Modena is one of those Italian cities you’ve often heard about but never considered visiting. But you’d be gravely mistaken to overlook this little jewel in the gastro-centric Emilia Romagna region.
With its burnt-mustard and blood-orange streets, Modena is every bit as charming and picturesque as Bologna, its older and better-known sibling.
In fact, the only thing Modena lacks is the grit, grime and grind of the big tourist destination that Bologna has become in recent years.
As well as its pastel-hued good looks, we can also thank Modena for giving life to some of Italy’s most lusted after icons, including Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and, my favourite, Ducati.
Oh, and lest we forget the one and only Luciano Pavarotti.
Like all great Italian cities, Modena is an Eden for those who travel to eat (and drink).
This is a land of giant bowls of hand-parcelled tortellini snowed under mini mountains of rich parmigiano-reggiano cheese.
This is a land of fresh salads drizzled in local olive oil and Modena’s world-famous balsamic vinegar.
It seems funny to me that people tend to stay in Bologna, located just a 25-minute train ride away, and visit Modena for the day.
I’d suggest doing it the other way around, and living like a true Italian. Here in Modena.
Admittedly there’s less to see and do in Modena, compared to Bologna, but that’s precisely what’s so special about it.
How refreshing it is to visit a city where you don’t feel guilty for not having ticked off a list “must-see sights”.
No, in Modena things are different. Little is expected of you here, only that you begin your day with fresh pastries and strong espresso at Pasticceria Remondini, before meandering your way through the mid-morning sun to Piazza Grande.
And you must, of course, stop for a glass of vermouth before lunch, and enjoy the views of the wonky Duomo di Modena.
You may choose to watch the flower market hawkers do their thing, or nibble your way through the 100-year-old Albinelli Market.
But, then again, you may not. And no-one will care.
You may just prefer to dilly dally away an afternoon with the locals in Piazza XX Settembre.
Sipping vermouth and/or Italian craft beer at Il Giusto Gusto.
Watching people coming and going, hugging and kissing, smoking and posing.
You may like to take a twilight stroll and spend an hour on a bench getting to know a gelato.
Or perhaps you might choose to slip into one of the countless pizzerias that adorn every piazza and via, for steaming hot pies and a gallon or so of local plonk.
Then, if the mood takes you, you may retreat to your hotel to make wild and passionate love to your significant other, or a stranger.
Or maybe just to read a novel and polish off a bottle of local Lambrusco.
And when you return home from Modena and your friends and family ask you what you saw and what you did, you can tell them that you saw nothing, but gained all.
You can tell them that you did little but live ‘la dolce vita’.
That you wanted for nothing.
Come Dio comanda (as God commanded).
Optional Food-Centric Tours & Experiences in Modena
Make it Happen
How to get to Modena: The nearest airport to Modena is Bologna (BLQ). From there you can rent a car and drive straight to Modena in about 30-40 minutes. Another option is to take the Aerobus shuttle bus (departs every 11 minutes and costs €6) to Bologna and then jump on the train to Modena (takes 25 mins. / tickets here from €4).
When to go to Modena: Modena (and Bologna) are the sort of places you will enjoy at any time of year.
How to get around Modena: Modena is tiny and perfect for exploring on foot.
Where to stay in Modena:
Casa Mappamondo ~ We stayed in this beautiful old apartment (now converted into something between a B&B and a ‘poshtel’ – shared kitchen and not all rooms have private bathrooms). The location couldn’t have been more convenient and the owner was a really nice chap who was happy to give us tips on where to eat and drink. A great option for solo travellers, couples and families (great quadruple rooms available) who want convenience without spending a fortune. Rooms from around €50.
PHI Hotel Canalgrande ~ A impressively grand 4* period property with all the glitz and glamour of yesteryear. Slap bang in the centre and rooms available from €87 a night.
B&B Hotel Modena ~ A great value modern property located just outside the centre of Modena. I’ve mentioned this one because it has private parking, which you will struggle to find in the heart of the old town. Rooms from €50.
Apartments in Modena ~ There are some fantastic Airbnb apartments available here, many with views over the cathedral! Definitely worth checking out if you’d like your very own casa during your time in Modena.
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