I don’t believe that moments of happiness lose sweetness over time and when I recently found some photos of my walk up the Portico di San Luca in Bologna last year I was reminded of this. Back came the happy memories of a warm day in May last year, the peace and quiet of escaping a city centre, the gentle nods to those who passed me by and the thrill from pushing myself onwards and upwards, forcing my thighs to embrace the exertion of a sunny walk up a hill. It’s days and walks like these that nearly make me consider a hiking holiday… nearly.
The Portico di San Luca is the longest portico in the world at just under 4km and is made up of, spookily, 666 arches. It leads up to the Santuario di San Luca, a grand 18th century church overlooking the city from one side and the rolling green hills of Emilia-Romagna on the other.
The portico was built to protect those walking to church from the natural elements. Don’t let it be said that the Bolognesi are not considerate and I must say that the shade was welcome once I reached the steeper sections and the sun was high in the sky.
Bologna is famous for these covered walkways and it was one of the first things I noticed and loved about the city. You’d be surprised how different porticos – or portici as sounds much better in Italian, the “ci” being soft – can be; modern, artistic, grand, dark, elaborately decorated, starkly painted. Do not assume that once you have seen one portico in Bologna that you have seen them all. You haven’t.
But should you choose to walk the length of the city’s longest and arguably most famous portico be prepared for a long walk up and some wonderful views at the top. It has to be one of the most beautiful ways I tried to stay fit while in one of the world’s most famous cities for food. In fact it was while I huffed and puffed up the Portico di San Luca that I unlocked the secret for why women from Bologna can have their ragu and eat it as I was overtaken by many slim Italian lycra-clad women, long dark pony tails swishing side to side as they run past me elegantly – yes, elegantly! – and up the hill. However, do not let this deter your efforts… nor let this stop you having a huge bowl of pasta or a coppa di gelato once you’re back under the other wonderfully varied portici of Bologna’s city centre. I certainly didn’t…