Bologna has three nicknames – la dotta, la rossa, la grassa: the Learned (due to its 11th century university, the 2nd oldest in the world) , the Red (for the architecture) and the Fat – needless to say, I was most interested in the latter. The city is a lovely place, not somewhere I would’ve thought to visit to be honest, but I was lucky enough to have a friend who lived there so I popped over for a visit to catch up, soak up some sun and culture, and eat a lot of gelato.
As you’ve probably gathered, I’m pretty keen on opera, so we took the chance to visit the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and took advantage of an under-30s ticket offer. The theatre opened in 1763 with a performance of Gluck’s Il Trionfo di Clelia and we happened to attend at performance of the same opera, a mere 250 years later.
I’ll be honest, the opera was rubbish. It was sung in Italian with Italian surtitles so I didn’t know entirely what was going on – though my Italian-speaking friend said it didn’t make much sense to her either. We snuck a look over the shoulder of the woman in front of us to read the programme, but were still none the wiser. But it wasn’t the opera house’s fault – I found some reviews of the same production when it visited London and they were equally flummoxed. Gluck isn’t my cup of tea either so we weren’t exactly on for a winner. It was a nice evening though and I would definitely recommend visiting the theatre – it’s beautiful inside, the tickets weren’t very expensive even though we sat in the stalls, and in the interval I ate some of the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever had (made by Majani, in case you’re trying to find a present idea for me…) The standard of the music was good, too, and the theatre has had some illustrious music directors including Riccardo Chailly, Christian Thielemann and Daniele Gatti.
As with many Italian cities, you’d get RSI from all the stick-shaking-at-churches you’d need to do. But the absolute winner here is the Basilica di Santa Stefano, which somehow manages to be seven churches in one.
I’ll leave it to the Bologna tourist board to explain how that works, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in history as much as music!
One of the other churches we visited was the Santuario Madonna di San Luca, atop a hill overlooking the city. We took the famous covered portico from bottom to top, covering around 4km (or 666 arches). It was a tiring climb but worth it for the views coyly peaking out along the way, and for the lovely picnic we had at the top (ham, cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes, cherries, prosecco – JOY). The view from the top was pretty gorgeous as well. We only briefly looked inside the church as we accidentally arrived just as Mass was beginning (and saw a coach-load of retired Italians going in for the service – apparently this is a common tourist activity, to go to Mass at various churches). But this walk was one of my favourite things we did on my trip, I’d strongly recommend it.
So basically, Bologna is great. Definitely somewhere to visit to see a less-crowded, touristy part of Italy. My other bologna tips would be:
- eat all the ice-cream (best gelato was from the gelateria right underneath the famous two towers)
- eat all the chocolate (Majani is best but Venchi is also great, and also available in London!)
- eat all the pasta and pizza, then stroll around the pretty streets to justify more pasta and pizza
- Aperitivo – get yourself a drink a bar and you’re given a plate to help yourself to an amazing snack buffet
Also a little bonus mention for the park we went through that just has hundreds of cute turtles in the pond like it’s no big deal.
Pins on this post
- Teatro Communale di Bologna
- Basilica Di Santo Stefano
- Santuario Madonna di San Luca