If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know by now that I’m an outdoors lover and passionate hiker. So, besides historic and artistic attractions in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna, I often like to point out walks and natural parks that visitors and newcomers can easily enjoy (plus, you’ll work up an appetite for all those foodie delights we’re famous for!).
Bologna is a great city for walkers because, right to the south of the city, you’ll find the hills – i colli bolognesi, which offer many opportunities for outdoor pursuits.
Here are three of my favorite walks in the Bologna hills.
Top Walks in the Bologna Hills
Trail 904 – from Porta San Mamolo to the Church of San Michele di Gaibola
The walk begins at Porta San Mamolo and ends at the Church of San Michele di Gaibola, deep in the Bolognese hills, passing the beautiful park of Villa Ghigi as well as historic and religious sites, such as the sanctuary of the Madonna del Monte and the Eremo di Ronzano, a hermitage place.
Trail 904 is managed by the Italian Alpine Club (CAI, Club Alpino Italiano). Follow the ‘CAI’ white and red signs.
The starting point, Porta San Mamolo, used to be one of the medieval gates to the city, and was demolished at the beginning of the 20th century; it can be reached on foot from Via D’Azeglio, a street that departs from Piazza Maggiore.
You have to walk on a steep road to reach the 28-hectare Parco di Villa Ghigi, a popular park with the locals for walks and picnics, featuring nice views of the city center.
The Church of San Paolo in Monte (via dell’Osservanza 88) is the first point of interest along the trail; originally built in 1403, it was entirely reconstructed in the 19th century in the Neoclassical style.
As you make your way through the Park of Villa Ghigi, you’ll reach the Eremo di Ronzano (via Gaibola 18), located on top of a hill among oak, chestnut and cypress trees. Originally dating to the 12th century, it was acquired by the Dominicans in 1475, who embellished the church with frescoes of the Bolognese school of the 1500s and gave it the aspect it has today. This spiritual center with views over the city and the hills is managed today by the Order of the Servi di Maria.
The trail ends at the Church of San Michele di Gaibola, which is thought to date back as far as the 8th century. In the 17th century, as the parish of the area, it exercised administrative control over the churches of the hills.
*Easy walk, 220 meters elevation gain; approx. three hours round trip with stops.
From Villa Spada to the Basilica of San Luca (Trail 914), return by way of the Portico di San Luca
A great walk with great views of the hills and of a Bologna landmark, the Basilica of San Luca. On the way back, descend along the longest portico in the world.
This walks begins at the entrance to Villa Spada (bus n. 20 from the city center), a neoclassical villa built in the 18th century which has preserved its elegant Italian-style gardens. Its large grassy area above the gardens, once used for farming, turns into the Parco di San Pellegrino, which affords splendid views over Bologna, the surrounding hills and valleys, and even more splendid views over our beloved Basilica of San Luca, for an unusual observation point.
You’ll leave the park to get on the road (via di Casaglia) for the last stretch before you reach the Basilica of San Luca, the most important sanctuary in Bologna, dating to the 12th century. It was enlarged in the 15th century due to its growing importance as a pilgrimage site. Located on a hilltop, Colle della Guardia (279m), the current structure was built between 1723 and 1757.
Descend along the longest arcaded walkway in the world, the 3,8-km Portico di San Luca, until you reach the Arco del Meloncello. You can catch bus 20 to return to the city center, or if you’re still up for walking, continue under the portico until you reach Porta Saragozza – then you’ll be able to say you have walked the longest portico in the world 😉
*Easy walk, approx. 300 meters elevation gain, approx. 4 hours with stops.
Trail 902 – From San Michele in Bosco to Forte Bandiera
The first ‘official’ trail of the Bologna hills, opened in 2010, passes by the classic panoramic viewpoint of San Michele in Bosco, then enters into the hills up the valley of the Aposa creek until it reaches the park of Forte Bandiera.
Starting at Giardino Remo Scoto in via Codivilla, the walk begins uphill to reach the panoramic terrace of the monastic complex of San Michele in Bosco, one of the best viewpoints in Bologna. Peek inside the ancient Church of San Michele in Bosco, which, through the centuries, has served different functions, including military barracks and prison during the Napoleonic invasion, residence of the King of Italy, and seat of the Rizzoli hospital.
Your walk indeed continues through a grand hall inside a section of the hospital, which was once part of the convent built on this site by the Olivetan monks, and now known as the ‘Cannocchiale’ (telescope) for an interesting optical illusion: as you look at the window at the end of the hall and walk away from it, the size of the landmark Torre Asinelli increases. The hall is 162,55 meters long, 5,60 meters large and 8,14 meters high.
The walk continues to Via San Vittore, with some parts on the road and some along trails, up via della Fratta to the intersection with via di Barbiano, until you reach the Park of Forte Bandiera, where large meadows, rows of trees, woods, and blooming flowers invite you for a picnic!
*Easy walk, 250m elevation gain, 3 hours round trip.
*As I’m studying to become a hiking guide, I plan to start offering these walking tours soon – stay tuned!