Who doesn’t like value for money? I know I do. Finding a good quality three star hotel is like searching for a needle in a haystack. In my experience, many independent hotels (except for the ones associated with a reputable brand like Small Luxury Hotels) are generously allocated their star rating. We don’t tend to stay at three star hotels because they tend to run towards the quality of a two stars establishment. It is really remarkable to find a 3 star hotel which could in effect be a four star hotel. I was really delighted to find Hotel Touring in Bologna in Italy is one of those rare gems.
Why I Loved Hotel Touring in Bologna
Hotel Touring is located right near the historic centre of Bologna. It is on a quiet side street located near two landmarks in the city. On one side, you have the Courts of Justice housed in the majestic Palacio Baciocchi (formerly the home of a prince married to Napoleon’s sister). On the other side, you have Piazza San Domenico with the Basilica San Domenico, one of the most beautiful and historic churches in the city.
The historic part of Bologna has traffic restrictions which make it perfect for walking. You lose track of time while you wander around admiring the beautiful architecture. At the end of the day when your feet are about to drop off, it’s simply heavenly to realise that you don’t have very far to walk to get back to your hotel.
Tip: For a delicious pick-me-up, Caffe Zanarini, for great coffee, chocolate and snacks is located on the corner of the Archignassio building. I also found the cafe a perfect place for people-watching.
Most of the rooms have been recently refurbished. The interior decor is a harmonious marriage of modern furnishings in a historic setting. Each room has tea and coffee making facilities as well as a flat-screen TV. The bathrooms are also sleek and contemporary with ultramodern rain showers.
Some of the newly refurbished rooms at the Hotel Touring.
The free WiFi was excellent.
Tip: Make sure you get one of the refurbished rooms. Ask for a room in the back of the hotel. They have terraces some of which are quite large. Just think: You can sit in the comfort of your own terrace sipping wine on a balmy summer evening. The higher floors have better views obviously.
Hotel Touring is a small hotel which has been in the same family for 50+ years. The family take pride in their hotel and rightfully so.
As a small family-run establishment, they are open to catering to individual needs. For example, the hotel driver, Giacomo Colombo, told us about Touring in Love where you can rent the rooftop for private use. The hotel will set up a special dinner and, occasionally, Giacomo is called on to whisk an unsuspecting partner to the hotel in his car for a very nice afternoon surprise. Doesn’t that sound just dreamy??
The Hotel Touring has 5 family rooms made from 2 regular size rooms connected together. These rooms are in the back of the hotel and they have a small terrace overlooking the nearby rooftops. They have a double bed as well as a sofa bed which can sleep 1-2 children.
A single bedroom which can come in handy for an accompanying nanny or grandparent.
In addition, the courtyard on the ground floor has 2 suites. They have a private courtyard themselves. One of the suites has a kitchenette. The two suites are next to each other so they would be ideal for two families travelling together.
The courtyard for the suites.
Tip: I did a quick check at a booking website and it did not let allow me to reserve one room with 2 adults and 2 children. I know from having spoken to the owner, Manuela Stagni, that they definitely do have family rooms available to rent irrespective of what the booking portal says.
Even if you don’t have one of the top-floor rooms with a view, the rooftop terrace is open to all guests. During the summer months, there is a hot tub available for guest use. The roof terrace has a retractable awning for protection from the searing summer heat. Space heaters and shades allow the use of the rooftop well into the winter nights.
Evening in Bologna with the Basilica di Lucca in the distance.
Bologna rooftops at dusk.
Night falls over the rooftops of Bologna
Bologna’s famous medieval twin towers lit up at night.
I went to the rooftop every evening. I could not get enough of the view because it was the perfect way to end the day. As the clouds and light changed, the view felt fresh and different every time. And, yes, the WiFi signal worked on the roof terrace.
Nightcaps on the roof terrace
Tip: Ask for reception to bring you a bottle of wine and nibbles up to the roof terrace for a civilised pre-dinner drink.
Visiting Hotel Touring in Bologna
You can book directly with Hotel Touring through their website. The website is available in English as well as a host of other languages. Hotel rates range from $80 to $325/night which includes a continental buffet breakfast.
Tip: If you book directly with Hotel Touring and mention this post, you will receive a 15% discount on their rack rates.
I visited Hotel Touring in Bologna with my friend Rachel of Rachel’s Ruminations. She had received a complimentary room for two nights for review purposes from Hotel Touring. We paid for our room for the third night of our stay. My views and opinions on this review are completely my own and are in no way influenced by the partnership with Hotel Touring.
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“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Isaac Newton (1676)
This expression is even older than Newton himself even though he was the first to popularise it in the English language. This phrase came to mind when I visited the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio in Bologna Italy. The Archignassio was the main building of the University of Bologna from the 16th until the 19th century.
The University of Bologna, itself, is the oldest university in the world having been founded in 1088. To keep this in perspective, remember the Normans had just conquered England in 1066. While they were busy glorifying war in the Bayeux Tapestry, the inhabitants of Bologna were interested in law and art. The Archignassio was built to create a central place for students to study these diverse disciplines because previously they were scattered in buildings throughout the city.
The Archignassio is one of the most important buildings in Bologna and for good reason. When you visit the historical centre of the city, buildings like the Archignassio, really do make you feel like you are stepping back in time.
Built around an internal courtyard on two floors, the building which houses the Archignassio is pretty spectacular visually. Think columns, arches, frescoes and grand staircases – all with a less is more attitude.
Built at the request of Pope Pius IV by the pope’s nephew, the magnificence of the building came at the cost of the interiors of the nearby Basilica di San Petronio from which funds were diverted. You would think the Pope would want the Basilica decorated instead. Actually, he had bigger plans. Constructing a centralised university for Bologna was part of the Pope’s plan to get a firm grip on Bologna’s cultural and social life.
The grand portico in the courtyard.
The walls and ceilings are covered with the coats of arms of previous professors and students. There are 7000 such coats of arms from all over Europe. It was a considerable honour to be allowed to put your coat of arms on the wall. Of course, every student had a court of arms because in those days only wealthy young men were allowed to study.
All the heraldic symbols on the walls.
If you got an inscription as well then you were a really big deal in your field. So many of the inscriptions were faded with time. Yet each of these people were important enough to have contributed something that warranted their inclusion on the building. I was struck that the knowledge we have today is the end result of the live’s work of so many people with so many incremental contributions to their fields.
An ode to a long-deceased professor.
There are two ornate staircases leading up to the classrooms. Each discipline had a great hall. The great hall for the lawyers is available to visit but the great hall for the artists is a reading room in the library.
One of the grand staircases off the internal courtyard.
The building, especially the Anatomy Theatre, was badly damaged during World War II and has since been restored. You can see photos of the damage pre-restoration at the Archignassio.
You can see the restoration work in progress.
In the mid-19th Century, a part of the Archignassio was made into a library. Today the public library portion contains about 800,000 books and pamphlets, 12,000 manuscripts etc. From the sixteenth century alone, the library has about 15,000 books alone.
The library holds many important books of historical, literary, philosophical etc. significance. You need to have identification and fill out paperwork to enter and no photos are allowed inside the library. As a mere Looky-Lou, I didn’t get to go inside the library.
The Anatomy Theatre
Built like an amphitheatre from Roman times, the Anatomy Theatre dates from 1637. Instead of lions tearing up Christians in the middle of the room, the spectacle on display would have been the dissections taking place on top of a marble-topped table. The bodies were obtained from a local hospital so that the students could learn about surgery and anatomy. It was very much hands-on learning!
The whole anatomy theatre is wood-panelled and decorated to an inch of its life. What’s not decorated are the benches with very straight backs and tiny little seats. My 21st century bottom was not comfortable at all for the brief period of time I sat. Apparently the benches are deliberately uncomfortable in order to keep the medical students attentive. Although I think you have to be pretty jaded to fall asleep with a cadaver being sliced and diced in front of you.
The professor’s seat was very ornate. Although it looked far more comfortable for seating, it had a wooden canopy held up by two statues of naked and skinless men. Not the prettiest of statues unless, of course, you are really into something like Body Worlds, that travelling exhibit about the skinless human body. Similar to Body Worlds, the skinless statues blur the lines between the human body, art and science.
One of the famous skinless statues.
It has to be noted that human body dissections were not as common as animal dissections. A delegate from the Roman Catholic Church’s Inquisition had to be present when human bodies were dissected so as to prevent anything too offensive (whatever that meant!).
You get to see the gore up close.
The other statues are of famous doctors, Hippocrates and Galen, the most famous physicians of Greece and Rome, respectively. Another statute pays homage to Gaspare Tagliacozzi, a Bologna native and professor at the Archignassio. Tagliacozzi pioneered plastic surgery in the 16th Century (specifically, nose jobs). Check out all these celebrities with nose jobs who have Tagliacozzi to thank for their cute new noses.
In a building like this, you know the ceiling was going to be heavily decorated. The ceiling decorations refer to Apollo, the Greek god of medicine. He is surrounded by stars because in ancient times, astrology and medicine were interconnected. For example, you checked the stars for the best time before you undertook surgery or took medicine. Considering the state of medicine in those times, I’d have prayed to the gods too.
Apollo in the sky with diamonds (ok technically stars).
The Stabat Mater Hall
The Stabat Mater Hall was originally meant for the lawyers. The grand classroom is part of the ticket that lets you visit the Anatomy Theatre. Its walls are covered with the coats of arms of important students and visitors. The room is named after Rossini’s Stabat Mater which was first performed in Italy in this hall.
Bookcases lining the wall of the classroom.
Some of the hundreds of thousands of books.
Visiting the Archignassio
Located near the Plaza Maggiore behind San Petronio, the building entrance is along one of the beautiful colonnades of Bologna.
The official address is the Piazza Galvani. The Palace courtyard and library are open to the public free of charge. The AnatomyTheatre and the Stabat Mater Hall are available to view for a joint ticket costing 3 Euros. Children under 18 are admitted for free.
I did not specifically mention the Archignassio in my post on things to do with children in Bologna. I think it would be fascinating for kids who are interested in a career in medicine. Even for younger children, the building is pretty and not a long visit if the rest of the family want to have a peek.
I was a little surprised when I heard our hotel concierge at Hotel Touring say that Bologna is not considered a particularly child-friendly city for tourism. Lots of families from the north of Italy pass through the town in the summer though on their way to the beaches and countryside of the south of Italy. Granted the cobblestones are not great for toddlers or baby buggies, but I think Bologna is great for visiting older children. Here are 5 reasons I think visiting Bologna with kids would be a great family city destination.
Compact City Center
The historical city center is beautifully preserved, fairly compact and easily navigable. Parts of the city center are also pedestrianised including a charming area that used to be the medieval market. Children would have some independence without parents constantly having to be on guard against traffic.
There are miles of colonnades great for browsing.
In addition, the 24 miles of colonnades in the historical centre are covered which is great for walking without being directly under the summer sun.
The beautiful colonnades are a pleasure in themselves.
The Need for Speed
Your speed-loving children will love the factory visits to several giants of the Italian automative industry in the area. You are able to visit the factories and museums of Ducati, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati which are all within easy reach of Bologna.
For speed-loving adults and teens with a license, you can take a Ferrari for a test drive. I heard from Giacomo, our driver, that the accompanying Ferrari sales staff tend to be young, beautiful and blonde so that you can briefly pretend you really are a Master of the Universe.
Bologna has been nicknamed The Fat One for its love of good food. Eating in this city is a pleasure for both adults and children. Thanks to its location in a fertile valley, the city has access to all sorts of meats and cheeses, especially prosciutto and parmesan.
There are so many types of dishes such as pasta, lasagne and meatballs available. I had no idea all the different ways you can cure a leg of ham!! It is especially famous for tagliatelle with a ragu sauce (which became Bolognese sauce elsewhere in the world).
And, no you don’t have it with spaghetti which is a Southern Italian pasta. Unlike the rest of the world which throws whatever pasta together with whatever sauce is at hand, Italians pair specific types of pasta with specific sauces. Who knew??
The traditional tortellini with ragu sauce and parmesan.
Bologna also takes its gelato seriously which, of course, I whole-heartedly support. What could be better to coax away any grumps?
Most restaurants also closed between lunch and dinner. After all that walking and eating, I think an afternoon nap would be very civilised.
Come back for dinner at 6:30!
Closely related to food, the city’s cafes are great for people watching. In fact, Italy takes sitting in a café watching the world go by almost to Olympic sport levels.
Comfy seats which are great for people watching.
On the weekend, Plaza Maggiore and the pedestrianized streets attract lots of talented buskers, musicians and artists. I’m sure many of them are drawn from the city’s large student population courtesy of the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university founded in 1088. They had that hungry but happy graduate student look about them, their faces unlined from the stresses of the daily grind.
In 2006 Bologna was designated a UNESCO city of music. Check out this duo called Bucket Busters who make percussion with ordinary home tools seem easy. The show they put on is very similar to Stomp who appear on Broadway and the West End.
Interesting Historical Monuments
In the Middle Ages, Bologna had about 180 towers belonging to churches, noble family homes etc. Historically the nobles had a habit of falling out with each other and causing bloodshed. It probably helped then to have a really tall tower to peer out over your neighbour’s garden wall.
Today only about 20 towers remain but that should be more than enough. I climbed the 498 steps of the Asinelli and I was good and tired. Most children love to climb towers and peer out from the top. And, what should be the reward for such exercise? Gelato, of course.
I can’t believe I climbed the 498 steps of that big tower!
Below the city’s main public library, the Sala Borsa, archeologists have found the ruins of Roman buildings circa 200 AD. It’s free to enter the ruins and have a walk around. The Sala Borsa itself is a beautiful building. It’s kind of cool to think that you are literally walking over history.
The basilica of San Luca perches on a hill overlooking the town. It is famous for having a icon of the Madonna and child which has been attributed to Luke the Evangelist (the same man who wrote the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament).
A beautiful view of the basilica di San Lucca from the rooftop terrace of Hotel Touring
You can walk under a colonnade all the way up to the church like pilgrims used to do in days of old. It’s a long way uphill (4.7 miles) but pilgrims liked to partake in a bit of suffering. Nowadays, there is the charming little red train that does regular daily round-trips from Plaza Maggiore to San Luca. My kids would want to visit San Luca just to ride in the cute train!
Does this little train not look like The Little Engine That Could?!
Info for Visiting Bologna with Kids
Bologna is located in the Po valley, a very wealthy area of Italy. Flights, to and from Bologna, are frequent and inexpensive. The airport, Marconi International Airport, is one of the busiest in Italy. Also due to its great location, the city has a train station which is an important hub to other major locations in Italy. For example, one of the other tourists I met had arrived in Bologna via a short train ride from Florence. I hope you’ll agree that visiting Bologna with kids would be a very easy city break destination.
I stayed at Hotel Touring which is very centrally located near the medieval city centre. A small, family-run hotel, the hotel provides contemporary accommodation in a historical setting. I believe the only reason it is not a 4 star hotel is because it is missing some of the amenities required of one, such as a pool. Hotel Touring has 5 large rooms that can accommodate families with a sofa bed and a terrace. In addition, there are 2 suites, one of which has a kitchenette, and each with their own little private courtyard.
If you don’t feel like driving to the car factories, you can arrange transportation through the fabulous driver I used. His name is Giacomo Colombo and he can be reached via his website. He also can arrange private transportation for families. He has carseats and an 8 seater minivan. His rates are reasonable starting at €25/hour for the first two hours, and €20/hour for transportation exceeding two hours.
This post is linked with City Tripping.
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