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AL CAPPELLO ROSSO
Hotel | Restaurants | History | bologna
A unique hotel located at the heart of Bologna's old town centre with over 600 years of history, closely intertwined with that of the city itself, combined with a highly contemporary style and intriguing theme rooms. In addition, the restaurant, Osteria del Cappello, serves some of central Bologna's most authentic traditional food.
Although the exact date of inauguration is uncertain, the first recorded mention of the Cappello inn dates from 1379, around the time when work began on the San Petronio Basilica just round the corner in Piazza Maggiore and many of the artists and others working on the church stayed here. During that period, San Petronio was just one of many building works going on in the city, albeit the most ambitious - the church was originally due to be Italy's largest. It seems incredible that it wasn't actually consecrated until as recently as 1954.
While those 14th century artists and architects no doubt enjoyed comfortable accommodation, the rooms they were put up in can't have been as special as they are now. Nearly all of today's 33 bedrooms are theme rooms and more are being transformed on a regular basis into bold and often colourful works of art, turning each stay into a real experience.
One of the most recently completed rooms – and one of several by set designer Mauro Tinti – is the Sun Room: intensely dark walls and ceiling lit up by golden rays emanating from an antique 'sun' mirror. Tinti's other rooms include the American Icon dedicated to JFK, which has a red, white and blue colour scheme and incorporates a reproduction of Kennedy's famous rocking chair and the Silent Cage 4'33'' room which is dedicated to US composer John Cage and his most controversial, silent, work, with grey acoustic panels to resemble a recording studio. Tinti has even designed a typewriter-themed room, with a giant keyboard on the ceiling, a red and black typewriter 'ribbon' around the walls and an actual bright red period typewriter.
The hotel collaborates regularly with local arts festivals including Bilbolbul, the cartoon festival held each November in Bologna and every year a new room is inaugurated with the images left by a number of participating cartoonists as a thank-you for their stay. Other rooms, designed with an overall theme by the artists who stayed there include Into the Garden, which has been transformed into a stylised black and white garden by cartoonist Alessandro Baronciani. The walls of another are a gallery of vintage opera librettos – each room is truly individual.
The origins of the hotel's name and red hat symbol are uncertain. One theory is that it is a cardinal's hat, due to links with Cardinal Albornoz, who incorporated Bologna into the Papal States in 1360, while another maintains that it represents the hat that Jewish people were required to wear at that time. This theory is backed up by the fact that a Papal decree dictated that Jewish travellers weren't permitted to choose their accommodation from the city's inns but were obliged to stay at the Cappello. Due to this ruling, which lasted over 100 years during the 17th-18th centuries, the hotel played a fundamental role in intercultural dialogue, continuing to provide a warm welcome to all.
The hotel restaurant has always been noteworthy – even the likes of Teresa Majani, who founded the famous Majani chocolate firm in 1796, worked in the kitchens here for a time - and during the 18th century it was included in the Gioco delle Osterie, a board game based on the city's taverns, with a speciality mentioned for each one. Il Cappello Rosso occupied square number 41 with its hat symbol and was defined by its tasty partridge.
Nowadays guests can try their hand at the game after dinner or while they wait for their food as it's been reproduced on the table mats and dice are provided. The Osteria is also included in the far more recent Bolognando, a kind of Monopoly-style game based on the city of Bologna. Launched in late 2017, it sold out so rapidly there's been a considerable delay while a second issue is prepared.
With young Bolognese chef Marco Franchini in the kitchen, today's Osteria del Cappello has gained a substantial following among locals who come to enjoy really good traditional specialities, such as tagliatelle al ragù or tortellini in brodo, seasonal dishes incorporating plenty of fresh vegetables, the special weekend grilled meat menu and the delicious desserts. All the bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes and desserts are home-made, only seasonal fruit and veg are used and cheeses and meats come from small-scale local suppliers; the wine list focuses exclusively on labels from Emilia-Romagna too, including a good selection of natural wines.
A hotel that's firmly integrated into the fabric of the city and enjoys a central yet remarkably peaceful position, with friendly and helpful staff, in-room comforts that include silk kimonos and pillow menus, plus fantastic food: Al Cappello Rosso is quite simply a wonderful place to stay for a true Bolognese experience.
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