Either someone at the New York Times has a serious love affair happening with Italy (understandable), or there’s something fishy going on. They’ve had more Italian destinations in their “36 Hours” series than I can remember, and the latest is on a city I’ve come to love and which many tourists skip entirely: Bologna.
Bologna, the capital of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, is well-known on a couple of fronts, neither of which seems to be enough to make it a tourist hot-spot. One is that it’s home to the oldest university in the world – the Alma Mater Studiorum, started in 1088 – but that’s a footnote in most tour guides. It does mean that during the school year the city is full of students from all over the world, giving it a lively and young atmosphere and a vibrant night scene. But the other thing Bologna is known for is the thing that draws in the few tourists who do make the trip – it’s the food.
Foodies the world over will tell you that the Emilia Romagna is Italy’s stomach, and many of the food items we associate with Italian food actually come from this particular region. Things like tortellini, lasagne, prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano and the famous Bolognese pasta sauce all come from the Emilia Romagna. And yet Bologna is still – generally – blissfully free of tourist hordes.
Of course, if articles like the one in the New York Times become the norm, that could change; but I sort of doubt it. Bologna certainly has its share of charms and sights worth stopping for, but when you’ve only got a limited amount of time to spend in Italy you’re not going to go out of your way to see Bologna when it doesn’t have the sights you’ve been dying to see your whole life. The David and the room full of Botticellis are in Florence. The Sistine Chapel and Colosseum are in Rome. The canals and gondolas are in Venice. And no amount of Bologna-lovers saying how great the city is will change that.
So, go ahead, New York Times – try to lure people to Bologna with your clever 36-hour itinerary (which is pretty good, although they skipped the cathedrals entirely and didn’t mention eating a piadina, which is just silly). I still believe that the next time I get to visit Bologna it’ll still be as charming and mostly tourist-free as it was the last time I was there.
(If you do want to find out what the whole piadina thing is all about, or check out why I think Bologna is so cool, you can start by choosing the Bologna hotel I stayed in. I highly recommend it.)
Photo by: Alessandra