Let's be honest. We took a cheeky weekender to Bologna because we wanted some pasta Bolognese. Of course. What I wasn't expecting was such a beautiful medieval city, booming with food lover's gold and a "gotta love it" laid back attitude to life.
Bologna is an unexpectedly enchanting terracotta maze of beautiful archways (perfect for keeping the hairdo in tact on those rainy days), 12th century brick towers (with quite a lean - who needs Pisa?) and Europe's oldest university (resulting in an appealing mix of old school Nonnas and care free, trendy youngsters like ourselves... sort of... yeah, not really). It has a massive central piazza (Piazza Maggiore, the hub of the city centre) and boasts a bounty of ornate fountains and churches aplenty (if you're so inclined). There's plenty to keep the camera clicking. According to the Wallpaper City Guide, Italians voted it Italy's best place to live in 2004.
But let's cut to the chase. We were there for the food.
If you're partial to a bowl of pasta, Bologna will not disappoint.
We arrived late on a Friday night (following a generous 2 inch bag of peanuts on our BA flight) and after checking in to the central I Portici Hotel (via Indipendenza, 69), we wandered around to soak up the sites before reclining with an Aperol Spritz at a funky bar near the university.
Our real business would begin in the morning. Espresso and breakfast. Our first true bite of Bologna would be crucial.
Espresso/breakfast: Caffe Pasticceria Zanarini (Piazza Galvani 1, Bologna)
Having read Helen's fantastic blog posts on Bologna (at World Foodie Guide), there was no option as to where we would be heading for our first Bolognese espresso and breakfast. TPG, saliva dripping from his sweet tooth, had already clapped eyes on Helen's photo of a brioche vuota (a big sugar topped brioche bun filled with custard) she had enjoyed at Caffe Pasticceria Zanarini (Piazza Galvani 1, Bologna). If nothing else was to be achieved all weekend, TPG would be getting himself one of those vuota. We passed countless other perfectly lovely looking cafes on our way - TPG marched on chin first, barely giving them a sideways glance.
We muscled our way up to the bustling cake and pastry counter and grunted and pointed our way to a bombolone for me (a custard filled Italian doughnut) and the much anticipated brioche vuota for TPG. We then payed in advance for our espressos and brioche with the smiliest counter man in all of Italy before edging in for a few centimetres of space among the locals at the espresso bar. If nothing else, this place is fabulous for immersing oneself in the local way of life with businessmen and shoppers alike. And its perfect for picking up some interesting snippets as one rubs shoulders with the local city slickers. If one can speak Italian. Which one, in this case, can't.
Our espressos were perfect, and the bombolone/brioche... Well let's just say we had 2 days in Bologna and we went back on both days. Absolutely delicious. Our entire breakfast among the chatter and clatter came to around 5 Euro. And such a lovely touch to be served up a small, freebie glass of sparkling water with your coffee at the bar. Why can't someone do this in London?
There's also plenty of sandwiches and other drool worthy tempters to keep you going at all times of day. Zanarini was one mighty fine start to our sampling of Bolognese delights. And it kept TPG eerily quiet for a blissful 10 minutes or so.
Caffe Pasticceria Zanarini, Piazza Galvani 1, Bologna
One of Bologna's many wondrous food stores - take a big suitcase
So now it's late, and Masterchef's on. So stayed tuned for our wander of the amazing foodie shops of Bologna's cobbled alleyways, a hearty lunch at the classic Ristorante Diana, and then things step up about 10 notches as we meet up with our Italian friends, and foodie guide bellissimos, Alessio and Raffaella, as they take us on a 4 course pasta dinner at a tucked away locale, and an all day, marathon lunch of countless pasta and seafood courses which ends at... 5pm. Gold.
Our amazing home grown, local Italian foodie guides!
Click here for Part 2: Bologna's Food Shops and Lunch at Ristorante Diana - a bounty of hams, cheeses, fresh pastas, tortellini in brodo and boiled meat trolleys and Part 3: Meeting up with the locals at Trattoria Gianni, followed by an endless course seafood lunch in Modena