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An F1 fan's guide to Bologna and Ferrari's hometown Maranello

 (ES)
(ES)

The F1 season is about to get underway, and what a hotly talked about one it is. Not least thanks to the ongoing Christian Horner drama.

But away from Red Bull (based in Milton Keynes), now is the perfect time to visit Maranello, the hometown of Ferrari? And why not combine it with a trip to Emilia-Romagna’s capital, and all-round foodie hotspot Bologna?

Maranello is fantastic for a day out — an F1 fan’s dream — but there is much more to do in Bologna. It’s just a 50-minute drive away, and with direct flights there from London, it makes a perfect base for a long weekend of food and F1 sightseeing.

Here’s what we did on ours...

A day in Maranello

Our full day in Maranello was unarguably the pièce de résistance of our three-night trip.

It’s a small township very much centred around the brand. The Ferrari name can be seen emblazoned all over the place, and you can catch the occasional glimpse of a sleek red car whizzing through the streets (and Scuderia Ferrari drivers, if you’re lucky).

Bologna is famed for its red rooftops (ES)
Bologna is famed for its red rooftops (ES)

We started with lunch at Ferrari’s fine dining restaurant, Ristorante Cavallino. Inside it’s a bit like Architectural Digest meets a traditional roadside trattoria — all soft oak panelling and starched white tablecloths, met with (tasteful) Prancing Horse-patterned wallpaper and sleek Vico Magistretti chairs in unmistakable Ferrari red.

Our three-course meal was a celebration of local food — plenty of parmesan, balsamic vinegar, and tortellini. Particular highlights were pillowy olive oil-rich breads topped with fatty, melt-in-the-mouth ham, and the dessert – a red-coated semifreddo perfectly shaped like a tiny Ferrari. All accompanied, of course, by plenty of wine and Peroni Nastro Azzurro 0.0% (Ferrari’s new partner).

An adorable semifreddo shaped like a Ferrari, served at Ristorante Cavallino (ES)
An adorable semifreddo shaped like a Ferrari, served at Ristorante Cavallino (ES)

From here we nipped (waddled) across the road to the Ferrari store. One glimpse at a price tag and it’s clear this is no run-of-the-mill gift shop (though there is one of those attached to the museum). Ferrari has made a recent, very successful foray into fashion, and at this luxe shop you can buy a range of clothing from slinky dresses (£850) to leather jumpsuits (around £5,000). For the Ferrari devotee, there’s everything from Montblanc for Ferrari pens, to Puma for Ferrari trainers, and even Ferrari sunglasses at around £1,250 a pair.

The Ferrari Museum in Bologna (Peroni)
The Ferrari Museum in Bologna (Peroni)

After this it was to the main attraction — the Ferrari museum — located a few minutes’ walk away, just past the Ferrari factory.

Even those who aren’t fanatical about racing will enjoy a visit, to learn about Ferrari’s impressive history and gawp at the streamlined beauty of its cars.

Those on show are largely on loan from private owners, so the exact collection changes over time. When we visited there was everything from the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Spider – the first car to sport the iconic prancing horse back in 1932 – right through to the SF71H, the model Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen drove in the 2018 World Championship.

There were a range of vintage Ferraris on display at the museum (ES)
There were a range of vintage Ferraris on display at the museum (ES)

Along the way there were beautiful vintage racing models like a 1948 166 MM, with bucket seats in leather so buttery-looking it’s a miracle drivers didn’t slide clean out. There were also contemporary bespoke supercars, custom-made for mysterious loyal patrons.

Then there’s the trophy room, which features gongs won and helmets worn by famous Scuderia Ferrari drivers. It also features some of the latest F1 models side-by-side, showing the minute changes that go into making the cars more streamlined and aerodynamic year-on-year.

The trophy room (Peroni)
The trophy room (Peroni)

There are excellent guided tours, available in English, as well as impressive driving simulators.

Soak up the scenery

After a day in Maranello – which felt a little like Disneyland for F1 fans – it was time for a couple of lower-octane days of mooching around the more picturesque Bologna.

Bologna is everything one hopes for in an Italian city — aesthetically and otherwise. It’s known as ‘la dotta, la grassa, e la rossa’ – ‘the learned, the fat, and the red’ - for being home to the world’s oldest university, for its world-famous food, and for its beautiful red-tiled roofs.

Porticoes of Bologna (Peroni)
Porticoes of Bologna (Peroni)

At street level it’s all tall buildings in flaming oranges, reds and yellows, with dark shutters and grand porticoes. Bologna has more porticoes than any city in the world and they make it perfect for a mooch, even if it’s rainy (London city planners, please take note).

It has plenty of high-end Italian luxury stores, mixed in with small independent shops, quaint, centuries-old osterias, and beautiful red-brick basilicas.

And at its centre is the Piazza Maggiore – a huge, grand square that is considered the jewel in its crown.

Take a cookery class

Bologna is famous for its food, so why not take a class so you can go home and show off to your friends?

We did ours through Cesarine — a network of hundreds of local home cooks across Italy, who offer authentic cooking classes in their homes.

Tortellini in brodo, made during our cookery class with Oriana (Peroni)
Tortellini in brodo, made during our cookery class with Oriana (Peroni)

Our brilliant teacher, Oriana, marched us around the city’s markets, gave use plenty of food and drink to try, and showed us her formidable haggling skills as we picked up fresh ingredients. She then took us back to her small flat, where she taught us to make tortellini as small as a thumbnail — scalding and praising us in turn.

It was very fiddly work. Five minutes in, I had barely enough pasta to fill a fork, and finally understood why the smaller types of tortellini I’d seen in shops were so much more expensive than larger ones.

Oriana showing us around Bologna’s markets (Peroni)
Oriana showing us around Bologna’s markets (Peroni)

An afternoon class with Oriana costs around 129 euros per person, cesarine.com

Visit the food markets

Bologna has food markets aplenty. Be sure to visit the Quadrilatero — a warren of narrow passages lined with shops selling fruit and vegetables so perfect and brightly coloured they could almost be plastic. Specialist shops which sell parmesan by the kilo, in great, crystalline hunks, along with syrupy aged balsamic vinegars, and delectable prosciutto.

Parmesan on display in a shop window (ES)
Parmesan on display in a shop window (ES)

Sample local food and drink

Pizza isn’t as big a thing in Bologna as it is in places like Naples. But my God, there’s a lot of pasta — the specialty being tortellini, which is absolutely everywhere.

Tortellini in brodo – tortellini served in a clear, light broth – is a Bolognese specialty and a must-try. There is also plenty of tagliatelle al ragu (Bolognese!) to be had. Local independent Bottega Portici is an excellent place to sample pasta, which it serves fast food-style, in a casual setting. Fresh tortellini in brodo is around 10 euros.

Drinks-wise, there are of course a huge array of excellent local wines. Try pignoletto — a local sparkling white wine, to rival prosecco. Also try lambrusco – a frizzante red, quite sweet and fruity and typically low-percentage – and nocino, a delicious, medicinal-tasting local liqueur made from unripe, green walnuts.

City centre Osteria del Sole — which claims to be Bologna’s oldest osteria, dating to 1465 — serves excellent house pignoletto. It’s an excellent, no-frills spot where guests are welcome to bring in food purchased at the nearby markets.Restaurant Calmo is also a great option for a more upmarket evening meal, with menus focused on seasonal local produce, and a great selection of natural wines including pignoletto and lambrusco.

A beautiful basilica in the centre of Bologna (ES)
A beautiful basilica in the centre of Bologna (ES)

(If you’re umming and ahhing over whether to take checked luggage, do it, and thank me later.)

We stayed at the four-star Starhotels Excelsior. Based right by the station, it’s within easy walking distance of the city centre, and offers an excellent restaurant as well as an extremely comfortable night’s stay in elegant, modern rooms with queen size beds. Prices start around £140 a night.

BA flies from London Heathrow to Bologna, with flights starting around £70.