espresso. As we sat there, I took this fantastic photo of a lady lunching on her own, sipping on wine and eating freshly made Bolognese – that’s who I want to be when I grow up!
I don’t know if it was down to the sunshine we were blessed with, but all the fruit and vegetables we saw looked so tasty – tomatoes, artichokes, lettuce (and yes, the cakes too.)
We spent hours wandering around the little side streets but by late afternoon, I was beginning to feel a little under the weather, so we went back to our room and reception kindly ordered us pizzas for the room from the local takeaway service. Less than €10 for 2 delicious pizzas! We found a random programme about dating on TV and chatted until midnight. It really was a lovely evening, even though I’m pretty sure Alice was fed up of my coughing by then!
The lovely Manuela from the hotel very kindly gave us a tour after breakfast, and we were really impressed. The hotel has recently been renovated, offers free wi-fi, private parking and the most wonderful rooftop terrace … including a jacuzzi! You can sit on the terrace and enjoy food and drinks, whilst enjoying the most wonderful view.
A handful of the newly renovated rooms also have a small balcony, so you can sit in the sunshine and enjoy a glass of Prosecco (or two).
The Diamond Suite
Saturday was spent much the same way as Friday – finding more places to eat (arancini for lunch this time), and frozen yogurt for dessert.
Then, for a spot of culture, we visited the Basilica of San Domenico that was just round the corner from the hotel and is one of the major churches in Bologna. It was breathtaking. Some of the paintings inside the church are courtesy of a young Michaelangelo so as you can imagine, it was pretty inspiring.
The lovely Giacomo picked us up on Saturday afternoon to take us back to the hotel and we were really sad to leave. The staff at the hotel were so welcoming that we felt part of the family by the time it came to goodbyes. A special thank you to Manuela for making our stay so wonderful.
So the question is … would I go back? Most definitely yes! And I don’t say that lightly because I rarely visit the same place twice, but Bologna offers everything I would look for in a city break – great location, fantastic food, and a wonderfully warm welcome at a really special hotel.
If you would like to visit Hotel Touring, and I highly recommend you do, you can get 15% off the price of your stay if you mention my name. I got my flights for £50 return, so all in all, Bologna would make a fantastic break.