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Grand Hotel Majestic Già Baglioni
Each evening, the elegant 18th-century portici (arcaded walkways) that line Via dell'Indipendenza, Bologna's high street, see shoppers strolling up and down, perusing the season's latest fashions at stores.
Two millennia ago, the Ancient Romans would have walked along this same route, then the stone-paved cardo, to their Forum, today Piazza Maggiore, Bologna's main square.
Here, at the top end of Via dell'Indipendenza, stands the 5-star Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni, an intimate "museum-hotel", as general manager Tiberio Biondi likes to call it. "It was built as a seminary in the 1700's and became a luxury hotel in 1912", explains Tiberio, "Inside, there are many important historic and cultural treasures". Indeed, in 1740, Cardinal Prospero Lambertini (later to be Pope Benedict XIV) commissioned the construction of a theological college on this site, ideally located opposite the Baroque Cathedral. Today the hotel incorporates an adjoining older building, Palazzo Fava, with its splendid 16th-century frescoes by the Carracci brothers. The Camerino di Europa, now used for business meetings and conferences, was decorated by the Carraccis with scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, depicting Zeus, in the form of a bull, abducting the maiden Europa. The ceiling of the hotel's Carracci Restaurant is likewise beautifully painted, illustrating the Ancient Greek Myth of Phaethon, in subtle hues of ochre, umber and sienna. "We've restored the frescoes, because in the past people smoked, and this darkened the paintwork", says Tiberio proudly, "now they've been returned to their original splendour".
With a separate entrance off Via Manzoni, the Carracci Restaurant welcomes both hotel guests and non-resident guests, who come here to savour chef Claudio Sordi's contemporary reinterpretation of traditional Bolognese cuisine. Tiberio recommends his award-winning Majesty Tortellini, with parmesan cheese, grated porcini mushrooms and black olive flakes.
For wine tasting and private rustic-chic dining, there's the Enoteca Morandi in the basement, while for drinks you have the Cafe Marinetti. "The Futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti organised an exhibition here in 1914, so we named the cafe after him", explains Tiberio. "Here, on the walls you can see photos of some of the international stars who've stayed here – Frank Sinatra, Maria Callas, Fellini, Lady Diana, Elton John and Liza Minelli. Not only artists, but also politicians, heads of state and presidents".
From the lobby, a grand marble staircase leads to the upper floors. Guest rooms are decorated in either Classic Venetian or 19th-century French style, with wooden parquet floors, Murano-glass chandeliers, floral brocade fabrics and marble bathrooms, while the suites are even more spacious and sumptuous, and are individually furnished with period antiques. There's also a small spa, and in the basement, next to the Breakfast Room, you can see a section of the ancient Roman road.
Bologna's magnificent city centre, home to Europe's oldest university, dating from 1088, is packed with medieval monuments. So if someone is here for just a weekend, what should they see? "You absolutely have to visit the Two Towers - you can climb up to the top of the taller one, the 12th-century Asinelli Tower", says Tiberio. In medieval times, Bologna had almost 200 towers, built by local families who competed to show off their wealth. "Then Piazza Santo Stefano, which hosts a monthly antique market, with the Basilica Santo Stefano, also known as the Seven Churches."
In fact the hotel offers an Art Service. "On request, art historian Dr Massimo Martelli gives an introduction to the hotel's history and art works", says Tiberio, "followed by a private guided tour of the city's cultural attractions". Five-star service, guaranteed to satisfy even the most discerning guests.
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