Those of you who come here often, know that I'm a fan of food tours. While I don't like going on regular tours, I love how food tours let me discover local eateries I wouldn't have entered myself and teach me about the local food scene.
Needless to say, I went on the hunt for another food tour when I planned my trip to Bologna in Italy last month and with Taste Bologna, I found one.
From Italian coffee to gelato with a Taste Bologna food tour
We met our tour guide Sara on the Piazza Maggiore for a four-hour Bologna food tour and soon were accompanied by a lovely couple from the UK. They were about the same age as my friend Anja and I and we immediately hit it off, which only contributed to the good ambiance during the tour.
I loved how it was just four of us, plus Sara, as it felt more like we were walking around with a local (Sara is originally from Bologna) instead of being on an official tour. Then again, Taste Bologna caps its food tours at a maximum of eight people per group which I think is great.
The Taste Bologna website outlines pretty clearly what kind of stops are included in the tour, so I knew we'd have coffee somewhere, go to the market to buy lunch and have gelato. What I was mostly curious about were the kind of places we'd go to and the portions we'd get.
1. Why Italian coffee is culture
We started off with the most delicious coffee I ever had at a local gourmet coffee place. I won't divulge which places we went to exactly, as Sara managed to take us to a bunch of spots we'd simply walked past or hadn't stumbled upon ourselves yet while we'd already been walking around the city for two days.
Anyways, the coffee I had was the fior di Latte and it was like a tiny dessert, with the fior di latte at the bottom and a shot of espresso on top. Mixing everything together resulted in a combination of hot and cold, sweet and bitter and a better understanding of why Italians love their coffee so much.
2. How fresh pasta is made
Next, we went to this tiny local pasta shop where three old ladies were manually making fresh pasta. We made an attempt at folding tortellini, learned what the difference is between tortellini and tortelloni (ingredients and size!) and bought a rice cake for dessert.
3. Where all produce is local
It wasn't time for lunch yet, though, because we first headed to a marketplace where all the fresh produce sold carries a label telling you where the product's from. We stopped at a stand that sold beer brewed in Emiglia Romagna, the region Bologna is a part of, and tasted olive oil coming from a field right outside the city.
I also had truffle olive oil for the first time ever and let me tell you: if you've never tried it before, you really should. Such a pleasure for the taste buds!
4. Cheese, cured meats and bread
Our lunch would consist of a table filled with different Italian cured meats, cheeses and bread all bought from stores located in the market area behind the Piazza Maggiore. We didn't go for a picnic in the park, though. Sara had something more special for us in store.
She took us to a cafe that was founded in… the 15th century! That's right. It's a place we'd walked past before and that hadn't even looked like a cafe. A place full of history where you can only get wine and water and where you're allowed to bring your own lunch just as long as you order a drink. According to Sara, not even all locals know about this cafe.
While the others ordered some wine, I contented myself with a refreshing glass of water.
We spread out our meats, cheeses, and bread across the table and tried them all. While Sara had first been worried that she'd bought a bit too much, we proved her wrong with an appetite and curiosity for new foods that clearly amazed her.
My favorite bit? Drizzling a chunk of old Parmigiano Reggiano with balsamic vinegar and then taking a bite. Such a yummy experience.
We finished our lunch with the special rice cake we'd bought earlier, but that wasn't the real dessert yet…
6. Experience of real gelato
No self-respecting Italian food tour would let its guest go without a scoop (or two, three, four) of real gelato, right? So our last stop was at one of the (according to Sara) best local gelato places in the city which only sells completely artisanally made gelato.
There were a bunch of flavors to choose from, but according to Sara, the gelato bar was particularly proud of their crema, their pistaccio, their apple with cinnamon and their chocolate flavors. We'd get a taster of all four if we wanted. I'm not big on pistaccio (update a few years later: I am now!) so I traded that for lemon, but other than that I was curious to experiene the other flavors.
The chocolate was like melted fondant. It could not be beaten. The lemon was super refreshing and the crema was, well, creamy. The only flavor I wasn't a huge fan of, was the apple with cinnamon. It tasted a bit like apple sauce to me.
Our tour guide
I want to finish off by saying a little something about our guide Sara. She was wonderful in that she shared a ton of information with us, but always in bite-sized pieces and always sprinkled with fun facts.
During the four hours we spent together, the tour really was a dialogue between us four asking questions and sharing answering them and sharing information about the city and its culinary scene.
If you ever decide to visit Bologna – and you should – I can highly recommend doing a food tour with Taste Bologna.
Other Bologna food tours and culinary experiences
Looking for something a bit different? Check out these food experiennces in Bologna:
- Traditional Bolognese cooking class with a local cook
- Extensive 5-day cooking class with traditional balsami factory visit
- 3-hour secret culinary tour
Where to stay in Bologna
Boutique: Hotel University
We spent three nights at Hotel University, a bed and breakfast in the old center, within walking distance of the train station and all main sights.
Budget: Dopa Hostel
Dopa Hostel has mixed or single-sex dormitories all with a quirky design. It’s located only a ten-minute walk from the Cathedral and the central station is just a fifteen-minute walk away. Dorm beds come with a privacy curtain and rooms are spotlessly clean, with free WiFi throughout the building.
Chain: Mercure Bologna Centro
This Mercure hotel is ideal for those traveling by rail, as it’s situated directly opposite the main train station. It’s a clean, comfortable, air-conditioned option, and its highlight is a rather fabulous garden which is available for guests to lounge in. Free WiFi is provided.
Luxury: L'Isola di Alcina – Residenza d'Epoca – Luxury B&B
Just a few minutes walk from the Piazza Maggiore in the historic heart of Bologna is the stunning L’Isola di Alcina. Ornately decorated and with an authentic ambiance, this luxury Italian B&B is like stepping back in time. Rooms have high ceilings, marble pillars, rich wallpapers and opulent velvet upholstery. Free WiFi and bicycle rental is available here. The only risk is that you may not want to leave!
Apartment: Andrea Luxury Apartments Strada Maggiore Studio 1
This is a beautiful self-catering apartment in the center of the city. Andrea Luxury Apartment Studio 1 is spacious and bright, with immaculate contemporary furnishings. The kitchen is fully equipped and there is private parking available on site, as well as free WiFi and air-conditioning.
There are plenty more apartment options on offer on Airbnb. I normally use Booking to find hotels, and Airbnb if I’m specifically after an apartment as they have a great selection.
If you want to try Airbnb but don't have an account yet, you can get a discount on your first booking if you book through my link. This does not cost you anything.
If you’re already a member of Airbnb and found this post helpful, please consider booking your next apartment through my link. If you do this, I'll earn a small commission while the price for you is the same. Income like this means I can travel independently and create new content.
How to get to Bologna
We flew from Brussels Airport directly to Bologna and then took the Aerobus from the airport to the city center. You can buy tickets for the bus at the machines near the stop outside the airport terminal. The tickets are also valid on other public transportation in the city within 75 minutes of purchasing them.
Alternatively, you can travel by train to Bologna's train station which is located in the city center.
More information about Bologna
If you're looking for more in-depth information about Bologna, make sure to check out Bologna Living. It's where my Bologna-based friend Michael shares insights on everything that's going on in the city.
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I was invited on the Taste Bologna Classic tour. As always, all opinions expressed here are my own and the decision to eat all the things was entirely mine.