Taking in the panoramic vistas of beautiful Bologna, the phrase la dolce vita (“the sweet life”) springs to mind. Foodies flock to northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, of which Bologna is the capital, for its rich Bolognese and mortadella sausage washed down with sangiovese wine. The mediaeval Mercato di Mezzo even features street signs denoting the food on offer, such as Vicolo dei Ranocchi, Alley of the Frogs!
The terracotta-tinged city is also a magnet for history buffs thanks to its leaning towers and centuries-old porticos, which are now on UNESCO’s World Heritage list – not to mention the oldest university in the world.
It might not attract the tourist numbers of Florence, Tuscany, Rome and Venice, but its fascinating culture, architecture and nightlife make it a must-visit.
A luxury stay
About 14 miles away from Bologna lies Palazzo Di Varignana, a deluxe resort and spa nestled in the Bolognese hills above the town from which it takes its name. Offering 300 hectares of vineyards, orchards and olive groves, where it produces artisan wine on tap and extra-virgin olive oil, this Italian gem is heaven on earth.
Guests choose from breathtaking private villas or modern suites, each within striking distance of the five-star resort’s winding wellness trails, where you’ll discover blooming gardens, seven outdoor swimming pools, a driving range, squash and tennis courts and a putting green. Every experience here is the height of luxury, but it’s friendly and far from pretentious.
Time to relax
Palazzo Di Varignana has an impressive spa with a Turkish bath, Finnish sauna and every massage, facial and body treatment you can think of.
I was treated to the signature olive oil ritual massage (from £75 for 50 minutes). My therapist Rene used smooth brushstrokes and arm motions to help the oil absorb into my skin. An hour later, every niggle and knot was released and I was left in a state of pure bliss.
Guests at Palazzo Di Varignana can tuck into a tasty spread of continental treats at breakfast time, from crispy prosciutto to cold meats and cheeses. For a quick snack, the Naama Cafe – a Turkish bakery in Bologna – is perfect for spiced sweets and pistachio pastries.
Back at the resort, there are three tempting eateries serving local dishes, such as Bolognese cutlet and fresh tortellini infused with home-grown extra-virgin olive oil. One evening, a charming waiter who looked like George Clooney recommended the tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad starter. I was presented with a whole cheese. No complaints here!
What to see
Once you’ve soaked up Bologna’s delights, including the unfinished Basilica of San Petronio and the MAMbo Modern Art Museum, explore the colourful medieval town of Dozza. This hilltop haven has cobbled streets, an ancient fortress with a mythical dragon inside and one of Italy’s best enotecas (wine shops). We explored the winding lanes to check out the colourful murals on almost every building.
A wine tour of the region is a must, too. We visited our resort’s own winery, which produces sangiovese superiore (made of only sangiovese grapes), pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling brut, along with the nest extra-virgin olive oil. Experts taught us the real way to taste the oil, coating our lips and allowing it to sit on our taste buds to experience the bitterness, spice and fruity elements. The oil and wine can be purchased at the shop. You’ll never want to buy the supermarket stuff again.
How to book
Palazzo di Varignana offers rooms from £205 per night, based on two adults sharing on a B&B basis. Easyjet offers flights from London Gatwick to Bologna from £29.99.
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