Lacking some of the more iconic tourist attractions of neighboring Florence to the south and Milan or Venice to the north, from the outside it might appear as though Bologna has little to offer. However, the quaint and accommodating city is a little-known pocket of real bona fide Italian charm, where the focus is geared towards perfecting the art of doing what Italy already does best—wining and dining.
Nicknamed "La Grassa," which translates to "the fat one" thanks to its renowned cuisine, daily life in Bologna revolves around matters of the stomach, and while the ubiquitous pizza, pasta and gelato remain rites of passage for any visitor, a little bit of extra exploration can uncover some bold and tantalizing surprises. Here are some top picks for a full day of authentically Bolognese gastronomic adventures through one of Italy’s richest epicurean treasure troves.
Morning coffee in Italy is usually a swift five minute affair. A miniature cup of dynamite held delicately between finger and thumb, knocked back while standing at a cafe bar surrounded by a smattering of other passersby, yet to fully shake the cobwebs of sleep from their brains. Caffè Terzi however, takes this habitual practice and transforms it into a luxury worth savoring. The art of coffee making is a serious one in this tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hideaway on Via G. Oberdan, and just in case coffee isn’t your cup of... tea, they also have a wide selection of hot chocolates and herbal infusions.
Osteria del Sole
As the oldest osteria in the region, founded in 1465 (just a little younger than the University of Bologna—founded in 1088), this place is a true homage to the region's history. Buy snacks at the nearby market or make treats at home, bring them in and drink wine while talking about literature and philosophy—or something slightly less highbrow—in this ancient venue. Guests are encouraged to share their food (but it's not mandatory) which only adds to the old-world, community vibe of the tavern. The wine is affordable and tasty and ranges from Chianti to Chardonnay, and the atmosphere inside is something from Italy's magical, storied and significant past.
La Sorbetteria Castiglione
In Italy, ice cream indulgence is a near -acred ritual, and when it comes to gelato gastronomy in Bologna, La Sorbetteria Castiglione is the high temple. This tiny, unassuming family-run boutique ice cream laboratory will make you forget everything you thought you knew about the sweet treat by using all natural ingredients, traditional techniques and unique flavors with quirky names. Thicker, richer, creamier and more flavorful than any other ice cream, La Sorbetteria Castiglione’s popularity is telling of its quality, with local regulars spilling out of the doors, exchanging pleasantries over their daily scoop.
Drogheria Della Rosa
This former pharmacy, now a haute cuisine trattoria, is quite easily Bologna’s best restaurant. The embodiment of quality over quantity, Drogheria Della Rosa doesn’t have a set menu; instead the larger-than-life owner informs guests what’s for dinner upon arrival. That is, once he has ushered you to your seat and presented you with a chilled glass of Prosecco and a plate of the most aromatic smoked meats and onion relish, on-the-house of course. Located under the portico of charming Via Cartoleria, this secret little nook of bon vivance is the ultimate gastro-haven, where dishes are mouth wateringly delicious, yet simple and unpretentious while ingredients have clearly been lovingly handpicked by connoisseurs with an eye for only the best.
Already synonymous with the finer things in life, and after centuries of spitting out heart driven characters such as Casanova and Plato, Italy has also artfully crafted its image as a hotbed for romance. Located in the darkened cellar of another extremely fine restaurant, the bar at Cantina Bentivoglio has all of the trimmings for the perfectly atmospheric after dinner drink. Live jazz music vibrates around the stone walls and up through the floor, while ludicrously handsome waiters glide around serving oversized glasses swirling full of the richest red wines. Entwined couples don’t notice as candles drip onto their tables. It doesn’t get much more romantic than this.
Image of Caffè Terzi courtesy of the venue, all other photos by Karen Day
Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what's unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.