Getaway: Short Break in Bologna by Richard Cawley

Bologna has long been referred to as ‘La Grassa’ – which literally translates as ‘The Fat’. And trust me, that is exactly what I’d be if I had an extended stay here.

That sobriquet comes from the fact that the city is famed for its rich culinary tradition.

While Bologna is not the tourist hotbed of more popular destinations like Rome, Venice or Milan, it perhaps offers a more authentic feel of Italy.

This was a flying visit for me and my family at the end of October – a two-night stay at the Hotel Regina, a perfect location as within a matter of minutes you could walk to the historic centre, Piazza Maggiore.

Travelling with two kids, aged 11 and 13, meant it couldn’t just be a case of eating, drinking and admiring the impressive architecture.

Asinelli Tower

There was some trepidation from the younger members of our group about climbing the Asinelli Tower – the tallest leaning medieval tower in the world.

And if you don’t like heights then the nature of the ascent – a slightly tilting wooden staircase which has open shafts to your left – might not be for you.

But the views over the city from the top were well worth the 498 steps – as well as partly burning off some of the calories from lunch. And it only costs €5.

A word of advice, pre-book because it was already sold out for the day when we scaled it in mid-afternoon.

Before that we took the San Luca Express (€10 for an ordinary ticket but children under 10 pay at least half that) via a panoramic tour of the city to the Basilica di San Luca – which runs alongside two miles of continuous porticos.

Some fantastic views of the city can be seen

We only walked down and I had to admire the lycra clad runners who passed us on the way up, because it is a pretty testing climb.

On the ascent or descent you can also see part of the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara – where Bologna’s football team play. Stadium tours are available – Saturdays at 5.30pm.

You wouldn’t be getting a taste of Italy without one of their gelatos. Confession time – one wasn’t enough.

Sorbetteria Castiglione was recommended in our guide book, and was lovely. We also sampled Cremeria Cavour – the queue of Italians snaking out of the door a sure sign of quality – and were not disappointed.

Our stay wasn’t long enough to tick off all the major sightseeing spots – anything but – although we gave it a good shot and tracked down the largest sundial in the world at the Basilica of San Petronio.


The churches – even if you’re an atheist or haven’t attended a sermon in years – are hugely impressive in terms of scale and grandeur.On the first night we ate at Ristorante Biassanot, in Via Piella.

The food was good but the unsmiling and slightly cold service was at odds with the laughter and noise generated by the diners.

We had antipasti (€12.50 each) – including mortadella (which originated in the city) – as a starter. It was supposed to be for two to share, but easily stretched to four.

I went for pink tortellini – with ham and pine nuts – as a main while Mrs C went for roasted rabbit (€14.50).

The following evening we opted for Ristorante Danello, again located very close to Piazza Maggiore.

We were seated downstairs and it quickly filled up.


Pictures of celebrity diners adorn the walls. The only one I recognised near us was 1982 World Cup golden boot winner Paolo Rossi.

The service was excellent. Again we tag-teamed the ham and bread platter and both adults went for a lovely gramigna pasta (€€11.50) that came with sausages and mushrooms in a cream sauce.

Both meals – for the whole family – came to €105, and that included a bottle of wine.

Bologna ticks a lot of boxes. A two-hour flight from Gatwick – with only a short bus trip to the city centre – with pretty much any culinary taste catered for.

All packaged up with Italian charm. What’s not to like?

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