July 31, 2005
GOING TO; BolognaBy JASON HOROWITZ
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.
With rooms looking out onto the historic Piazza Maggiore, the three star Hotel Orologio, Via IV Novembre, 10, (39-051) 745 7411, www.bolognarthotels.it, 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, www.baglionihotels.com, 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.
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.
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 www.comune.bologna.it/museoarcheologico, 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, www.museomorandi.it, 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 www.amicidelleacque.com.
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.
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.
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.