The New York Times

July 31, 2005

GOING TO; Bologna


WHY GO NOW -- With its millennium-old university, chiming bicycle traffic and devotion to perfect pasta, Bologna, Italy's quintessential college town, enjoys a summer break from its roughly 100,000 students and puts its dusky red medieval architecture on center stage.

That is not to say that a kinetic student vitality or professorial charm is sapped by what can be Bologna's scorching sun, as vestiges of youthful energy abound in the traditional osterias, where liberal portions mix with the city's famously liberal politics. On the contrary, the city has done much to compensate for the youthful exodus with rich cultural programs that promise to fill the piazzas and parks with music, cinema and dance all summer long.

And while nearby Venice, Florence and Rome will be flooded with tourists, Bologna, one of Europe's largest medieval towns, is less burdened with foreign visitors and offers a breath of authentic Italian air. More than 25 miles of porticoes shelter marble walkways; they house mouthwatering mortadella shops, bustling markets, designer and antique stores. Those streets spill out onto squares adorned with imposing churches, fountains and medieval palaces.

Great deals on cheap international flights and train fares, along with a lots of newly refurbished and renovated hotels reflect an ambitious push for Bologna to be among Italy's first ports of call. John Grisham has even pitched in, setting his latest best-seller, ''The Broker,'' in Bologna's palaces and parks.

WHERE TO STAY -- A pleasant bed-and-breakfast in the heart of the city center's vibrant market, the Albergo delle Drapperie, Via delle Drapperie, 5 (39-051) 223 955,, was completely restored in 2004, and now has 21 comfortable rooms with charming wood ceilings for an affordable price. Double rooms cost $92, at $1.23 to the euro, and all include air conditioning for the steamy summer months.

With rooms looking out onto the historic Piazza Maggiore, the three star Hotel Orologio, Via IV Novembre, 10, (39-051) 745 7411,, is both right in the middle of the action and comfortably distanced from it, thanks to its quiet, comfortable rooms. Double rooms run about $210 during the summer.

Bologna's only five-star hotel, the Grand Hotel Baglioni, Via Indipendenza 8, (39-051) 225 445,, has 124 lavish rooms with lacquered furniture and heavy curtains, and 16th-century frescoes in the dining room. Because the hotel was converted from a palace, some rooms are bigger than others, and the bathrooms in the doubles can be small. The nightly rate for a standard double in July and August ranges from $504 in the high season, to $308.

WHERE TO EAT -- With its yellowed newspapers on the ceiling, old photographs of Bologna on the wall and hearty fare on the tables, Al 15, Via Mirasole, 15, (39-051) 331 806, is a good place to wade into Bolognese cooking. Appetizers of fried and baked breads which you coat in a soft white squaquerone cheese and mortadella, are followed by taut tortellini in cream sauce. Bigger tortelloni are packed with ricotta cheese and sprinkled with artichoke sauce. Open for dinner; closed Sundays. A meal for two, with wine, is about $60.

Prosecco and mortadella land on the table of Drogheria della Rosa, Via Cartoleria, 10, (39-051) 222 529, seconds after you land in your seat. Then come enormous tortelloni stuffed with zucchini flowers or a meaty tagliatelle al ragł a world away from Chef Boyardee. For the main course, hunks of beef bathed in a syrupy balsamic vinegar and a sumptuous Parmesan zucchini flan are delicious. Service can be a touch brusque, but only because the business is so brisk. Dinner for two with wine is about $110. The kitchen is open for lunch and dinner. Closed Sundays.

Delicious as they are, meat-packed tortellini can get heavy in the hot Bologna summer. A good option is a visit to Casa Monica, Via San Rocco, 15, (39-051) 522 522, which has outside seating looking onto a patch of garden, and lighter, less traditional fare. Try the carrot, ginger and toasted almond soup, and the baked ricotta. Dinner for two, with wine, costs about $86.

WHAT TO DO DURING THE DAY -- There are 42 museums in Bologna, but a handful of the most impressive are densely packed into or just off the main square of Piazza Maggiore.

With its narrow rooms and glass display cases that seem styled from an Indiana Jones movie, the Archaeological Museum, Via dell'Archiginnasio, 2, (39-051) 27 57 211, on the Web at, displays Etruscan artifacts from Bologna's ancient past. Rare decorations dating to the ninth century B.C., bronze vases and ancient skeletons make the medieval towers outside seem downright modern. Admission is about $5. Closed Mondays.

Across the square, housed in Bologna's stunning, 15th-century town hall, the Palazzo d'Accursio, is the Morandi Museum, Piazza Maggiore 6, (39-051) 203 646,, which displays scores of still-life studies of kettles, candlesticks, jars and bowls by Giorgio Morandi, (1890-1964). Admission is $5. Closed Mondays.

For more classical tastes, the town's own art collection is just down the hall, and also costs $5. But first make a stop to take in the view from the balcony overlooking the enormous San Petronio Basilica and the square. The collection boasts hundreds of classical portraits, frescoed ceilings, a wooden model of medieval Bologna, and a room painted in all the coats of arms of hundreds of noble families who have passed through Bologna through the centuries.

The best way to tour the city's warren of medieval streets is on wheels. Bike in BO, Via del Pratello, 97, (39-347) 894 4094, rents bicycles and offers guided tours in English of Bologna's most important landmarks. Reservations need to be made at least a day in advance; a bike rental with a two-hour tour costs $22 a person.

Bologna's underground archaeological treasures include Roman bridges, Gothic arches and hidden waterways that once supplied the Piazza Maggiore's majestic Neptune fountain. Guides may be hired for about $8.50 for a one-hour group tour. For information and reservations, call (39-333) 934 7122 or (39-051) 522 401, on the Web at

The University of Bologna, established in 1088, has long been Bologna's lifeblood. The university's faculties are spread all over town, but the historical hub is on the lively Via Zamboni. The Palazzo Poggi museum, Via Zamboni, 33, (39-051) 209 9398, documents how the school's medical, physical, and astronomical scholarship has changed over the centuries. Admission is free; the museum is open daily from 10 to 3, but closed from Aug. 1 to 21.

WHAT TO DO AT NIGHT -- Bologna has an ambitious schedule of cultural events, including 117 concerts that will use many of its stunning squares and arcades as backdrops.

Among the performers in the Piazza Santo Stefano this summer will be the Young Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra performing Mozart's Requiem on Aug. 3. Francesco de Gregori, the Italian folk and pop performer, will give a free concert in the Piazza Maggiore Aug. 14, while the vocalist Melissa Stott will be featured in a free jazz concert on Via Mascarella Aug. 19. For information call (39-199) 107 070.

During the summer, Bologna's vibrant club scene moves outdoors. In the Margherita gardens, just a short walk from the city center, couples dance among the copses and music shakes the leafy trees every night except Sunday from 11 to 3 at the Chalet Giardini Margherita, Viale Meliconi 1, (39-051) 307 593. Admission is free on Monday and Wednesday nights, when Latin American and rock music are featured, respectively, while tickets for other nights, including a gay-themed night on Friday, cost $10 to $18.50.

For a more sedate activity, sip wine at the Godot Bar, Via Cartoleria 12 (39-051) 226 315, where Bologna's beautiful (and affluent) people like to see and be seen every night except Sunday. For those who prefer a more down-to-earth crowd, a stroll down Via del Pratello leads to lively pubs and osterias squeezed between mortadella, tortellini and cheese shops.

WHERE TO SHOP -- Top Italian designers like Armani and Dolce & Gabbana make their home on the polished floors of Via Farini, but the fruit and fish market with its core at the cross streets of Via Drapperie and Via Pescherie Vecchie, offers more satisfying merchandise in a city that is all about food. Glossy red apples, gleaming silver fish and the omnipresent mortadella are squeezed in between fashionable boutiques and bars.

HOW TO STAY WIRED -- In the Sala Borsa, a multimedia library created, in part, by Bologna's famed writer and thinker Umberto Eco, a paneled glass floor looks down on Roman ruins and an Internet cafe on the top floor offers 40 computers with Internet access for $2.50 an hour (or free if you sign up to use the library). Piazza Nettuno, 3, (39-051) 204 400.

YOUR FIRST TIME OR YOUR 10TH -- The leaning Garisenda and Asinelli towers, which date to the 12th century, are enduring symbols of the city. While the 162-foot Garisenda leans at an angle that makes it too dangerous for climbing, the Asinelli, over 300 feet high and completed in 1119, is open to anyone in the public willing to scale its 498 steep steps and pay $3.70. Local legend has it that any student who dares to climb the tower before receiving a diploma will never graduate.

HOW TO GET THERE -- Direct round-trip service New York to Bologna is now available. Eurofly fares from Kennedy Airport start at $406; information and reservations on the Web at

This summer, Bologna is hoping to lure those who have landed elsewhere into its medieval walls by offering a $61.50 package that includes a train ticket from nearby Florence, a night in a three or four-star hotel and passes to many museums.

HOW TO GET AROUND --You can walk or rent a bicycle but taxis to some more distant destinations, like the parks and gardens, hills and train station are available, and shouldn't run more than about $18.

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