3 May,2019 By Jagabond
Bologna is one of the most underrated destinations in Italy. The characteristic red brick buildings give it a unique look relative to other Italian cities, and their internationally famous cuisine makes it a gastronomical capital. If you’re wondering why everyone looks so young here, look no further than the University of Bologna. Founded in the 11th century, it owns the title of oldest institute of higher learning in the world, and its students keep the mood of the city vibrant and progressive. They even have hip street art, one of my key cultural indicators for a city.
Bologna sits perfectly positioned for a multitude of day trip options. This is good news for travelers who often plan too much time in one location…like me. Most side excursions from Bologna lie conveniently on the main train route, unlike many day trips from Rome, Florence and Milan. Pack your bag, head to the train station and make the most of your Italian holiday!
Parma is only one hour from Bologna by train. On my tour of a Parmigiano-Reggiano factory, I realized I could never be a cheese maker. The owner started work before the crack of dawn, and always clocked double digits for hours. He hadn’t taken a vacation in over a decade. I guess I’ve settled more into the office job lifestyle. Nevertheless, I respect the work and learned a lot. Near perfection is the standard, as governing bodies rigorously and routinely audit the process. I will never forget the room filled with cheese wheels, or the workers pulling the young cheese out of the vat.
I fell in love with Modena, and by the time my two day trip was over, I had already started looking at country houses to buy (another dream). Their balsamic vinegar production is legendary, with most in the world made here. The distillery tour had a serious tone, similar to a champagne house in France. The locals here respect the product that put their city on the map. I loved hearing about the process of aging the vinegar in multiple barrels to refine the flavor. This is thirty minutes by train from Bologna, and well worth the trip.
Check out the churches and baptisteries here for some stunning 6th century mosaics. My favorites are at Basilica San Vitale, which has an impressive arch decorated with Jesus and the Apostles, and the famous apse mosaic depicting Christ handing a crown to Saint Vitalis, a Christian martyr and inspiration for the church. For an added bonus, visit Dante’s tomb and museum where you can walk from hell to heaven. All this spiritual bliss in only an hour train ride from Bologna.
See that pic below of a wine glass? It has a special story. I drank this at Enoteca Al Brindisi, the oldest wine bar in the world. Located in Ferrara, this is also where Copernicus spent some time going to university, and he was known to frequent this bar. Just imagine drinking too much and arguing about the solar system. If wine isn’t your thing, Ferrara also has a majestic castle worth checking out, and a memorable New Year celebration. The train time from Bologna is only thirty minutes.
Small countries fascinate me, and this one rests landlocked within Italy. San Marino has an interesting history, as they claim to be the oldest republic in the world, and somehow stayed neutral during World War II. Although Malta easily wins the award for best small country in Europe, San Marino surprised me. Initially the town looks terribly touristic, until you reach the three towers. The tower pics are straight from a Tolkien novel. Take the train from Bologna to Rimini, then a connecting bus to San Marino.
I focus on the day trips here, but Bologna is an often forgotten city by those journeying to Italy. I have links below that detail the best things in Bologna, and how you can get the most out of this underrated destination. Happy travels!