Welcome back to our special series of blog posts featuring interviews with our top guides in Italy and Switzerland. We began the series with Elvira in Florence and continued last week by highlighting our Naples and Pompeii go-to guide, Tony. These are just two of many expert guides who have given our clients an inside look into some of the most famous cities and sights in Italy in Switzerland over the years.
This year, as international tourism has been put on the back burner, many of our guides find they have extra time on their hands over what is usually a very busy summer season. We are taking advantage of this strangely quiet year by reaching out to our favorite guides to chat about their work and passions. This week takes us to Bologna to interview Nathalie, a guide in one of Italy’s most famous foodie destinations.
Stay tuned for more guide interviews to come!
Tell us about yourself! Where are you from, what did you study, and how long have you been a tour guide?
Greetings from Bologna! I was born in Corsica, today a French island that belonged to Genoa in the past. I earned a degree in Tourism and Art in France and after working as a tour leader for years across the globe, I became an official tour guide in Bologna in 2002. I had wanted to become a guide since I was a child, so obtaining my license was a dream come true.
What is the one thing all visitors in Bologna should see in your opinion?
Bologna is such a vibrant city that you can never get bored here. From architecture to food, science to art…the city offers it all. If you come to Bologna you can’t miss visiting our anatomical theater, completely made of wood and decorated with beautiful educational statues. Bologna is famous as home to the oldest university in the western world, and the walls of the university’s historic seat are covered with thousands of coats of arms representing past students.
What is your favorite secret treasure that you love to share with visitors?
Everyone sees Bologna’s famous main square and medieval towers, but my hidden secret corners include a fresco representing a pregnant Virgin Mary and a secret window that overlooks a canal dating back the 14th century.
Complete this sentence: If you really want to experience the spirit of Bologna, you should…
If you really want to experience the spirit of Bologna, you should climb the medieval Asinelli tower and its 498 wooden steps or stroll through the university district to see our new graduates celebrating by proudly wearing their traditional crowns made of laurel leaves.
Name a sight or activity that visitors should avoid in Bologna.
Bologna is nice everywhere but, as with many other cities, the area surrounding the train station area should be avoided. There are no sights of note, the neighborhood’s restaurants are tourist traps serving a fake traditional dishes like spaghetti bolognese, and the streets can be unsafe at night.
What is your favorite Bolognese dish, and is there a specific place visitors should try it?
Here it is my duty to tell you that in Bologna you must not order spaghetti bolognese, which is not an authentic dish but an invention to satisfy the tourist palate. Instead, request my favorite dish: a nice plate of tortellini burro e salvia (fresh pasta stuffed with soft ricotta cheese, spinach, and parsley tossed with a delicate butter and sage dressing. Yummy! You can find this dish virtually anywhere, but Teresina, Anna Maria, and La Cantina Bentivoglio are restaurants with their own “zradora” (lady who prepares pasta each day fresh) and the pasta at these landmark eateries is very special. Try the lasagna, tortellini, tortelloni, tagliatelle, and more!
Share your favorite memory from a tour you have given.
I love my job, and miss it so much… I have plenty of lovely memories from my tours and many visitors have become friends. I remember in particular a Japanese woman who was silent and unexpressive during the tour, but who insisted on offering me her strange green cotton hat at the end of the visit. I still have this hat and like it very much for the strong good feelings it brings to me each time I wear it. And I found out later that the woman was once was a very important journalist in Japan.
Can you recommend a book or film for those planning of visiting Bologna?
Before coming to Bologna, try reading “The Broker” by John Grisham, which transports you to Bologna with Marcus, the American main character who hides in Bologna pretending to be an Italian and sharing much of his time with a tour guide named Francesca.
What changes do you foresee in Bologna’s tourism due to Covid-19?
I hope it will be possible for you to come to Italy and visit Bologna soon. We miss our visitors so much. Bologna is not the same but we are all doing our best to maintain the city’s character and spirit. I have to say that having fewer people visiting is also pleasant because it gives you access to Bologna’s monuments and sights without the crowds. All indoor visits to museums and monuments must be booked in advance and visitors must wear masks, but I think these are small sacrifices to make for such an important goal.
See you soon in Bologna!