Bologna offers a chance to rest and savour before joining the masses of tourists in Florence and Venice. Surrounded by hills, the city's centre is still much as it was during the Renaissance: dusky red-coloured buildings, wide piazzas and covered walkways with floors laid with marble.
But Bologna provides the best of several worlds; it has beautiful piazzas, churches and museums, as well as being a thriving university town, filled with cafes, bars and nightlife. It also happens to be something of a gastronomic haven, famous for its pasta, sausage, cheese, wine and gelato.
The University of Bologna is Europe's oldest, and an international centre for academic conferences and publishing. The students give the city its well-earned reputation for radicalism: it is 'Red' Bologna for the colour of the politics as well as the architecture. Bologna was the first city in Italy to elect a Communist town council and is the headquarters of the National Gay Alliance. What more can you say about a city that has cathedrals, communists, discos and the best tortellini?
Facts for the traveller
Off the beaten track