Updated: Jan 14, 2020
When you think of Italy, several things come to mind. Perhaps your attention is drawn to the beaches along the Amalfi Coast, or the history of Ancient Rome. Maybe you're more into art from the Renaissance era, or Milan's high degree of fashion. No matter what comes to mind, the only thing I know for sure is that the small city of Modena is not something you daydream about.
In fact, you probably haven't even heard of it, and if you're only in Italy for a week, I understand the need to skip Modena in lieu of larger cities. However, if you have some spare time for a pitstop along the way, Modena makes for the perfect tourist break. Located in the north, an easy central location when traveling from Milan/Venice to Florence/Rome (or vice versa), Modena is famous for three major things: balsamic vinegar, luxury cars, and Nocino. Read on to learn what to do while visiting Modena.
1. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is not the same as balsamic vinegar you buy in your local grocery store. Modena is the city where the commonly-used condiment was first created. Legally, balsamic vinegar made in Modena must be in a round-shaped bottle which can not be duplicated. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar must be aged at least 12 years, but is often aged a lot longer to create different tastes for a larger price.
Because the famous ingredient originated in Modena, there are many balsamic vinegar factories and tours. Most tours include a free tasting with the cost of a tour. If you visit a shop, it's likely you can enjoy a free tasting as well if it's likely that you'll make a purchase. My husband and I bought a bottle aged somewhere between 15-25 years and it costed around $70 USD. While the price isn't a cheap one, this vinegar is different than what you're used to. Most of the time it is sweet and syrupy, and a small bottle lasts a long time. In fact, it's so sweet that locals often put it on their gelato.
2. Fans of liqueur need not panic. While much of Italy is famous for it's wine, Modena is famous for Nocino: a liqueur made from walnuts that is smooth, sweet, and sticky. We first heard of Nocino when a restaurant gave us a bottle for free after dinner. The waiter told us to have as many shots as we want, as Nocino is famous in the region and no tourist should miss out. The liqueur went down so smoothly with little taste of alcohol, so it's hard not to drink an entire bottle in one sitting if you aren't paying attention.
The best way to explain Nocino is that it is a dessert liqueur that is sweet enough but not overbearingly sweet. It is less rich than a mudslide but more flavorful than a typical cocktail. If you stop by Modena, you must try it out, and every bar you stop at will definitely know what you're talking about.
3. If Modena hasn't grabbed your attention quite yet, or you need something a bit more action-packed, wait until you hear about Pushstart Maranello. Pushstart, as its name suggests, is located in Maranello, which is still in the Modena region but not quite in the city. Luckily, it's a short 20-30 minute bus ride to do something you've likely only dreamed of doing: driving a Lamborghini or Ferrari.
The selection at Pushstart is mostly of Ferraris, since Maranello is where the world-famous supercar was first created by Enzo Ferrari. Lamborghini was invented in Sant'Agata Bolognese, which is fairly close to Modena as well (about 30 minutes away.) Pushstart allows typical people like myself get behind a wheel of a Ferrari or Lamborghini for times ranging from a short 10 minute drive to 120 minutes on the main roads. They also offer rates for race tracks and a circuit track in Modena.
I opted to drive the Lamborghini Huracan Performante for about $237 USD for 15 minutes. My husband drove the Ferrari 458 Speciale for the same price and time limit. Once again, this is not cheap, but for supercar junkies like myself, it's so worth driving world famous cars in the region (or close to the region) where they were created. The instructors were great as well, telling us when a straight-away was coming so we could put the petal to the metal.
4. It only makes sense that the Ferrai Museums are in Modena, also. Right beside Pushstart is Museo Ferrari Maranello, which takes you back in time to some of the most popular styles of Ferraris made. The museum is pretty short, but it's fun to learn a bit about the rich history of the company. The Ferrari race cars are on display at the museum as well.
Back in Modena is the Enzo Ferrari Museum, a museum dedicated to the life of the man who invented the brand. The museum utilizes Ezno's birth home and his father's workshop to pay tribute to the heart of Ferrari.
5. Perhaps one of the most famous restaurants in the world, Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana has been rewarded with three Michelin stars. Reservations must be made months in advance to dine here and the prices are, once again, not cheap. Visiting a restaurant such as this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as it has commonly been named one of the world's best restaurants. If you go, it is recommended that you try the 10-course tasting plate for 250 euros per person so you can get a small taste of everything.
6. Modena is home to this amazing high-quality marketplace called Mercato Albinelli. The marketplace has fresh fish, numerous cheeses, pre-made sandwiches for lunch, and a variety of meats, fruits, and vegetables. My husband and I visited the market, although didn't purchase anything because it was our last day in Modena and we didn't want anything to spoil on the train ride to Milan. If you're looking for a fresh lunch, however, you should swing by.
One word I would use to describe Modena is local. It is undisturbed by tourist activity and quaint in comparison to larger cities. I feel that it gives Italian travelers a true taste of life in Italy when you're not in the more famous places. The streets weren't crowded and day-to-day life was calm. There are squares and meeting places whilst walking around that is in tune to other places in Italy, so beyond this list, I recommend just taking a stroll and viewing all that Modena has to offer.
Places to Stay:
Economy: The B&B Hotel is very nice and extremely affordable. It is located about 1 mile away from the city center.
Mid-Range: Hotel Estense is the hotel I stayed at while I was in Modena. I mainly applaud the location and the friendly staff.
Luxury: The Phi Hotel Canalgrande has a beautiful garden and a close proximity to the action.
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