Let’s not beat around the bush. Whilst Modena is undeniably picturesque, full of pretty porticos, piazzas and churches, it’s not on many people’s bucket list.
Rarely, if ever, will you hear somebody say ‘PHWOAR! Take me to Modena! I simply must see those monuments!’
Its true, Modena has given the world some of its greatest exports. Pavarotti, Ferrari, Lambrusco, Tortellini and, of course, balsamic vinegar. So if you’re an aficionado on any of the above, Modena will already be on your radar.
But, for the rest of you, here’s a little guide on how to make the most of this underrated city and reasons to add it to your Emilia-Romagna itinerary:
Tip One: Rent a Car.
As a champion of the pedometer I’m not usually one to suggest renting cars, but a lot of the most interesting sites Modena has to offer are outside of the city and buses are notoriously irregular, particularly during the summer when the universities have broken up.
Tip Two: Drink all the Lambrusco and take a trip to Gavioli Wine Museum for a history and tasting.
Lambrusco is the lovely red bubbly stuff which originates here in Emilia-Romagna and is widely consumed across the region, usually plonked down on the table in a carafe to accompany a hearty meal or served with a tangliere board as an aperitivo. Wine snobs might jeer (it’s a humble wine at €4 a bottle) but its one of Italy’s biggest exports... and it’s hardly Lambrini.
One of Modena’s best kept secrets (though not for much longer I hope) is the Gavioli Wine Museum in nearby Nonantola. This extensive museum gives a history of local winemaking and agriculture, and offers visitors the chance to see the cellar, as well as a tasting session. Click here to hear more about my trip.
Tip Three: Learn all about Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
This stuff is black liquid gold, and totally different to the watery liquid we slosh on salads back in the UK.
It’s not cheap, but take a visit to Acetai del Cristo and you’ll understand why. Daniele offers a fascinating free tour of the farm, which dates back over four generations to 1849 and a tasting at the end. There are even special barrels reserved for The Queen and Michael Douglas, so reverered is this vinegar. Click here for more information on my visit.
Tip Four: The City Centre
There is nothing I appreciate more than a well signposted city. Modena is such a place. In defence of other Italian cities, Modena is small, with only a few sites to see but there’s plenty to keep you amused for an afternoon. Visit the Duomo, the Ducal Palace and have a drink on the Piazza del Grande (the heart of the city) in the evening, after wandering around the labyrinth of porticos and small parks.
The Enzo Ferrari House Museum is worth a visit for any formula one fans, though for everybody else, the novelty wears thin after the first few minutes.
Tip Five: Eat all the Food
Modena is one of the ‘happy triangle’ (Bologna, Modena and Parma). Good food is important here, and its hard to find a restaurant which wont knock you up some incredible, typical Modenese meals - from Tortellini in Brodo, to Parmigiana-Reggiano, to Prosciutto di Modena.
If fine dining is more your scene Osteria Francescana, has just been voted the best restaurant in the world. What more could you ask for?
Modena is rich in PDO and PGI products, so it’s the best place to try the highest quality regional produce. Salumeria are typical of Emilia-Romagna and a good port of call to familiarise yourself with the regional cold cuts and sausages the region has to offer.
For lunch, grab something from the Mercata di Albernelli. It’s not Borough Market, mostly fruit and veg, but there are stalls which serve delicious hot Modenese delicacies for a bargain. Note - this closes at 2.30pm.
What to expect:
- Like most of Emilia-Romagna, you're going to find incredible food wherever you go. It's the best place to learn about Balsamic Vinegar and also home to the literally the best restaurant in the world.
- Hospitable, friendly people who are keen to teach and introduce you to regional specialities
- The opportunity to learn about local food and wine produce (if you book in advance) just outside the city
- A very pretty town
- To stay longer than a day or two, unless you're using it as a base to see the rest of Emilia-Romagna, in which case, splendid idea!
- Easy transport without a car. If you aren't planning on making too many excursions outside the city walls, you'll get by just fine. If you don't mind travelling in tour groups, there are several reasonably priced agencies about including: Vivara Viaggi
- A hotspot for exhibitors and events. You’ll need to go to Bologna for that fix.
- Big, grand hotels
Popping off to Emilia - Romagna? Lucky you. Here's a few reasons to visit Bologna, a quick piece to persuade you to visit a traditional Acetaia and some very good reasons to visit Modena