Second-time travellers to Italy are heading to Modena, a stunning city in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, for a quick dose of history. Rupali Dean offers quick tips on navigating its cobbled streets. By Rupali Dean
Modena is one such discovery, where culture the south of the Po Valley meets the haunting Romanesque cathedral within; the sound of Ferraris and Maseratis whizzing through the city complements the flavourful harmony of Parmigiano Reggiano and Balsamico. Antica Pasticceria San Biagio, a preferred spot in town, is packed and tiny. With a baking prowess that stretches back to the turn of the century, this café cum artisan store, produces some of the finest Amaretto cookies in the world. Grab a table (if you’re lucky enough to find one), order a coffee and bite into the sweet biscuit of life that is Modena.
GRAB A BITE
The outlying neighbourhoods that beckon you to the historic centre verify that the beauty of the relics in Modena run deep. From being the birthplace of ‘liquid gold’ aka, balsamic vinegar, to Osteria Francescana, a three-star Michelin restaurant by Chef Massimo Bottura rated the world’s best; the foodscape in Modena lives up to its reputation. Just around the corner from Osteria Francescana is Menomoka (Corso Canal Chiaro, 136/a; +39/059-710-0561), a coffee shop and bar which is young and dynamic with portraits and quotes of famous personalities from literature, music, and art backgrounds. Modena’s medieval town is cross-sectioned by streets intersecting on Via Emilia. At its heart is the Duomo at the Piazza Grande, a UNESCO-certified ethnic treasure, along with a gorgeous 12th-century Romanesque cathedral and its majestic Ghirlandina bell tower. Aperitivo is a sacred rite in Modena, and there’s no finer place to carry on the tradition than sitting over at Café Concerto whose al fresco seating lodges and prized cobbled exteriors stand out on the quaint piazza.
As seasoned travellers always say, ‘head to the local market to discover the local food, crafts and culture.’ The busy Mercato Albinelli offers a fine display of the ordinary life of Modenesi. The market’s appearance is immaculate. Bouquets of flowers are scattered amid wine bottles. Hand-written price tags on cabinets stand brim with vibrantly organised dunes of pasta, vivacious fruits and vegetables, countless types of cheese and Balsamico. One can find pasta in every variety here, but the most popular one in this region is the Tortellini, nicknamed the belly button. Running the gamut from Prosciutto to Mortadella, you will find all sorts of salumi (Italian cold cuts) here. The salumerias in this region are the best.
OUT OF TOWN
1/ For a break from the bustle, head to Spilamberto, just 20 minutes’ drive out of Modena. Here, take a tour of Museo Del Balsamico Tradizionale, a museum dedicated to balsamic vinegar and its medieval traditions.
2/ If you’ve ever dreamt of sitting yourself inside the Rosso corsa of a Ferrari, then Maranello–home to the Ferrari factory–is just a short drive from Modena. Once inside the sacred gates of this Italian thoroughbred, there are options galore for you to live out your petrol head dreams; test drives stretch between 10 minutes and two hours.
3/ Spend a morning at Hombre Parmigiano Reggiano dairy farm and receive an education in the art of cheese making it an absolutely overwhelming experience. To see the process involved, reach there before sunrise. Here you’ll see how partially skimmed milk from the previous day is mixed with the morning’s milk and the cheese starts to take shape.