GUEST ARTICLE: Looking for a quiet escape from the crowds in Italy? You’ll linger longer in Ferrara than Bologna.
Ferrara is a UNESCO world heritage listed town lined with wide cobbled streets and surrounded by ancient walls. You can mix it with the bicycle loving locals and experience life at a much slower pace than you would in more frenzied places on the tourist map such as nearby Bologna.
Ferrara is connected to Tren Italia’s national railway network and is easy to get to from as far away as Rome, usually requiring an interchange onto a regional train from Bologna Centrale. Once you’re in Ferrara everything worth exploring is within easy walking distance.
Walking along the parameter of Ferrara is something unique as it is surrounded by kilometres of well-preserved red brick walls that served as a defensive fortress during the medieval and renaissance era.
Palazzo dei Diamanti is a beautiful historical monument and a stunning piece of Renaissance Italian architecture. It’s white pyramidal diamond shaped exterior design makes it hard to miss on a cobbled street nearby Estense Castle.
Castello Estense, the home of the former ruling family of Ferrara is the main tourist drawcard. It is very well maintained and is one of the few castles in Europe surrounded by water.
Entry is reasonable at 7 euros per adult. Check out the dark dungeons that lie beneath the castle as well as some magnificent frescos and paintings.
Once you’re done, why not try some fabulous hand made gelato from Bar Gelataria Venezuela opposite the Castle.
Visiting the markets by the Duomo in the main town square, Piazza Trento e Trieste is a good place to pick up a few knick-knacks, but don’t forget to taste the delicacies typical to Ferrara – pampapato and cappellacci pasta.
Pampapato is a large dome shaped cake enriched with cocoa, orange peel, candied fruit and almonds and is sold at a number of pasticcerias (pastry shops).
Cappellacci is a beautiful silky hat-shaped pumpkin filled ravioli served in a sage and burnt butter sauce. Pizzeria Ristorante Estebar (located on 13 via Scienze) serves a simple but flavoursome cappellacci dish which is definately worth trying.
With dorms starting at 15 euros per night, Students Hostel Estense is a fantastic budget option, 15 minutes from Ferrara train stazione and 5 minutes from the Castle.
Dorms are clean and include in room lockers, WiFi and linen. An average breakfast is provided consisting of melba toasts, watered down juice, reconstituted milk from the coffee machine, jams and cereal. Thankfully, a nice supermarket is located just down the street where you can stock up on a few items and prepare them in the basic hostel kitchen downstairs.
Bologna is only a short train ride from Ferrara. Bologna is known far and wide as being a culinary hotspot, home to tortellini and Bolognese, but it also offers a bustling medieval centre kept alive by a large student population.
Piazza Maggiore is the central town square and is an architectural marvel, surrounded by palazzos, Basilica di San Petronio, the town hall and medieval allies, one of which is dedicated to green grocers.
However, walking down the portico sidewalks and small lanes, I found downtown Bologna to be more ‘touristy’ than Ferrara. It was devoid of charm, with too many western retailers and too few bicycle-loving locals. Apart from a wide array of churches, I could not find any reason to linger for long.
The tourist office in Piazza Maggiore suggested I visit the university district for some cheap eats, but the allies were largely deserted, had a seedy vibe and were heavily graffitied. A word of advice: don’t visit on a Monday afternoon. Museums are closed and the churches are on their ‘siesta’ break.
After searching far and wide for a small, local ristorante or trattoria to tuck into some fresh tortelloni (tortellini for vegetarians), I left Bologna disappointed. I was served an average tortelloni with an above average price and cover charge to boot.
This article has been written by Pranav Bhatt. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Economics and Business at Sydney University. He has an interest in world travel, cricket, politics, technology and the media.
If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution