Vintage Vespa tours in Bologna
Candy pink helmet on, arms wrapped tightly around my husband as I took my place on the back of the seat, trying to find some space on the tiny pegs where two sets of feet needed to rest. The sound of the cobblestones underneath the wheels of our vintage Vespa told me we were on our way. We were off to explore the hills of Bologna, and as we whizzed in and out of the narrow back streets, blending in with the locals who use Vespas as their everyday transport. I couldn’t help but feel a little cool, and more than a little excited. Like driving Citroen 2CVs in France, the Vespa is synonymous with Italy and today we were going to be riding them through the Bolognese hills.
We were in Bologna for one week, so spending a day exploring on a Vespa seemed to be worthwhile. Our day started at Travelhoo, a travel agency and tour specialist, located in the centre of Bologna, where we met Alessandra, our tour guide (and lead Vespa rider). Safety should be the most important aspect of any hiring process and the team at Travelhoo did this extremely well.
A chance to practice
Before any of us were allowed on the road, Vespas were chosen, helmets fitted, and the riders were taken to “practice” in a small courtyard area, away from the usual madness that is the Italian traffic. Once the riders are settled, the pillion passengers hop on. Not surprisingly, having a passenger changes the way the Vespa handles. I was feeling very lucky though. Sitting on the back with my husband, who has extensive experience riding motorbikes, I knew this would be a breeze.
By the time we had navigated our way out of the centre of Bologna, I was perfectly at ease on the back, if not getting a little hot and sticky from the incredibly hot sun that was beating down on us. In the streets, with barely a breeze, the humidity was already starting to be felt. In temperatures like these, it’s a good thing to have some space, yet here I was almost stuck to my husband in front. This would make for an interesting day.
Better than just hiring a Vespa
The vintage Vespa tours in Bologna aren’t just about the ride, although that’s one of the key parts. The tour is blended in such a way that enables plenty of time for rest stops and time just to take in the view of the rolling landscape, formed by the hills that surround Bologna. It also celebrates what the Italians do best, and in the Emilia Romagna “food valley”, there’s plenty of gastronomic inspiration. With picnic lunches in the hills, to visits to local vineyards, the tour picks up many of the things that should be on a must-do list for Bologna.
San Michele in Bosco
As we made our way up the first hill, en route to the Church of San Michele in Bosco, the breeze could finally be felt in our faces. When up in the Bolognese hills, the views are endless, and the view from the Church of San Michele in Bosco did not disappoint. From up here, the terracotta roof line seemingly extends forever, and the whole city can be seen. Even on a hot day like today, where the heat haze is descending on the city, the view is still spectacular.
Like most European churches, the building is impressive and inside there are frescoes and works of art dating back many centuries.
Walking in the hills for an amazing view
You don’t have to go too far in the hills to find a spot for a great view, but some are better than others. Here we walked up about 300 steps, a gentle slope, without too much effort required.
Sanctuary of San Luca
Sitting high aloft Monte della Guardia is one of Bologna’s most significant monuments, the Sanctuary of San Luca. The church itself is beautiful. Built in the 1700’s. the structure was built according to Bolognese tradition, with a simple curved profile. There are plenty of areas here to just sit and admire the stunning view, stretching out over Bologna and its surrounding countryside.
Perhaps the most incredible structure, however, is the four-kilometre portico that joins San Luca to the city walls of Bologna. Bologna is known for its porticos (covered walkways), each of them an amazing work of art in their own right. To have one that stretches not only for four kilometres but also uphill is another feature altogether. It is the longest portico in the world, with 15 chapels found along the way. As you walk from the city towards San Luca, the walkway gets steeper as it climbs the hill.
Sabbiuno War Memorial
This was a sobering experience and a great lesson in the war history of this area. During World War Two, Italy was initially aligned with Nazi Germany, later changing it’s allegiance to the Allies. Here at the Sabbiuno War Memorial, history remembers a time when local partisans, fighting against the Fascist and Nazi rule, made their way up here into the hills. Shortly thereafter, it was assumed they met their fate at the hands of the Germans. Their bodies were found at the base of the hill after the war had ended.
The shooting range used during the second world war.
Could anything be more fitting when you are out on a Vespa ride than having a rustic picnic in the hills? Alessandra found us a spot where we could all stretch out, and perhaps find a little bit of respite from the searing midday heat, whilst she put together a sumptuous feast, all of which had been carried around on the Vespas.
No-one would have gone hungry by the time we had finished with the contents of the hamper. From fresh olives, balsamic onions, strawberries and salamis, to crusty bread, cheese and assorted vegetables, there was plenty of great food on offer. A variety of desserts were also included, and for those who weren’t driving, some fine Italian red wine.
Ponte di Vizzano
This bridge was built at the request of a school teacher, who wanted a way for her students to be able to get to school, across the river, when the weather precluded their usual transport, the ferry. The original bridge, built in 1926 could not hold up to the ravages of a severe flood. In 1930, a new bridge was built, this time as a suspension bridge, not the previously used concrete pylons.
During World World Two, the Germans blew it up as they retreated, to prevent the Allies from being able to follow them.
The third iteration, built in 1994, is what stands today. It is still a narrow, wobbly, timber-lined bridge, reminiscent of years gone by.
Palazzo de Rossi
The Palace, built in typical Bolognese designs, with a terracotta roof, turrets and simple facades was built in the late 1400’s. This palace became one of the most decadent homes in all of Bologna and saw the visits of many Popes during its early days.
The great archway of the palace remains and gives access to the village.
The original moat and drawbridge are also still in place and it remains in the private ownership hands of the Bevilacqua Ariosti family.
Fienile Fluò Agriturismo and vineyard
The strong sun had continued to unleash its heat at full force. We arrived at the vineyard, our final stop for the day feeling a little worse for wear, hot, sticky and a bit dirty from the grime of the road. It was a good feeling though, with these elements all contributing to making us feel as though we were making the most of the ride. I drew the lucky straw too. As I wasn’t the rider, I got to sample some of the local wines on offer at Fienile Fluò, an agriturismo specialising in wine, great food and accommodation.
We met the lively and engaging owner Elizabeth, who took great delight in showing us around her vineyard, offering us some of her wines and tempting us with some amazing food. In a restored barn, in the hills of Bologna, Fienile Fluò offers a restaurant with stunning views over the mountains. They run special events during the year including a cinema in the vineyard under the stars and offer a unique place for visitors to stay.
After a full day, this visit was also a chance to stop for a moment, rest and just take in this view. I looked fairly ragged by the end of it, but the cool wine was a chance to rehydrate. Besides, after we all got off the Vespas and took our helmets off, we all looked the same!
Vespa tours in Bologna – a must do for any visit
We all arrived back into Bologna city late in the day, having had a full day of riding and authentic Italian experiences. Despite a couple of near misses for some of the riders, we’d all also managed to stay perfectly upright on the Vespas, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted in a country where traffic can be fairly manic.
The vintage Vespa tour was one of those quintessential, must-do experiences in Italy, and we were pleased to have been able to do it in Bologna, where we could combine the food and wine components also.
Special thanks to the team at Emilia Romagna Tourism and Blogville for arranging our vintage Vespa tour whilst we were in Bologna. All editorial content is completely independent and all thoughts and opinions are our own.