Travel Diaries – Bologna

Gap Year Days 54 – 57

Bologna! The first thing I think about is spaghetti bolognese! That most delicious and simple of pasta dishes, that everyone at home has a special recipe for. Has it got vegetables? Tomato paste? Or like one that sometimes gets cooked in my house, tomato soup from a tin? What is the best pasta shape to use? I just had to come to its hometown in Italy to find out.

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The Bologna region though is not just the home of bolognese, it is a well-known region for many other foods too, like tortellini, lasagne, parmesan cheese, parma ham, mortadella, and balsamic vinegar. It also has some great vineyards. See why I had to visit?

On arrival in Bologna, the city looked a little disappointing. We were staying close to the railway station and it was quite industrial-looking. Just like we do every time we check in to our new accommodation, we went straight to a supermarket to stock up on snacks for our stay. We always have to wait to see if we have a fridge, and what is already supplied so we know what we can grab.

The walk to the supermarket was not much more attractive than the one from the train station so I figured I had better get stuck into some research to find out more about Bologna.

The next morning we went off to find the real Bologna and taste some of that famous food. My research had told me bolognese was (strangely enough!) not called that here, but rather what I was searching for was tagliatelle ragu! This is also the home of lasagne and tortellini, so more foods to look out for. As we walked around the streets in the morning, we kept our eyes peeled for a good place to eat dinner that night.

During the morning we ducked into a couple of churches and some other interesting buildings, such as one that is being used for a library. We found the local markets and grabbed some pizza for an early lunch.

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Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro
Stained glass windows inside the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna Italy
Basilica of San Petronio
The library building was just beautiful inside.
The front of a fruit and vegetable market where there are many boxes of produce sitting in stacks of plastic crates
The colours of the markets

In the afternoon we decided to walk up to Santuario Madonna di San Luca. Basically, it’s a church on the top of a hill overlooking Bologna. We knew this was a walk of about 4km, and that it was mostly undercover the whole way, so we wouldn’t be walking in the sun.

The first two or three kilometres were fine, walking along under the porticoes that line the streets of Bologna. It didn’t cross my mind that we were still walking on flat ground, and we had to get up to the top of the hill somehow. All of a sudden we started going up. From then on it was continuously upward until we reached the church. Either steps, or sloped ground, but it was all hard work for me on this day. It wasn’t a really hot day, but it was humid, so I was soon drenched in sweat.

The never-ending palisades up to Santuario Madonna di San Luca

We were almost at the top and it began to rain. It didn’t help to cool us down as we were still under cover, and it meant the views from the top were not as clear as they would normally be. We also discovered our visit was particularly poorly timed because the church itself was closed between 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm. We were there right in the middle of this time. Still, as we started to walk back down, I was glad we had done the walk, and going back down was so much easier!

An old terracotta-coloured two-story building which houses the Santuario Madonna di San Luca
Santuario Madonna di San Luca

For dinner, we finally found a place that served not only a traditional tortellini ragu (I changed my mind about the tagliatelle) but also a local lasagne too, so we settled in for a proper pasta feast. The interesting thing about the ragu made in Bologna is they do not use any tomatoes. Traditionally it is just minced meat with herbs, spices and oil. But boy was it delicious!

I know I won’t even try to imitate it at home because I won’t even get close, but I might have to try it a few more times as we travel around Italy – just to make sure it’s still good 🙂

With only one more day left in the region, we wanted to get out and look around the area more. The best tour we found without breaking the bank was the Discover Ferrari and Pavarotti Land tour, including transport from Bologna and entry to all the museums and tastings along the way. It really is more like a hop-on hop-off style tour, as you do not get any commentary on the bus, it really is just transport between the places. The driver would just give us a time to be back on the bus at each stop.

First stop was the Maranello Ferrari Museum. I need to preface my comments here with the fact that I am not a racing or car fan. I couldn’t care less about owning an expensive car – I would much rather spend that money on something else (luxury travel!!!) I’m as likely to choose a car for the colour I like as for the badge on the front. This was one of the things Simon really wanted to see.

This Ferrari museum (there are two) seemed to be more about the racing side of the business. It went through all of the history of racing, showed how the cars are designed and built including some models, and had heaps of actual cars from over the years. There was also some information on drivers, and trophy cabinets full of silverware.

Making a Ferrari
Nine different red Ferrari race cars
Red really does go faster – according to Ferrari
A wall filled with many models of small red race cars
A whole display of Ferrari matchbox toys

I think a true Ferrari racing fan would totally be in their element here. I did see some animated discussions going on, and some people looking really closely at/under/in the cars. Just before the exit, there is an opportunity to get in one of the cars and be photographed, and also a simulator where you can try driving a Ferrari racing car. There is of course, also a gift shop, but with such astoundingly high prices – a pencil with the Ferrari logo on it for €10 anyone?

Our second stop was at Gavioli Antica Winery & Museum. On arrival our group got a quick tour through the private museum set up by the winery, showing not only wine-making tools past and present, but also some memorabilia linked to sponsorships and other friendships the family has. The piece de resistance is a Ferrari originally owned and built by Enzo Ferrari himself and gifted to the founder of the winery. There are only three of that particular car in existence.

A room filled with many pieces of machinery used in wine making in years past
Part of the winery museum
Old blue car with bonnet open
Doesn’t look impressive, but there were only ever three of these Ferrari’s made.

The wine tasting came next, and we were given three generous tasting glasses of different Lambrusco wines produced at the winery. All were pleasant. I even liked the sparkling variety, and I am not usually partial to sparkling wines. If I was in Australia I would have definitely considered taking a few bottles home.

The labels of three bottles of red wine
The three wines we tried

Back on the bus again, we made our way to the second Ferrari museum. This one was in Modena itself, and had two different buildings. The first contained some personal memorabilia from Enzo Ferrari, and also a whole room full of shiny engines. There was probably something exciting about these, but since I don’t know the first thing about an engine, “shiny” is all I can remember.

Some of the engines on show

The second building contained a cafe for us to get lunch. I did not see any other nearby options, and the food here was average at best so if you prefer to save some money, bring your own lunch.

Once we’d eaten, we moved towards the closed curtain to the right and discovered it was hiding a big showroom full of various Ferrari’s. Not the racing sort, but the ones that if you have a spare few hundred thousand dollars you could go and buy! Every half an hour or so they played a short movie, projected on one of the huge curved walls, showing celebrities with their Ferraris.

The choices are hard

The House of Pavarotti was next. This place is a lovely house in the countryside, and it’s where Pavarotti passed away. Much of the house is as it was when he lived there, with extra displays put in place to commemorate his life. On show were some of his own artwork, costumes, awards, letters from other famous people, and more.

While I know who Pavarotti is, I am not an opera fan. Even so, I did find this visit interesting, with the audio tour providing a good amount of information. The candid videos that were played showed a completely different side to the person who was on stage.

The front of a two-story terracotta and yellow house with a tiled roof
Pavarotti’s house.
A portrait of a man on an easel. On the walls in the background are more portraits of the same man
Portraits of Pavarotti
Two male stage outfits, one green, one blue that were worn by Pavarotti
Two of Pavarotti’s costumes on display

Our final stop for the day was Musa, the museum of charcuterie. The area is famous for it’s processed meats, whether parma ham, bologna or mortadella. There are also many other varieties of charcuterie produced. We again had a brief tour, explaining the difference between the different produces and explaining how they are made. There were some videos showing some of the factory jobs and processes.

We were running out of time, but had a brief tasting at the end. Strangely, four out of the eight people in our group did not taste any of the food. I would have liked to see a bigger range, as we only got to try two of the meats. They were quite good though.

Learning the difference between Parma and San Daniele hams
Ham and mortadella for tasting

And just like that our time in Bologna was done. The next morning we were moving on again.

The Verdict

While we had some great experiences, Bologna was not my favourite Italian city. It felt a little more of a “working man’s city” than many of the others did, which is a little crazy as it has one of the oldest universities in the world and is a home to many academics. There are few open areas in the city, and almost no green spaces, so I think that helps contribute to the harshness I felt. I would have liked a little more time to perhaps do a food tour in the city to get more information about the local specialties.

We didn’t used any public transport within Bologna, as everywhere we went was in walking distance. I did seriously consider one of the tiny buses while walking up to the Santuario Madonna di San Luca though!

Prices of food in Bologna were very similar to the rest of Italy. Main courses were around €15, a two scoop serve of gelato about €2.50 and a glass of wine around €4. Those prices were very similar to what we would pay at home in Adelaide.

Wifi is less plentiful than any other country we have been in Europe. With not many McDonalds and no Starbucks, many people will find their “go to” places unavailable. Having said that, many bars and restaurants do have wifi, but often quality is patchy, and it simply is easier to wait until you get back to your accommodation.


B&B Diana
Viale Pietro Pietramellara 27, 40121 Bologna, Italia
€47/night Double room with shared bathroom, including breakfast.

Here are some more posts from my time in Italy you may like
Travel Diaries – Venice
An Easy Budget Visit to the Colosseum
Things to do in Siena, Italy
Travel Diaries – Trento

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4 thoughts on “Travel Diaries – Bologna”

    • There was actually a place right next door to one of the museums where you could take one for a drive. It was pretty expensive though. I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like €100 for 15 minutes. It was popular, because we saw quite a few Ferrari’s driving around the streets of Maranello.

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