CREATIVE HUBS: BOLOGNA

Italy’s Bologna has many nicknames, with each of them revealing a different aspect of the city’s identity. For starters La Grassa, which means “The Fat”, refers to Bologna’s rich culinary culture (bonjourno tortellini and ragu). Then there’s La Rossa, or “The Red”, denoting the city’s left-of-centre political leanings as well as its stunning red-tiled roofs. And finally La Dotta, “The Learned”, points to the famous university, which is by all accounts the oldest in the world.

Bologna’s identity is diverse and dynamic, yet the city remains relatively unknown by tourists on their quest to see Italy’s most recognised landmarks. Those in the know often come for the food, which is fuelled by a rich bounty of produce – Parmigiano, prosciutto de Palma and truffles – from the surrounding region of Emilia Romagna. Others come for the music – Bologna was the first city in Italy to enter the music section of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and there’s almost always a concert taking place in an old basilica or intricate palazzo.

Food and music might be the traditional pillars of the Bolognese experience, but there are new forms of cultural expression afoot here too. The area surrounding the university is home to street art, and the local bars are some of the liveliest in town. Soda Pop is a hit with students, while Kinki – which has played host to artists including Jimi Hendrix – has been named by some as the best club in Italy.

And just last year Bologna was recognised as the top “smart city” in the country, in part of a ranking that looked at indicators including broadband speed, energy efficiency and the presence of digital services. It is also the second densest start-up hub in Italy, perhaps due to the city’s wealth of support systems. Incredibol, for example, aids creative enterprises by offering services and workshops to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas. Meanwhile INstabil is a project that plans to transform an abandoned a former civic centre into a collective work space. It is initiatives such as these that are complementing Bologna’s legacy of creativity, while playing it forward.


WHERE TO STAY

Grand Hotel Majestic

Bologna’s only true luxury offering, Grand Hotel Majestic is home to an art collection that includes centuries-old frescoes. It’s all marble floors, silk drapes and gilded mirrors here, making it a good option for a stay that feels something like time travel.

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Art Commercianti Hotel

This hotel is housed in a building that dates back to the Middle Ages, and was the first seat of the city council and later part of the University of Bologna’s law school. Fittingly perhaps for a place with such a rich history, visitors can expect lots of old-fashioned furnishings, exposed beams and atmosphere.

I Portici

A welcome break from the medieval feel of many of Bologna’s hotels, I Portici is a 90-room establishment with a clean-cut modernist interior. It still comes with a healthy dose of history, being located in a 19th century palazzo. And luxury too, being home to the only Michelin-starred restaurant in town.

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WHAT TO SEE

International Music Library and Museum

A must for anyone interested in Bologna’s musical heritage, this museum hosts hundred of portraits of renowned artists as well as antique musical instruments. The real highlight is the events programming, which has classical concerts and festivals to celebrate obscure instruments like the ocarina.

Modo Infoshop

A bookshop that’s open ’til midnight you say? Yes – this independent store-cum-café and bar is something of a late-night hub in the city. Modo specialises in anarchist books and comics, which are both nicely complemented by a perennial David Bowie soundtrack.

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Presentation Tonight in Bologna at Modoinfoshop! 🙂

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MAMbo

The Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (MAMbo) is housed in the site of a former bakery. Today, bread and buns have been swapped for a permanent collection of up-and-coming artists (from post WW11 until present day), providing relief from the brooding religious art that characterises other cultural houses.

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WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

Well Done Fioravanti

This eatery has all the hallmarks of a modern hit – think exposed brickwork, hulking tables and a wall that doubles up as a blackboard. Traditional food takes a backseat here, and the menu instead focuses on burgers – the house speciality is a patty made from pork and beef that have been braised in beer.

All’osteria Bottega

This unassuming, family-style eatery is a Bolognese stalwart, and is dedicated to the highest quality regional ingredients – expect meals to start with home-cured prosciutto and salami before moving on to rich tortellini accompanied by organic wines.

Bar Fermento

Wine is the name of the game at this on-trend bar, but there are also mixologists on hand to craft cocktails. It’s an ideal spot to start or end your night, and it occasionally hosts talents from local musicians and DJs.

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Kate Hamilton
The former Editor-in-Chief of SUITCASE Magazine, Kate is a freelance journalist who was written for titles including The Guardian, Wallpaper*, Stylist, ES Mag and Refinery29. She is based in London and always travels with books and an excessive amount of stationery.