Bella Bologna – Italy’s secret

The following is a guest post by fellow traveler, Chris Sanders.

A few years ago, as part of my graduate studies at The Johns Hopkins School of International Studies (SAIS), my wife Wendy and I had the wonderful opportunity to live for a year in Bologna – a provincial Italian town situated in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, the region just to the north of Tuscany. Bologna and the broader region are an absolute treasure trove of culinary and other travel delights. It’s difficult to understand why such a wonderful part of Italy is today still relatively undiscovered by tourists (hence the name of this post “Italy’s secret”)…in Bologna and throughout Emilia-Romagna, you’ll find good eats and good sites and sounds, but you will not find hordes of tourists! Hey, maybe that’s what makes it so interesting to visit!

To whet your appetite, I’ve included a few notables about Bologna and the surrounding area…we highly recommend a visit!!


It’s a shame the name of this town is the same as a cheap American lunch meat, because nothing could be farther from an appropriate comparison! Ok, there is a bologna like meat from Bologna called “mortadella” – but Bologna offers so much more than lunchmeat! For starters, how about Bolognese sauce (the yummy meat sauce we all love in our spaghetti) – it comes from Bologna! And then there is the wonderfully rich lasagna vert – a green spinach pasta lasagna made with ragu and béchamel sauce, oh man! Finally, Bologna is the birthplace of tortellini and the headquarters of Manjani Chocolate – makers of Fiat – umm, umm goodness! For all these culinary notables, Bologna is often referred to as “Bologna the Fat.” I wish I could recommend a good restaurant in Bologna, but ironically, we rarely ate out because Wendy took cooking lessons from an Italian Chef throughout the year and I was, quite happily, her test subject!

Aside from good food, Bologna is also known as a university town. The University of Bologna is old (founded in 1088), huge, and has several famous alumni including Dante, Thomas Becket, Erasmus, and Copernicus to name a few. My school, Johns Hopkins, also has a small campus in Bologna. Interestingly enough, the Johns Hopkins campus was constructed with CIA seed money following WWII and was initially envisioned to be a listening post of sorts during the Cold War (Bologna was controlled by the communist party until the 1990s).

Other notable mentions about Bologna include: Great architecture – particularly porticos (some say it is possible to walk around the entire city and not get wet during a rain shower), plenty of old churches, it’s the burial place of St Dominic, it’s the headquarters for Ducati Motorcycles (on one visit to the factory, Wendy actually got to start one up on the assembly line), and it’s the headquarters for Furla – a fact Wendy cherished and still cherishes…there are more Furla shops per square km in Bologna than in anywhere else in the world…and my wife has been to them all!

Colli Bolognesi

If Bologna can be described as “off the beaten path” of typical visitors to Italy, the Colli Bolognesi is – I suppose- “off off the beaten path?” The Colli are the rolling hills that surround the city and this area is definitely worth a visit. Aside from the scenic beauty and quietness, the Colli Bolognesi is also home to a number of vineyards and bed and breakfast establishments. One that my wife and I came to know (and its our favorite in the region) is Corte d’Aibo ( . Corte d’Aibo makes a bold Cabernet and Merlot – my wife and I were surprised to find it on the menu at Mezzaluna in NYC (a favorite haunt of ours when we are in the Big Apple).

There are so many great things to experience in and around Bologna. Please share your experiences with this great Italian secret. Do you have a favorite experience, restaurant, or site? Do tell! 

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