Europe’s oldest university town has been a haven for intellectuals and creative types since luminaries such as Dante and Petrarch passed through in the 14th century. Cultural capitals can ossify with time, but the constant influx of young blood into Bologna has kept the city alive. In the evenings, cafes flood with Bolognesi, from high-society ladies to stylishly scruffy undergraduates arguing politics and sipping Aperol spritzes.
Piazza Verdi attracts musicians and dreadlocked punks, while bars under the arches of Piazza Santo Stefano are a lovely spot for a sundowner. At weekends the central Via Ugo Bassi and Via Rizzoli, along with perpendicular Via dell’Indipendenza, are pedestrianised and fill with shoppers and street performers. At nightfall, crowds from the student bars along Via Zamboni and the more upscale options on Via del Pratello spill into the streets.
Bologna has several nicknames – la dotta (the learned) and la rossa (the red, for its leftwing politics) – but it is la grassa (the fat) that’s perhaps the most fitting. Food is a very big deal here, as it is throughout the Emilia-Romagna region – the home of parma ham, balsamic vinegar and parmesan. Cured meats, aged cheeses, cream, butter, game and truffles abound in this most indulgent of cuisines – and autumn, with its plentiful porcini mushrooms and sweet chestnuts, is a great time of year to visit.