Thanks Ian. Ferrara wasn’t even on my radar as a possible place to stay, but after reading your description I will definitely put it on my list of places to look into. I appreciate your taking the time to give me such detailed information.
We are spending 4 days in Bologna in September 2019.
Why did we pick Bologna?
1. Better flights from LHR to BLQ on British Airways. The flights to VCE were very inconvenient. OK, that is not really a good reason.
2. But, then we started to mention it friends and acquaintances and they all said: "I love Bologna".
One aspect of Bologna are the many possible day trips by train:
Firenze, Ferrara, Venezia, Modena, Padua, Verona, Reggio Emilia, Parma, Rimini, Ravenna.
I spent three weeks in Bologna 14 years ago with several day-trips since. If the knee cooperates, I plan to return next spring for another three weeks (right now that's looking iffy). It's a wonderful city. I also spent three weeks in Ravenna last May and have stayed for weeks in both Lucca and Siena (as well as Florence). I lost my heart to Siena years ago, but the hills are too much for me now.
Bologna is a big city though the central historic area (where you should stay) has a small-city feel. It's not the greatest city for art museums, but there are enough other kinds of sites to keep you busy for a long time. The food is sophisticated, expensive and wonderful. Visits to see the production of parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and prosciutto are all worth while but will probably involve some sort of tour. Bologna is a great base for exploring the towns of ER by train (Modena, Ferrara, Parma, Faenza,...), although a car would be nice to get into the countryside (the areas south between Modena and Bologna and around/south of Dozza are particularly nice). You might consider a couple of weeks in Bologna without a car plus a week in the countryside with a car.
Ravenna, Lucca and Siena are also wonderful. They are smaller and more laid back than Bologna. IMHO Ravenna is an overlooked gem (trip report) though it's not much of a base for side tripping. Lucca (trip report) offers wonderful walking and possibilities for side trips by bus and train. Siena has "must see" art and a medieval vibe with narrow twisty hilly streets. So many places, so little time!
Marlene, thank you for all the information. I enjoyed reading your trip reports. Could you recommend any specific area within the central historic area of Bologna to stay? Or is it small enough that it doesn’t make much difference? We would be renting an apartment.
We stayed at the same hotel you stayed at in Ravenna during our brief two day visit years ago. I am planning to stay there again if we return for another short visit on this upcoming trip. Would you have felt three weeks was too long a visit if you weren’t attending language school?
What would you think of Parma as a place to base for a month?
We would enjoy a return trip to Lucca and the surrounding area, but I think that we will plan a separate trip for that. You’re right, sigh. So much to see, never enough time.
I hope your knee cooperates and you have a terrific trip.
Three weeks might be a stretch for Ravenna; it would be very slow travel indeed. OTOH, you could do day trips to Bologna and Ferrara by train and explore by car the coast or the area south of Faenza and Forli (I understand Brisighella is nice but I've not been there).
As for Bologna, I would avoid the area around the main train station and the smaller train station to the east (primarily due to noise). The main street from the train station to the piazza maggiore (Independence?) is (or was) very noisy so I would not want to be directly on that street. Fourteen years ago I was told to avoid the area around the theater (sketchy at night), but I don't know whether that assessment is still valid. Bologna has (or had) an excellent bus system, but I still think it's best to be within walking distance (which would vary for different people) of the main things you want to see. I would not venture outside the ring road. However, I did stay several blocks outside to the south of the city 14 years ago and that was a very nice area with a big park close by. I usually took the bus into the center each day and did not return to the apartment until late afternoon. But the knees were better then .
I've never been to Parma, but I imagine it would be a good place to stay for a while. It has been "on my list", for many years. However, it's a little difficult to get there by bus (I can't do trains with luggage). It has good train service to Bologna (about an hour, I think) and I've always wanted to explore the area south of Parma. OTOH, I don't think there are many sites in Parma itself. I would also consider it for a day trip from Bologna.
Yes, Lucca deserves it's own trip, although it seems to get a lot of one-day visitors. I spent a week at this place (colle verde) many years ago with my sister and daughter - rustic digs but fabulous area; you would definitely need a car. You could also stay in Lucca (I recommend within the walls) and take side trips by train/bus (or if you are very brave by bicycle).