“I am at length joined to Bologna, where I am settled like a sausage” – Lord Byron
When it came to choosing a honeymoon destination Italy was the obvious choice for us. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a career which has offered me the opportunity to work all over the world and holidays which have taken me far and wide and yet somehow I’d never visited Italy.
Italy, a country so vividly etched in my imagination through it’s people, art, culture, history and of course gastronomy and yet I had no first hand experience on which to base my impressions.
Time to right this grievous wrong, a 3 week tour from Verona to the Amalfi Coast taking in some of our favourite culinary hotspots was the perfect way to celebrate our marriage.
So without further let us begin with part 1 of 4…Verona & Bologna.
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…
Greengrocers display, Verona
Where better to start a Honeymoon than the home of literature’s most enduring romance – Shakespeare’s Verona, setting of the star-crossed love affair of Romeo and Juliet.
Where did we stay?
The Madame Butterfly suite, Opera Relais de Charme, Verona
Opera Relais de Charme – a wonderful boutique hotel in central Verona, perfectly located 200m from the Arena, just off the main shopping street in the heart of the old town. The rooms are all themed around different operas, we got Madame Butterfly, which was one of the larger suites with a separate lounge/diner. The staff were wonderfully friendly and helpful and we would definitely recommend staying here.
What did we do?
We only had 2 nights in Verona so had to pack in the sights. Of course everyone flocks to Casa di Giulietta to see Juliet’s Balcony, and we were no different but as every guide book will tell you it is wholly underwhelming and was only built a few decades back to satisfy tourist demand. Worth having a quick peek anyway, just don’t bother going in the house.
Far more romantic and beautiful are the Giardino Giusti, which are well worth the walk out of town. Stunning gardens and great panoramic views across the City and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
The Giardino Giusti, Verona
We also did a walking food and wine tour of Verona which was the highlight of our brief stay. Our guide Cristina was a brilliant, spoke perfect English and was very knowledgeable about the sights and history of Verona – I won’t go into all the details, you can see my TripAdvisor review of the tour here – but well worth doing in our opinion.
Other than that we just had some good walks around the city and enjoyed the sights, there is plenty to see.
What did we eat and where?
Caffè ai Lamberti – We had a nice Octopus antipasto followed by a couple of passable Pizzas at this pizzeria located on the Piazza delle Erbe. Nothing amazing, but a nice spot for people watching.
La bottega della Gina – We visited this takeaway/deli as one of the stops on our walking tour of Verona, they specialise in one dish and one dish alone – delicious, hand made tortellini. There must have been 14 or so different varieties to choose from when we visited…we limited ourselves to sampling just 5 of them!
Tortellini at La bottega della Gina, Verona
We also got a one-on-one demonstration on how to make tortellini from Chef Simone Ambrosino.
Chef Simone gives a demonstration, La bottega della Gina, Verona
La bottega della Gina is primarily a takeaway, customers either order a pot of tortellini to be cooked on demand or can buy the fresh pasta to take away and cook at home. There is also one table for customers wanting to eat in which is what we did.
Needless to say for somewhere specialising in just one dish the tortellini was fantastic, especially when it comes bathed in a glorious, heart stopping emulsion of butter, cooking water and Parmesan.
Osteria Giulietta e Romeo – We noticed this restaurant was very popular with locals so popped along for a meal on our last night in Verona. It’s easy to see why it is so popular – the menu is quintessentially Veronese and great value at €18.00 for two courses.
Tagliatelle al ragu, Osteria Giulietta e Romeo
We tried tagliatelle with a duck ragu and with a traditional meat ragu. To follow we had roast veal with potatoes and Vitello tonnato – a dish that I had earmarked as something to try for the first time in Italy. Basically a thin veal escalope enveloped in a creamy, tuna mayonnaise sauce, seved cold. I have to say that I never understood the popularity of this dish before trying it, and having now tasted it I am none the wiser! Still I am glad I tried it.
One thing to note – as I said the menu here is typically Veronese and as such features plenty of horse and donkey meat dishes, so those of a sensitive disposition may not be too keen, you have been warned!
Archivio – Our favourite bar in Verona, with some great and unusual cocktails and lovely bar staff who spoke great English which was helpful when choosing which of their more outlandish cocktails to try!
The fat one
Window display, Tamburini, Bologna
After our brief stay in Verona we caught the train south and found ourselves in La Grassa “the fat one” – Bologna.
When we started planning our itinerary Bologna hadn’t really featured in our plans, then we watched Rick Stein visit Bologna in his “Long Weekends” TV series and decided it was a must – how could we miss out on the city described as the “stomach of Italy”?
The sobriquet is well earned, everywhere we went in Bologna people were eating, constantly – seated, standing, walking, working – any time is a good time to eat in Bologna. My kind of people. And who can blame them, the food and produce is absolutely stunning, perhaps the best we had in all our time in Italy.
Roasted meat counter, Mercato Delle Erbe, Bologna
Where did we stay?
Starhotels Excelsior Bologna – The Excelsior Bologna is your standard modern business class hotel, the kind you find in cities world over and as such the hotel meets your expectations with out having anything that paticularly makes it stand out. The central location is excellent however, directly opposite the train station and about a 15 minute walk to Piazza Maggiore, mostly under Bologna’s famous porticos – handy as the weather was a tad inclement.
What did we do?
Whilst Bologna is very much a modern, working city and perhaps not an obvious tourist hot spot, there is so much to see and do. We didn’t do it all – for instance we didn’t ascend the Asinelli Tower, partly because of the queue, but mostly because I’m a big wuss and suffer from claustrophobia and vertigo, so pretty much my idea of hell! I’m sure the view was stunning though. Also we missed out on walking the Portico di San Luca because the weather took a turn for the worse which is a shame as we’d have liked to have seen the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
We did however explore some of the 40km of porticos, parts of the western world’s oldest university, Piazza Maggiore, the Basilica di Santo Stefano, the Basilica di San Domenico, the Mercato di Mezzo, the Mercato delle Erbe and the Quadrilatero – all well worth your time.
What did we eat and where?
Deli counter, Tamburini, Bologna
Tamburini – Upon arriving in Bologna we checked in to the hotel and with rumbling stomachs headed out for something to eat, happily Tamburini was the first place that caught my eye – unbeknownst to us a something of a Bolognan institution.
Having read online reviews since it seems Tanburini is normally heaving, however when we sat down at one of the tables outside we were literally the only customers. We decided to order a couple of their famous tagliere misto platters – various different selections of local cured meats and cheeses.
Tagliere misto, Tamburini, Bologna
Suffice to say they were every bit as delicious as they look! Envious passers by seemed to be impressed as well – within minutes every table was taken. I really do think this is a must do if you visit Bologna.
Trattoria Dal Biassanot – One of the places Rick Stein visited in his show on Bologna and, possibly as a result, absolutely rammed – booking in advance is recommended. I of course didn’t and we had to wait 20 mins for a table. Worth every minute of the wait.
Tagliatelle al ragu’ and Tortelloni di ricotta burro e salvia, Trattoria Dal Biassanot, Bologna
To start we went for Sage and Ricotta Tortellini and their famed Tagliatelle al ragu’. Both were excellent but the ragu really was sublime, peerless, the absolute finest of our whole stay in Italy – and trust me, we tried a lot. Forget spag bolog – this is the real deal, intensely savoury yet light and ethereally delicate. I’ve tried recreating it via the recipe given for classic Bolognese Ragù according the Accademia Italiana della Cucinaofficial Bologna, but without success so I’m stuck with my own heftier version for the time being. To follow we both had the Cotoletta alla bolognese which was delicious, if mind blowingly rich.
Banco 32 – Located in the Mercato delle Erbe this “market kitchen” is well worth a visit. Not only is the market itself stunning, but the pan-Mediterranean style food served at Banco 32 is quite wonderful. After several days of artery clogging Bolognan delights this was a nice change in pace, we both went for the fish soup.
Fish soup, Banco 32, Bologna
Ristorante Da Bertino – Ristorante Da Bertino is a well known Bolognan landmark, a family run business that opened for business in 1957, got the formula right and haven’t felt the need to change anything in the 60 years since. The menu reads like a jukebox of Bologna’s greatest hits, with no concession to modernity – and so much the better for it.
We had come to Da Bertino for one reason alone – their famous carts of Bollito Misto and Arrosto Misto, wheeled through the restaurant and served table side with all the traditional side dishes.
The Arrosto Misto cart, Ristorante Da Bertino, Bologna
To start however we had some more tortellini – in case you hadn’t noticed we ate a lot of tortellini – what can I say, tortellini are as much a symbol of Bologna as the two towers, Bolognan’s get tattoos of the things for goodness sake! So we had the classic -Tortellini in brodo and also some Tortelloni with Ricotta and Spinach. Both fairly tasty without hitting the heights of other versions we’d tried.
Tortellini in brodo, Ristorante Da Bertino, Bologna
On to the serious business, the reason for our visit- our chariots of meaty delight the Bollito Misto and Arrosto Misto carts. We weren’t disappointed.
The famed Bollito Misto cart, Ristorante Da Bertino, Bologna
Plated Bollito Misto, Ristorante Da Bertino, Bologna
Both dishes were great, the Arrosto Misto would have satisfied any carnivorous appetite with a mixture of different cuts of roasted pork and veal. The Bollito Misto was my favourite however, a dish I’d been waiting years to try. It may not be to everyone’s taste the cuts used vary and include things like trotters, tongues, head and zampone, but I loved it and the broth was to die for. If you are in Bologna I would highly recommend this as an experience.
Pescheria del Pavaglione – Located in the Mercato di Mezzo which hosts a great selection of food stalls selling both fresh produce and cooked dishes, you select your stall of choice, place your order and grab a seat at one of the communal central tables. I would have been quite happy to graze from one stall to the next for most of the day!
Fritto di Paranza & Octopus in Paprika, Pescheria del Pavaglione, Bologna
We tried a few dishes here but the standouts were the Fritto di Paranza and Octopus in Paprika. A good spot to stop if you are feeling a little peckish during your sight seeing or you can settle down and make a full meal of it.
Le Stanze – Our favourite bar in Bologna, housed in what was once the private chapel of the Bentivoglio family. It makes for an impressive backdrop for a bar as you can see.
We went on a Friday night where they had what looked to be a a very good Aperitivo selection – we didn’t try it on this occasion however. The cocktails were good and fairly reasonably priced, there was a DJ playing some chilled out background music and there was even a cheeky photographer snapping pics for their facebook page! Definitely a cool spot to check out.
And so ends our time in Bologna! Next post I will recount our stops in Perugia and Assisi where we met the Pope! Well, kind of. Until next time buon appetito!
I would like to thank the absolutely wonderful Rosa Spatola of The Italian Connection who planned and organised our entire Honeymoon for us at incredibly short notice, she did a truly amazing job – flights, transport in Italy, hotel bookings, trips and tours…literally everything, including an absolutely invaluable 23 page itinerary of suggestions that covered every day of our stay in Italy. I can’t thank or recommend Rosa enough.