Exploring the red brick alleys of Bologna

The Grand Hotel Majestic is a grand old dame in the beating heart of Bologna.

December 26, 2016

It seems that everywhere you turn in Bologna you’re faced with red bricks. The city is a beautiful tangle of small streets and squares that are made from faded, crumbling red brick that looks both and elegant and rustic at the same time.

This vibrant Italian city is famous for its 40km of porticos, covered archways that stretch along avenues under which sit boutiques and cafes. It doesn’t take much imagination to create a mental picture of what the city was like hundreds of years ago. Now a bustling town of tourists and students – Bologna is the oldest university town in Europe – this is a place ideal for walking and getting lost.

Embedded in these streets is the Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni, a historic landmark on an ancient Roman road, Via Indipendenza, just a few minutes from Bologna’s famous due torri, or two towers, that stretch into the sky and, quite frankly, look like they could topple over at any moment. 

The only five star hotel in the city, the Grand Hotel Majestic is in a building that was originally an Archbishop’s seminary in 1812 and has many surviving features from that period. It’s part of the Leading Hotels of the World group and has been a hotel for more than a hundred years and history is present in every painting, marble floor and corridor. After a morning of sightseeing, the hotel’s several terraces offer some peace, scented by jasmine flowers that creep around trellises.

Among its 109 rooms and suites, many of which have balconies that overlook the city’s red tiled roofs, is the two-bedroom Art Deco terrace suite which is the only room on the fifth floor and has a private lift. The lobby and staircase that lead to the rooms are grand, with pieces of antique furniture scattered throughout. Even the room key is an impressive hunk of brass from a bygone age. But most striking is the piece of Roman road – about three square metres in size – from 287 BC that has been preserved in the hotel’s basement and can be visited by guests. 

Nicknamed la ghiotta (the fat one) Bologna is a place to eat. The Grand Hotel Majestic’s restaurant I Carracci serves all the regional classics of the Emilia-Romagna region such as tortellini, tagliatelle and lasagna, in a dining room surrounded by 16th century frescoes. The hotel has a wine shop, Enoteca Morandi, that organises tasting classes of balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese. Any foodies should head straight for the medieval market in the city centre that is crammed with small restaurants serving wooden boards of cold meat, bread and cheese. Aperitivo from about 6pm is an Italian ritual that must not be missed as complimentary snacks are served alongside your pre-dinner drink. 

It was in this maze of streets that EDGAR witnessed this very Italian moment. A tiny Fiat crept carefully down an alley with only inches to spare on either side, causing consternation and hand-waving from pedestrians. A customer in a bar had paid his bill and was waiting for the waiter to return his change. Prevented from tending to his customer by the Fiat that blocked the door of the restaurant, the waiter called to the waiting man and flicked his coin of change over the roof of the car with a cheerful ‘ciao’.

Away from the numerous and delicious eating opportunities in the city, the concierge at the Grand Hotel Majestic can also arrange nearby test drives in a sports car. Well, it would be remiss to come to Italy’s ‘motor valley’ – home of Lamborghini, Ferrari, Ducati, Maserati and Pagani – and not open the throttle. But for entertainment at a much slower pace, just put on some comfortable shoes and wander the red bricked streets of this lovely old town.