In Bologna, north of Italy, everybody knows that spaghetti bolognaise is not an Italian recipe. Tourists who ask for it at the local restaurants have to be told it's not on the menu.
But, with its hundreds and hundreds of restaurants and trattorias, this medieval city in the route from Florence to Venice is certainly the food capital of Italy.
Our two-day trip in Bologna starts from Piazza Maggiore, the main square, home of the San Petronio church, the Town Hall, the statue of the Neptune and palaces dating back to the Rinascimento.
Piazza Maggiore is crowded: buskers, tourists, citizens and, near the old Palazzo de’ Notai, there is a speaker’s corner, where ordinary people can stand up and spout off on everything and anything.
The square is wonderful in every season. In summer, you can see youngsters sunbathing, in spring students and children play football and strum the guitar. In winter, sometimes, the snow makes you feel like you're in Scandinavia. And in autumn, the fog hides the old palaces under a mystical blanket.
Near Piazza Maggiore, there is the Archiginnasio, the old building of Bologna University, dating back to the 11th century. Here the Teatro Anatomico was the first room dedicated to surgery in the history of Bologna. The wooden medieval statues of the Spellati, men and women with their skin peeled away to show their innards, give us some understanding of the level of knowledge medieval scientists had about human body.
Just behind the corner, if you are hungry, you can have a lunch at Ambasciatori. This is a bookshop but also a grocery. And it is a pub and restaurant as well. Regional and local dishes will delight you and make you think that, yes, Bologna is the food capital of Italy.
If you want something traditional, try one of the many osterias and trattorias. The most popular are Da Tony, Da Anna Maria, Bertino, Diana, Osteria dell’Orsa and Cesari. But, in Bologna, you can find gorgeous food in every corner.
After lunch, it’s time for a bit of exercise. The Torre degli Asinelli at 99 metres, is the tallest medieval tower in Bologna. After trudging up hundreds of steps you'll enjoy an amazing view over the roofs and beyond the hills surrounding Bologna.
Then, if you are not too exhausted, you can try to climb the San Luca hill, to see the Basilica di San Luca, the home of the Holy Mary of Bologna. This church is one of the symbols of the city.
But it's not only a sacred city. Bologna is also the gay capital of Italy. Here, in 1982, the mayor gave the gay community an old building, Porta Saragozza, which became the seat of the Arcigay association.
Now, the gay headquarters are in another building, the Salara. And here you can find a library, an archive, consultants, activists and also a nightclub. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the most crowded evenings so it's a great opportunity to rub shoulders with the locals if you're there on the weekend. But everyday there’s something to do.
On a Sunday morning, Bologna is stunning. A walk at Giardini Margherita – the biggest park in the city – is the best way to start the day. There's a lake with a little island, bars and a lot of nature. Here you can find real bolognesi (Bologna’s citizens) running and sweating.
After the delights of the fresh air, it’s time for culture. You can head to one of the city's many museums. The Pinacoteca Nazionale is home to the treasures of Bologna’s artistic movement.
Paintings from the medieval era and the Renaissance make you feel like in London’s National Gallery or in the French Louvre.
If you are more into modern art, you can head to Mambo, Museo di Arte Moderna di Bologna. The last century is represented in every aspect and the museum is at the center of the Polo della Comunicazione, where you can find a lot of cultural institutions.
After that, if you are not tired, it’s time for the Museo Archeologico, one of the best archeological museums in Italy: treasures from Egypt, from Rome, from the Etruscan area and from the Emilia-Romagna region (where Bologna is).
After a bolognese lunch, it’s time for the sea. A one-hour trip by train and you can visit Rimini, one of the touristic capitals of Italy. Its golden beach, fish restaurants, medieval castle, historic center and Grand Hotel (where Italian film director Federico Fellini used to stay) make you feel like you're in heaven.
Rimini is also home to the best Italian clubs. So, you can spend the night dancing and meeting people. Culture, food, but not only. Italy, sometimes, is fun as well.
Where to stay
Bologna Art Hotels: a little chain of four hotels, surrounding the main square, Piazza Maggiore. Doubles from €129 ($167).
Hotel Il Guercino. A gay-friendly hotel, near the central station. Doubles from €70 euros ($90).
Where to eat
Bologna’s airport is an international hub with direct flights from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Bologna’s central station is in the historic center. Direct trains come here from Paris, Vienna and Munich.