GRAND HOTEL BAGLIONI
Beautiful, bountiful Bologna. The alliteration is fully deserved, for this wonderful Italian city lifts the spirit with its abundance of glorious art and architecture. And best of all its wonders: the arcades. Surely no place on earth has more. As I wandered along them, the question would not go away: why have we British neglected the arcade? It affords shade from the sun, shelter from the rain and safety from the traffic. It also allows the first floor to extend over the pavement to the roadside.
I arrived at my billet and found that – of course – its entrance was in an arcade. Through a discreet doorway, opposite the towering classical façade of the Cathedral, I entered what everyone agrees is the finest hotel in town – the Grand Hotel Baglioni. First impressions were excellent. As soon as I was through the two sets of glass doors (both opened for me by a member of staff), I was in a world of cool elegance. Marble was underfoot, crystal chandeliers were overhead and white walls and columns were all around. And the service lived up to the surroundings. Manager Pier Luigi Magrini heads a staff which is a credit to the hotel world. Everyone I encountered, from my check-in to my departure, was friendly, efficient and helpful. It was a pleasure dealing with such well-motivated people.
And on my way to my room I encountered another impressive aspect of The Grand: the corridors. I remain convinced that hotel passageways speak volumes about how an establishment sees itself and how well it is run. Here they were wide, spacious, traditionally decorated and impeccably maintained. Clearly, there is much pride in the building. And so there should be. For it was constructed in the 18th century for Cardinal Lambertini by the architect Alfonso Torregiani and contains halls from the 16th century Palazzo Fava. Since this place became an hotel – about 90 years ago – its fortunate guests have been surrounded by some serious history.
I was staying in a deluxe room (468 euros a night). The epithet was appropriate, for my chamber was luxurious. Cream silk covered the walls and soft green carpet the floors. The same cream silk was swagged and tailed for the curtains. Decent lighting from table lamps and a standard lamp, mirrored doors to the fitted wardrobes and eleven-foot ceilings – all contributed to the feeling of a spacious and comfortable chamber. I appreciated, too, the bowl of good fruit (including delicious cherries), the thoughtful provision of a shoe horn and the abundance of hangers for my clothes. In the white-tiled bathroom was another most welcome feature: a built-in clock. (For those of us who like to relax in a hot tub, the ability occasionally to check the time is a real blessing.)
One aspect of The Grand deserves special mention: its location. I have mentioned that it is opposite the Cathedral. But it is also but a few short steps from one of the loveliest squares in Europe – the Piazza Maggiore. Few can be the pleasures more intense than eating a dish of melon-flavoured ice cream while sitting at one of the square’s cafés (under the arcade, naturally) opposite the pink and white marble façade of the Basilica of San Petronio. The façade in unfinished – the top half is rough brickwork – but this only adds to the pleasure, as we imagine how we would complete it. Time and again I was drawn to the Piazza, to this happy contemplation. The sun was hot, the ice cream was cold and all around was timeless beauty.
My eating at The Grand was done in two rooms. Breakfast – excellent ham, bacon, fruit salad and coffee from an extensive buffet – was had in a room of crystal chandeliers and white tablecloths, staffed with kindly and hard-working waitresses. A most enjoyable experience. For dinner I was at the hotel’s highly regarded restaurant, I Carracci. Now this is a large square room to gladden the heart of any lover of art. I looked up and saw why the restaurant has its name. On the ceiling is a mighty fresco by the three artists named Carracci (two brothers and their cousin) completed in the late 16th century. It depicts the four seasons. I was struck by the contrast between Spring (a jolly young lady with few clothes) and Winter (a miserable old chap, sitting huddled in the snow).
Given that the food has to compete for attention with such art, it does pretty well. Under the silver domes brought to my golden tablecloth by waiters in black, I found dishes to enjoy. Foie gras semi-freddo with raisin brioche, roasted sea bass with chardonnay sauce, breast of turkey with Parma ham, cheese and truffle, and a chocolate and Grand Marnier soufflé – all pleasing to the palate. (About £40 for these four courses.)
Prices on the wine list run from £12 to £575. (The latter will enable you to quaff 1981 Pétrus.) My Umbrian white was well-structured, readily yielding up lots of melon and lychees (Cervaro Della Sala, Antinori, 2000 - £46). In contrast, my red was more reluctant. This Brunello di Montalcino needed its decanting, but eventually smiled upon me with farmyard aromas and an abundance of black fruit (Poggio All’Oro, Riserva, Banfi, 1995 - £75). Savouring my last glass, I turned to look out of the window. There, across the narrow via Manzoni, was the front of the Church of the Madonna di Galliera. A bishop carved in stone returned my gaze in a kindly manner. I sat back and came to two satisfying conclusions: I liked Bologna and I liked the Grand Hotel Baglioni.
GRAND HOTEL BAGLIONI
Via Indipendenza 8, Bologna 40121, Italy.
Telephone +39 051 225 445
Fax +39 051 234 840
Ask about room rates, as there are some very good special offers, depending on the season.