Bologna hovers on the edge of the tourist radar, not quite registering in the minds of the masses rushing from Florence to Venice. But stop in the capital of the Emilia Romagna region and you will discover why it’s the gastronomic centre of Italy. Other places might argue the toss but few can compete with the home of lasagne, tortelloni and tagliatelle al ragù — not to mention the region’s prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano and culatello ham.
The pace is unhurried, relaxed, indulgent — helped by the 40km of porticos that snake through the centre and offer shelter from the sun and rain. Piazza Maggiore draws people to its broad space overlooked by the San Petronio basilica and the 13th-century Palazzo d’Accursio, the town hall.
Head under the arch into Via Pescherie Vecchie on the eastern side and plunge into the Quadrilatero district, where food shops, cafés and market stalls are squeezed into medieval lanes. Follow the porticos to the Due Torri, two medieval towers that lurch drunkenly over Via Zamboni. The taller of the two, Torre degli Asinelli, is worth the climb up 498 rickety steps for sweeping views. If you can’t face the hike, take the lift up to a temporary viewing platform on the roof behind San Petronio, open while works are carried out on the basilica.