There are heaps of great things about living in the UAE, but for me, one of the best things of all is the ability to be able to travel to so many places so easily and so quickly. After a relaxing beach break earlier in the year, I was keen to take in some history and culture this time, and so decided that with Milan only six hours away with Etihad, Italy would be a great idea for a few days away from the sand.
I’ve had the good fortune to visit Milan, Florence and Rome previously, and after having read an article about the lesser known Bologna earlier this year, I decided it sounded like the perfect place – a medieval town filled with history and culture, great food and with September being out of the main tourist season, hopefully not too busy and still with some good weather too.
The medieval city of Bologna is the capital of Italy’s Emilia Romagna region – a city renowned for history, towers, churches, porticoes, the oldest University in the world and possibly above all – food. Anyone who knows anything about Italy knows that the country take their food very seriously… so for Bologna to claim to be home to the ‘best food in Italy’ is a serious statement.
Venice is not the only Italian city with a claim on canals as main arteries of the city. In fact, many Italian cities once relied on canals as the main mode of transportation and movement of goods – Bologna was one of these cities, though now most of these canals have been filled in or covered over – the photo above shows one of the few remaining visible canals in the city.
But enough of the history, back to the food. The Quadrilatero district of Bologna is a maze of narrow streets housing numerous traders specialising in all things food – and of the finest quality, from fish, bread, cheese, pasta, fruit and vegetables and more.
The region of Emilia Romagna is also not just famous for any old food, oh no – it’s home to Parma for the much loved Parma ham, Modena for the famous Balsamico Modena (balsamic vinegar) and of course Parmigiana Reggiano Parmesan cheese.
Traditional specialties of the region include:
So it turns out there’s Tortelloni and Tortellini, both which are quite different – who knew?! Both are made from filled pasta but Tortelloni is bigger in size and filled with milder flavours such as cheese, whereas Tortellini are much smaller in size and are filled with meat, and often served in broth.
In the above pictures you may notice a theme emerging… ragu – or traditional meat sauce which originated in Bologna. The sauce itself is quite different to what most of us know as Bolognese sauce, which tends to be a heavily tomato based meat sauce – authentic Italian ragu has much more focus on the flavours and textures of the meat and far less emphasis on the tomato content, though a very small amount of tomato concentrate is still used.
Of course Italy is also famous for gelato, and try some I did. Amazing stuff and again, totally different to the type of ice cream we are used to. Such an amazing soft and creamy texture… Italian gelato is one thing to be sure not to miss on your next trip to the country.
After a few days meandering the historical streets and eating our way around Bologna, we headed back to Milan and had a day to enjoy the sunshine in the city and take in a few of the sights, most notably the Duomo (cathedral) and of course the infamous shopping districts.
One final foody foray was of course required – it wouldn’t have been right to have left Italy without sampling a pizza! Since the one thing Bologna is not known for is pizza, and the Milanese are fond fans, I managed to get one in before we left Milan. Yum.
Etihad flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Milan and more recently, also to Rome – so all corners of Italy are closer for us UAE residents to explore than ever before. Around a six hour flight from the UAE, it’s still classed as short haul and if you take an overnight flight you don’t waste any precious holiday daylight hours, so it’s perfect for making the most of a long weekend away.