If you follow this blog you know how much I love Bologna and I can suggest you things to do in town for about a year. But Bologna is also in a strategic position in Italy, so if you're looking for a day trip by car or train, in a less than one hour you can be in a lot of different amazing cities of Emilia Romagna and not only. These are my 5 favorite places to spend a day outside Bologna between art, culture and great food.
Castello Estense and Piazza Savonarola, Ferrara
I'm deeply in love with Ferrara. I'm bounded with this small city for many reasons. It was there in Piazza Castello where I've seen Radiohead for the first time and other tons of great gigs during "Ferrara Sotto Le Stelle Festival" that takes place every summer. In Ferrara you have plenty of interesting things to see: Palazzo dei Diamanti, Castello Estense and San Giorgio Cathedral but is the structure of the city centre, redesigned by Ercole I to enlarge and protect Ferrara from the enemies, that is astonishing in its perfect proportion. Since 1995 Ferrara city centre is UNESCO heritage and it's not difficult to understand why: rent a bike (Ferrara is one of the european cities of bike) and ride through tiny streets or on the city walls that fence the centre.
Where to Eat
Quel fantastico giovedi
A small and intimate restaurant to try some local fish dishes like eels or codfish.
Via Castelnuovo, 9 - Ferrara
San Vitale Basilica mosaics in Ravenna
Close to the sea, Ravenna is a city of art and fun. Visit the beautiful mosaics of San Vitale and Mausoleo di Galla Placidia and if you have the car consider to go to Sant'Apollinare in Classe or Marina di Ravenna to taste some local fish. Don't expect the beautiful and clear sea of Sicilia or Puglia but summer nightlife is one of the most famous in Italy. While you come back to Bologna don't forget to stop at Dozza, and hidden village full of street art and a nice middle age castle you can visit.
Where to eat
Osteria del tempo perso
In this restaurant of the city centre full of jazz memorabilia you can have classics fish dishes and some great variations like shrimps with pasta kataifi.
Via Gamba, 12, 48121 Ravenna RA
The city of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale has a lot more to offer (even if is great to visit a real Acetaia) like the astonishing Cattedrale in Piazza Grande or Piazza dell'Accademia. If, like me, your passion is food Mercato Albinelli is a landmark, if you're lucky you can find Massimo Bottura shopping fish and meat. If your passion is cars, well this is your city. At Ferrari museum you can see an impressive collection or even drive a real one. Last tip: look for Torta Barozzi, a tasty chocolate and coffee cake invented in Vignola with a secret recipe.
-- To taste the best food of Modena we've just created a brand new Modena Food Tour, hope to have you all! --
Where to eat
Osteria stallo del pomodoro
This place deserves a full post because I love their cuisine and the customer care and preparation. Classic modenese cuisine and some revisited dishes with local ingredients. A lot of attention for celiac intolerance, they also make 3 kind of gluten free bread.
Largo Hannover, 63, 41100 Modena MO
Sala dei Giganti at Palazzo Te, Mantova
For children grown up in Emilia Romagna, Mantova is the most typical school day excursion. In this small city of Lombardia in fact you can follow the steps of Gonzaga's Renaissance family and visit astonishing palaces like Palazzo Te: a villa designed and paited by Giulio Romano for the idleness and leisure of Federico II. I bet that entering Sala dei Giganti will leave you speechless!
Mantova's city centre, UNESCO Heritage site, is a gem. Take the time to visit Sant'Andrea Cathedral, Bibiena theatre and the most popular Camera degli Sposi painted by Mantegna inside San Giorgio's castle. One last tip: while you come back, stop on Mincio river shores to take a few photos of Mantova skyline during sunset.
Where to eat
An old osteria close to the river harbour that started 50 years to serve food and wine to docker and workmen. It hasn't changed much and there you can find real traditional dishes like tortelli with pumpkin or maccheroni with stew. Generous portions and simple wine like Lambrusco mantovano for an out of time place.
Via Salnitro, 5, 46100 Mantova
Tel. 0376 322084
Basilica di Santa Croce, Firenze
You all know Firenze's landmarks: Uffizi, Duomo etc. But if you have already been there I reccomend a different daytrip inside a less touristic Firenze. Start your day with a visit of Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio, a real local market close to Santa Croce Basilica where you can taste some great street foods. For lunch you can stop at the most popular San Lorenzo indoor market to try lampredotto and buy some cantucci cookies at Il cantucciaio di San Lorenzo.
Then move outside the crowded streets and walk around Santo Spirito and Borgo San Frediano neighbourhood. It's an area full of students, small shops and nice restaurants, and if you come in spring I reccomend to visit Boboli Gardens.
With high speed train Firenze is just 35min from Bologna, so consider to sleep in the cheaper and less touristic Bologna and just move there for a day.
Where to eat
Inside Mercato Sant'Ambrogio you can meet Rocco, the crazy and funny owner of this small restaurant that will put a 2l bottle of red wine at your table when you sit. Food is simple and not fancy, with the classic of Tuscany cuisine like chickpea soup, ribollita or lampredotto (cow's stomach). You'll pay a lot less than expected, that's why you have to wait in queue for a few minutes.
Mercato S. Ambrogio, Piazza Ghiberti, 50122 Firenze
And what about you? Other places to reccomend for a daytrip away from Bologna?
[Photos: Caspar Diederik, Alessandro Grussu,Fr Lawrence Lew, Alessandro Bonvini, Augusto Mia Battaglia, Eric Pascolo]