After a quick morning flight from London to Bologna and a smooth taxi ride from the Bologna airport, we found ourselves on Good Friday morning arriving at the front door of the Grand Hotel Majestic “già Baglioni”, where the friendly, attentive staff was right there at curbside to take our bags off our hands as we proceeded into the beautifully welcoming lobby for check-in.
Most notable upon our arrival at the Front Desk were the friendly faces ready to greet us and welcome us to our home in Bologna. Also ready and at our disposal were the members of the extremely knowledgeable and helpful concierge staff with their recommendations of sights to see and restaurants to try, but also their questions of what we, personally, wanted to see and were looking forward to experiencing in Bologna. Theirs was an intention not just to produce a generic “must see” list, but rather an attitude of curating the list according to our wants and curiosities, which was a hallmark of the highly-talented and personable concierge staff across all of the Duetorrihotels we visited.
Upon completion of check-in, we were led to our beautiful fourth floor Junior Suite, decorated in an 18th-century classical French design with a balcony that overlooked the main street – Via dell’Indipendenza – affording views of the nearby Piazza Maggiore and Cattedrale di San Pietro, directly across the street from the hotel (you can see its beloved statues looking down on our room in the photo below). What a pleasure it was to have this balcony on which to relax and spend some time in the mornings before heading out and in the evenings before turning in for the night.
After settling into our room – which invited a bit of comfortable rest after our early morning flight with its luxurious bedding and amenities – it was time to head out into this city whose energy was already bidding us “explore”.
The location of the Grand Hotel Majestic “già Baglioni” directly on Via dell’Indipendenza finds you within easy walking distance of all of the most well-known and historical landmarks, restaurants, shops and street merchants in the city (not to mention all of the interesting, café-ridden side streets that you will encounter along the way). In fact, your tour of historic Bologna begins the minute you step foot out of the front door of the hotel as you find yourself under one of the most unique architectural features of the city of Bologna – its miles of porticos. Built during the Middle Ages as an increasing number of students arrived in the city to attend what is now the oldest university in the world, the porticos are said to have been added as a way to extend the living space of the upper floors, and they also served as an outdoor workroom for the artisans of the shops below. They remain a most beautiful and welcomed bonus to tourists and locals today, should you find yourself seeking relief from wet weather or hot sun while strolling the city. Even on the most beautiful of days, though, they are a visual delight and a defining architectural mark of the city of Bologna.
A short stroll from the front door of the hotel finds you at the very center, or heart, of Bologna – Piazza Maggiore – where you are immediately greeted by Fontana del Nettuno (or Neptune’s Fountain). Many important buildings sit on this Piazza, mostly notably the Basilica di San Petronio (named in honor of the city’s patron saint and with great historical significance), and Due Torri (or the two towers) is a short walk away.
|The Piazza is also the departure point for a variety of bus tours of the city, as well as the San Luca Express, a charming city “train” that takes you through the hills of Bologna to the beautiful Basilica di San Luca and its stunning views of the city below.|
Shoppers will also appreciate the many local artisans selling their wares nearby the Piazza, as well as the many small boutiques that line the nearby streets (my daughter and I particularly enjoyed shopping the jewelry tables of the outdoor vendors and came home with a few lovely pieces courtesy of the local artisans).
This was our first visit to Bologna, and we fell in love with this city. Since it happened that our visit fell over Easter weekend, we were able to experience the holiday from the perspective of the Bolognesi, which was a very special experience, indeed. Our location directly across the street from Cattedrale di San Pietro allowed us the opportunity to not only spend time in the beautiful cathedral on Good Friday afternoon after our arrival, but also in the evening before returning to our hotel for some quiet, prayerful, contemplative time alongside the locals before the cathedral’s doors were closed for the night.
A big part of the joy of traveling around Bologna for me was simply wandering around the streets. Allow yourself time for wandering and for stopping along the way would be my advice. You won’t be alone, there are lots of others doing it as well. Whether with a gelato on the steps of Basilica di Petronio with street performers at every corner of the square, at an outdoor table at any of the intimate cafés along the way, or on any random bench you may pass in your travels – it’s a city that welcomes stopping and people-watching and just taking in the essence of the place.
It was these kinds of experiences that I recall the most about our stay in Bologna – the way the city invites you to immerse yourself in its culture, and, before you know it, you have become one with its rhythm and energy.
All in all, we loved the overall vibe of Bologna – open, warm, welcoming, artistic, free, expressive, relaxed and energetic all at the same time.
It is a city that engages all of the senses:
In the artistic visual beauty at every turn – from the architecture of the buildings and porticos that line the city streets, to the artwork inside of those beautiful buildings and churches.
In the diverse and engaging sounds of the city – street performers of all kinds – classical trios to electric guitars to tubas – we heard and enjoyed them all!
In the scents of the city – the food you smell as you walk through the streets and pass all the diners eating “al fresco”.
In the raw textures – the marble, the stone, the metal, the brick.
And last, but certainly not least, in the tastes. Oh, the tastes!
Bologna is a city of food – as the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna has access to great products (like Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Mortadella, Balsamic di Modena). Couple that with a great attention to, and appreciation of, the use of these products in simple recipes, many along with fresh egg-based pasta, and you end up with a depth and purity of flavor that is quintessentially Bolognese.
While on the topic of food, the Grand Hotel Majestic’s very own I Carracci gourmet restaurant allows for a unique dining experience and is not to be missed. Offering a traditional Bolognese menu in addition to innovative cuisine, the restaurant is a museum and sightseeing experience in and of itself with its fifteenth-century frescoes of the school of the Carracci brothers.
As mentioned earlier, the hotel’s location is ideal for visiting the city’s sights, but also worth noting is that it is within walking distance of the train station as well – one of Italy’s main transportation hubs: Bologna Centrale – a point from which you can travel from and to a multitude of other Italian cities via traditional and high speed trains. We took advantage of this proximity and took a day trip to Venice on Easter Sunday. In a little over 1 hour 20 mins. time we were arriving in Venice’s Santa Lucia Station with this view to greet us upon our exit from the station:
There are a multitude of other, even closer, options for day trips from Bologna Centrale rail station (Florence, for instance, is just a short 30 min. train ride away), and the launch of American Airlines’ direct flight from Philadelphia to Bologna this summer, coupled with the many destination options available via high-speed train from Bologna Centrale, will open up a world of possibilities for easily combining stays in multiple Italian cities.
We traveled from city to city in Italy via Frecciarossa high-speed trains, which I booked online several weeks in advance through the Italiarail website, and I found the travel and the service aboard the trains to be consistently comfortable and accommodating. Also noteworthy is that when booking the tickets in advance online, I received complimentary upgrades to Business or First class in every instance, which I was not expecting, but which was a nice surprise.
It is also worth noting that the concierge staff at Grand Hotel Majestic can arrange for day trips, ½ day trips, or mini-excursions to nearby destinations, and the hotel has numerous exclusive proposals on offer including excursions to nearby FICO Eataly World, golf outings, shopping tours, wine and food tastings, day trips to the Italian Motor Valley (Ducati, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Pagani), even an opportunity to race on the track with a Ferrari F458 Race Challenge! (Advance notice is, of course, recommended.)
As our time in Bologna was drawing to a close, it was time to head back to Bologna Centrale rail station for our 30 min. train ride to Florence. As I look back on our time in Bologna before departing for Florence and consider what I most take away from our time here – one word to summarize what I will remember most about this city – it is the JOY of Bologna.
All of those characteristics I mentioned earlier: the openness, the warmth, the welcoming, artistic, free, expressive, relaxed and energetic nature…for me they all added up to a certain sense of joy that I take with me as we continue on to our next stop…Florence.