We took our third trip to Italy in June 2010. Lauren had just graduated high school, so this was our “last” family trip before she went off to college. Our basic itinerary was five nights Bologna, three nights Bellagio, five nights in the Dolomites (Castelrotto) and two nights in Milan.
We rented a car for the entire trip, even drove it into Milan to return at the city center – a bit crazy! It worked out great aside from the apparent freeway accident and backup when we were first leaving the Milan airport – more on that later. Stephen really likes us to be on our own schedule and it worked out great for some last minute daytrips to Switzerland and Austria. Even though sometimes he gets a little stressed – like trying to find our apartment in Milan, he loves the challenge of driving in Europe – even in the big cities (including Prague, Munich and returning a rental car once to the city center of Rome). We did have TomTom (GPS) which I think is an absolute must have, particularly when driving in the cities.
This was our first trip with our new iPad. It was absolutely fabulous!! So thin and light we often carried it with us when walking around the city and would use the map app to show us the quickest way to walk somewhere. Also, used it for quick restaurant recommendations/reviews on the fly! Much quicker than the iPhone.
Fashion alert – so Lauren and I are big shoppers and love to see what everyone is wearing. Well, everyone was wearing those sandals with the ankle covers (I personally do not like them), some even had an ankle cover that was boot length – even Lauren did not think that made sense, as your legs would get so hot. The other sandal everyone was wearing was the T-Strap Birkenstock – surprise, surprise!! But in bright patent leather colors – fun! The “man bag” was even more prevalent then the last time we were in Italy four years ago and Louis Vuitton was de rigueur for the most stylish men (young and old).
First up Bologna – we flew into MXP and went to pick up our car from Europcar. I had rented through Andy at www.gemut.com, he assured me that the four of us and our luggage would be able to fit in a compact, and we were given a Lancia Musa. Well, we had one extra bag than I had planned (for hiking boots/poles/etc.). We looked at that Musa and thought “no way are we and our bags getting in there.” We went back to the rental car agency to try to get a bigger one – none available, we went to three other agency counters and none of them had anything bigger so back to the Musa we went.
Luckily Stephen is a master at packing and we managed to fit everything in although the backseat was shared with one bag. We put our Bologna address in TomTom and went on our way only to be stopped by a MAJOR traffic jam getting onto the freeway. We were probably completely still for a good 5-7 min. on the on ramp to merge onto the freeway when people started backing up off of the on ramp!! We just had to follow suit and start backing up as well, but then…..where to go??? We told TomTom there was an accident that way, and it redirected us, but took an extra hour. We finally arrived at our hotel in Bologna at 7:30pm.
We stayed here for five nights in Bologna. The website has pictures of some rooms that have been redecorated, clearly we did not get one of those rooms, but we were still very happy. We had two rooms directly across the hall from each other. They were good size, each with an extra bed that you could use to put your luggage on (or a decent size triple). Nice size bathrooms – my only complaint was that the shower in our room took a long time to drain, but kid’s room did not have that problem. Excellent air conditioning (well ours was better than the kids), a small refrigerator and there was wifi nearby that we were able to get on to. The front desk people were very nice and helpful. It is extremely well located, right near tons of shops and restaurants and a five minute walk to Piazza Maggiore. The room included breakfast which was a typical Italian breakfast. The rooms were 100 euro each. I thought an excellent value – we would stay here again on a return trip. There was a parking garage less than a five minute walk away where we kept the car parked.
Since we got in late, we asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation near the hotel. He made us a reservation at Il Biassanot (via Piella, 16a) just two blocks from the hotel. It was on the list of restaurants I had so I was glad. It was an excellent meal. We all chose a different restaurant as our favorite in Bologna – and this was mine. A simple trattoria with fabulous food. We enjoyed caprese, carpaccio, gnocchi and the best tagliatele of the trip with incredible porcini mushrooms. Walked to Gelateria Gianni for dessert.
Our first full day, we decided to just walk around and explore Bologna. We followed a basic walking guide someone had posted on Slow Travel (http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/emilia_romagna/bologna.htm). We started out at Chiesa San Francesco.
From there we walked to Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Del Nettuno. Unfortunately, one of the large buildings in Piazza Maggiore was being renovated while we were there so I suspect we did not have the full effect of the piazza.
Then we walked through the Mercato delle Erbe (btw should definitely stop at Mercato BEFORE going to Piazza Maggiore –to avoid some back tracking). This is a nice food market, but not as impressive as others we have been to.
Bologna is a fabulous city – big enough to feel like a big city and have many options for food and shopping, but small enough that nothing is too far away. We loved the porticoes, particularly because they kept you cooler which was paramount because it was very hot.
While exploring this morning, my cute Tory Burch flip flops broke!! The “funny” thing is the exact same thing happened the last time we were in Italy four years ago when we were in Alba – only there it was the afternoon and all the stores were closed (trust me you can not walk on a broken flip flop – just does not stay on). Luckily this time there was a Geox store just across the street so I was able to get a cute new pair of sandals!
We stopped for lunch at Trattoria Gianni (Via Claveture, 18 – actually down a short dead end street off of Claveture). Claveture is a very charming street, so glad to find this on my list of restaurants since we were right near there – just off of Piazza Maggiore. Had a fabulous lunch (this was Lauren’s favorite meal) of proscuitto e meloni, carpaccio, and fabulous pastas. Lauren’s simple dish of pasta with pomo fresca was the big hit! For dessert we ordered tiramisu and a semi-freddo with amaretti – Excellent! The tiramisu was served frozen and was fabulous.
After lunch we explored a bit more, went to the due Torri and Via Santa Stefano and Tamburini, the famous food store. Everything looked great in the store, but after everything I had read about it , it was a lot smaller than I was expecting. Did some shopping along Via Independzia.
Love this guys pants!!
For dinner we had an 8:30pm reservation at Diana (Via dell’Independzia, 24). This is a nice restaurant with waiters in white dinner jackets and bow ties. I had read negative reviews about the service but our waiter was very nice and extremely helpful. We had another fabulous meal (probably everyone’s second favorite meal) of tortellini in brodo, pate, carpaccio filletto with truffles, boccoccini filetto in aceto balsamico and lasagna. Stephen and Michael definitely thought it was the best lasagna of the trip.
From there we walked to La Gelatura for gelato, which is in the University District, a bit of a walk, but a great way to see another part of the city. It was very busy down there with a lot of young people and a rally going on that led to a lot of polizia and carbineri out.
Today we did a food tour with Italian Days Food Experiences (http://www.italiandays.it/). This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! Alessandro owns the company and is the guide – he is fantastic – young, passionate, energetic and a little crazy – we had a fabulous day!
The cost is a bit cheaper if you have your own car so we drove and he was in a van with another family of four and another couple. So, usually tours are no more than seven because that is the max his van can hold, but ours had 10 of us since we drove separately. He came and picked us up at our hotel at 7:45am and we followed them in the van.
Our first stop was the parmigiano reggiano factory outside of Modena. Incredibly interesting and a lot to see, but Michael did start feeling sick from the heat and the overwhelming smell of the cheese. Once we moved to a different part of the factory he started feeling better.
We learned a lot about what all those markings and numbers are on the sides of cheese, as well as how to tell a good cheese wheel. Lots of samples to taste after the tour – including fresh ricotta cheese – trust me you have not had ricotta like this anywhere in the US.
Our next stop was to a balsamico tradizionale acetaia. While there was not as much to see here, this was extremely interesting as we had no idea what the process was and it was quite fascinating. We learned how some families will start the barrels when their child is born so they will have fabulous balsamico by the time they are older and can really appreciate it.
We smelled the balsamico in the barrels – incredibly strong!
We had several tastes of varying aged balsamico as well as gelato with balsamico on it and balsamico jam.
Next we had a tour of the owners Art Deco home which was also used in the film 1900. Not our personal taste, but interesting with original frescoes and furniture and extensive bronze and glass vase and figurine collections
From here we drove to an agriturisimo with an organic winery. First we had a tour of the winery and their operations. After the tour we had a wonderful lunch outside on the patio. Great meats, cheeses, pasta and meringues for dessert. Lots of wine tastings with lunch.
Our last stop was the proscuitto di Modena factory. Michael is a proscuitto fanatic so he was in his element here. Again, very interesting to see and learn about the different stages of the maturation process. Even though we were stuffed from lunch we still did the proscuitto tasting – Michael made sure there was none left! We got back to our hotel about 5pm.
We went to dinner at Il Saraceno (Via Calcavinazzi, 2) supposed to be good for pizza and seafood. We thought the food was good but not great – certainly not on par with the other meals.
This time we walked to La Sorbetteria (Via Castiglione, 44) for gelato. Again, a bit of a hike, but we determined it to be our favorite!
Today we had plans to go to Ravenna but first slept in and then walked up to Zanarini (Piazza Galvani, 1), a great café and pasticceria. When we finally got on the road we hit a ton of traffic and instead of taking one hour. it took about an hour and 40 minutes – bummer! We arrived in the city center and asked someone where the tourist office was. There they gave us a map and all the information to see the main sites with the mosaics. We headed first to Basilica San Vitale and then the Galida Placida mausoleum.
We started to get hungry so stopped at La Gardela (Via Ponte Marino, 3) for lunch. It was 2:25pm and they said the kitchen closed at 2:30 so we had to order quickly! The food was good, but nothing to get too excited about.
Next we stopped at Appolinaris Nuevo and the Baptistry.
We walked around the Centro Storico a bit but it was Saturday and everything was closed and there were not that many people out. We really found the town charming, but were surprised at how sleepy it was. It was hot and we were all a bit tired. If we had gotten an earlier start and did not have the traffic issue I think we might have taken the short drive to the coast, but the heat wore us out.
We drove back to Bologna with no traffic jams this way. Came back and rested then did evening shopping. Had dinner at Trattoria da Pietro (Via dei Falegnami, 18a). This was Michael’s favorite Bologna meal. We enjoyed tortellini in brodo, tagliata, gramgia pasta and port knuckle(Lauren’s favorite from our trip to Germany/Prague). Plus great San Danielle proscuitto (decided this was our favorite proscuitto and understood why it is so expensive!) and bresaola with fennel. On the house lemoncello and little dolci. Went to Gelateria Gianni again because we were too tired to walk to La Sorbetteria!
Today was Sunday and we walked up to Zanarini again for pastries and coffee to leisurely enjoy sitting outside.
Even though most shops said they would be closed on Sunday, many of them started opening up around 10am. We noticed later that evening that Zara was still open at almost 10pm! We did some leisurely shopping until lunchtime.
For lunch we decided to eat at Meloncello (Via Saragozza, 240/a) which is highly recommended. It is located about half way up the 666 porticoes. Now, many people said they walked to the restaurant from the city center – it would be a long walk, and maybe doable if it was not so hot. We drove over there – also note they do not have air conditioning, so if expecting to cool down after a hot walk – you won’t!
There is no menu, the very nice and helpful waiter tells you what is cooking in the kitchen today. First course was 3-4 different kinds of pasta with several different sauces to choose from. I had tortellini with butter and sage which was very good but not enough butter –I think all the butter was on Michael’s gnocchi which was excellent. Lauren and Stephen had the linguine with Bolognese and Stephen thought this was the best Bolognese so far. Then Michael and I shared the guinea hen which we both thought was overcooked and a bit dry. Stephen and Lauren shared a rabbit roulade which they thought was excellent. Stephen chose this as his favorite meal in Bologna.
After lunch we decided to go to the Ferrari Museum in Maranello. It is not a super large museum, but some nice exhibits and a lot of very cool cars – and well air conditioned for those of us less interested in the exhibits. Did some shopping in the Ferrari store. We were all glad we had taken the time to go out here.
Dinner was at Cesarino near Santo Stefano piazza (Via Santo Stefano, 19). I really enjoyed my seafood risotto but Michael thought the verde lasagna at Diana was MUCH better. Did the walk to La Sorbetteri tonight for our last gelato in Bologna.
Up next – three nights in Bellagio. Read the trip report here.