Though only thirty minutes northwest by train, MODENA has a quite distinct identity from Bologna. It proclaims itself the “spiritual capital” of Emilia and has a number of claims to fame: great car names such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati are tied to the town (celebrated in Modena Terra di Motori every spring, when the piazzas are filled with classic models; w modenaterradimotori.com); the late Pavarotti was a native of Modena, his name commemorated in the Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti; the area’s balsamic vinegar has become a cult product in kitchens around the world, duly celebrated in nearby Carpi during the Balsamica festival in May; and the cathedral – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is considered one of the finest Romanesque buildings in Italy. Of things to see, top of most people’s lists are the rich collections of paintings and manuscripts built up by the Este family, who decamped here from Ferrara in 1598, after it was annexed by the Papal States, and who ruled the town until the nineteenth century. But really the appeal of Modena is in wandering its labyrinthine old centre, finishing off the day with some good food. The town’s small, concentric medieval core is bisected by Via Emilia, which runs past the edge of Piazza Grande, the nominal centre of town, its stone buildings and arcades forming the focus of much of its life.
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