Travellers aboard Uniworld’s Venice and the gems of Northern Italy river cruise could be mistaken for thinking it’s all cruise and mostly river.
But that’s not the case, as day three’s serendipitous adventures prove with an hour-and-a-half bus ride to the landlocked city of Bologna, home to among other notable things, its signature dish, bolognese sauce.
It’s a captivating Renaissance-era walled city with a massive public piazza and a mandatory cathedral (San Petronio Basilica). Then there’s the ominously leaning 1000-year-old Two Towers that are testament to the city’s shifting soils and, arguably, shonky building permits.
Plus – driving enthusiasts take note – the city is also home to motoring royalty, with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati all headquartered in very close proximity.
Bologna is that perfect tourist mix – it’s Instagram pretty, with friendly locals (although that can’t be said of the slightly surly staff in the tourist office) and it’s true foodie heaven.
The locals pride themselves on the region’s culinary gems, namely bolognese sauce, lasagna, parma ham, parmesan cheese and real-McCoy balsamic vinegar (that sells for as much as $300 a bottle). Unsurprisingly, Bologna also wears the unofficial title of City of the Fat.
Bologna’s entire heart is dedicated to the most wonderful shops and restaurants plying the local fare. It’s like walking through those Italian movies from the 60s my mother used to watch. So if you happen by the place, wear loose pants and plan a possible trip to Jenny Craig upon your return.
The highlight of my day visit (the place really needs two to three days to really savour it) was the 100-metre climb up the Two Towers, the Basilica and the rather macabre Anatomical Theatre. Part of the neighbouring university, its where they first started cutting up cadavers to understand the human body and where Michelangelo is said to have visited to get inspiration for many of his artworks.
But Bologna is all about food and lunch is catered for with a pasta-making demonstration (and subsequent devouring of said demonstration) at the nearby Cantina Bentivoglio, a classic Bologna restaurant where it appears only the vino is revered more than the bolognese.
With stomach and senses full, it’s a sad adieu to the wonderful Bologna and back to the waiting River Countess, moored on the River Po.
And if there was any downside to the day, my overzealous consumption of the Cantina Bentivoglio’s culinary finery means there’s little room for the River Countess’ chef’s offerings that evening, save me snapping a belt.