The Emilia Romagna region is the home to some of our favorite cooking vacations in Italy, and also to a lot of gastronomic wonders: prosciutto, parmigiano, tortellini, Bolognese sauce. And also that delectable treat, mortadella, known to Americans as “Baloney” (Bologna), but ever so much better than what you’ll find in an Oscar Mayer package.
The center of it all is Bologna, a city that can be pronounced as old and young at the same time. As the seat of Europe’s oldest university, it bustles with youth and energy but is full of centuries of tradition. Its characteristic porticos (or arcades) stretch for miles throughout the city center, attesting to an artistic and cultural heritage that reaches back to the Middle Ages. Walking through Bologna is like stepping into the past and enjoying the present simultaneously, and its gastronomic traditions are second to none.
As one of Europe’s largest remaining walled cities, Bologna offers a wealth of sights to see, this despite extensive damage to the town center during WWII. Its most iconic cultural monument are undoubtedly the “Due Torri,” (Two Towers), which were defensive towers built in the Middle Ages. They even have names: Asinelli and Garisenda. Also iconic is the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, which perches on a hill overlooking the city. Originally a 12th-century church, its latest manifestation is from the 18th-century, and it is known for the miles of porticos that lead from it to the city center.
Any trip to Bologna must include time spent in its most famous piazzas: Piazza Maggiore and the flanking Piazza del Nettuno (home to the famous Neptune fountain), and Piazza Re Enzo. Go in the evening for a stroll or a digestivo, and soak up the local life.
Of course, we’re foodies, so for us one of the main attractions of Bologna are its markets, where vendors sell the city’s most known products: mortadella, prosciutto, culatello, parmigiano, and so many wonderful fresh pastas. The Mercato di Mezzo is perhaps the most known, and a great place for sampling some of Bologna’s many wonderful foods. And the Mercato Quadrilatero is probably the most picturesque – winding through the small streets of the historic center. But the Mercato delle Erbe, an indoor produce market that also has many food stalls, might be the best, and least touristy, of the option. Stop for some focaccia or a sandwich, or some of the Bolognese street food that you can find here.
Try a recipe for classic Emilian “gnocchi fritti.”
Want to experience Bologna on a cooking vacation to Emilia Romagna? We offer custom itineraries in this wonderful city as well as a more in-depth culinary tour in Parma and Bologna. Contact us for details!
And learn more about the region in our video:
By Peg Kern
Sign up to receive our email newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best culinary vacations.