I decided to kick off the New Year with one of my favorite sections of this blog: the Local Tour Guides!
I love when a friend takes me around his or her town and shows me all the hidden secrets only a local knows. I feel really special and I hope it is the same for you!
Today it’s the turn of lovely Alicja from Modena, a nice little town in Emilia-Romagna, right in the heart of the Pianura Padana. As Alicja will tell you in detail, Modena is not that well known abroad but is totally worth visiting – for its monuments and history and for the amazing food as well. Osteria Francescana, recently voted the best restaurant in the world, is in Modena: this might mean something after all, don’t you think?
Well, I’ll let Alicja describe us her hometown. Let’s follow her around Modena!
If you’re traveling to Italy from a foreign country, Modena might probably not be on your list of the must-go cities.
And I’m here to prove you that you’re wrong! As for sure there is no such historical and architectural heritage as in the most famous Italian cities, you will find a charming city rich of tradition (and proud of it) but with a deep love for art, culture, technology and food.
And I believe it is not by chance that more and more celebrities are rediscovering and appreciating our little city. For example, did you know that Mark Zuckerberg came to Modena a few months ago, to donate a state-of-the-art server to UNIMORE, the city University, as he recognized it as one of the most advanced research centers on computer image elaboration in Europe? Speaking of this, he stopped for a coffee at MenoMoka, an industrial-chic bar at the beginning of the center of Modena, with the walls covered with the portraits of famous people and their quotes, like this from Heinlein on cats:
Engineering is by far one of the leading resources in Modena. But as I told you, it is not just pure technological research. Innovation here always walks side by side with the fine art sense and the passion of people from Modena (aka Modenesi). And this is why Ferrari and Maserati are born here! On this purpose, when you come to Modena, you must go to the MEF, the Enzo Ferrari House and Museum, only 5 minutes by walk from the main train station, and very close to the city center.
MEF (photo taken from the Internet with commercial use rights)
You could also go and visit the twin Ferrari Museum in Maranello, that is the city 15 km from Modena where Ferrari factory was established, and still is nowadays, with the famous Fiorano track where all Ferrari pilots have their training.
Very close to the MEF museum, if you like contemporary art you should visit the MATA, a temporary exhibits space for contemporary art and events. It recently hosted an exhibit on Basquiat, as maybe most of you don’t know, but for a curious case, Jean-Michel Basquiat held his very first exhibit right here, in Modena.
Walking through the Center, some history: you will for sure encounter the beautiful Piazza Grande with the Dome and the Ghirlandina Tower, UNESCO heritage for being one of the most important examples of Romanic Architecture in the world.
Piazza Grande (photo Wikipedia under CC licence)
Duomo di Modena and Ghirlandina Tower (photo Wikipedia under CC licence)
The arcades of Piazza Grande
Another thing you should not miss is Piazza Roma, with its fountain that creates beautiful water games, and the Palace of the Duke that now hosts the Military Academy of Modena.
From Piazza Roma, you can walk through via Del Taglio, where you can find many small shops with beautiful clothes and shoes, till you arrive in Piazza della Pomposa. Here is the heart of the nightlife of the city center, with dozens of places to go for a drink or something to eat.
Here you’ll also find my favorite place to have a glass of wine: Naturalmente , with his special Oste Vincenzo. He will always laugh and sing some song for you, and you can taste here for an honest price some of the best wines of Italy, together with organic products and high-quality cheese and cold cuts.
Cold cuts are very typical in Modena amongst the many specialties of the Emilia-Romagna region. In fact, they are the ideal companion of the most typical dish of Modena: the Tigelle.
Crescentine cooked into tigelle the traditional way
Originally invented in the mountains near Modena, they arrived in town and changed the name into Tigelle, that refers to the traditional stone disks where the grannies used to cook them.
They consist of a fermented pasta very firm and cut into a circle shape, that is cooked on special pans on the fire and then cut in two and filled with cold cuts, or the traditional “pesto” made with lard, garlic, and herbs, or with cheese and rockets for the vegetarians. Of course, the best way to taste them is with a glass of Lambrusco, possibly a Sorbara DOP.
Tigelle, cold cuts, and Sorbara DOP: the typical table of a dinner with friends and family
As you can see, it is not a very rich and elaborate dinner: Modena cooking tradition is quite poor, even if it has some excellence products like Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena – you could also go for an Aceto Balsamico tasting in one of the many Acetaia of the city.
But in the center of Modena there is also someone who was able to take these simple ingredients, and, once again combining technique, passion, and art, transform them into something so unique and amazing, that his restaurant was elected this year as “Best Restaurant in the World”. I’m talking of chef Massimo Bottura and his Osteria Francescana. Of course, this restaurant is not accessible to everybody, for its high price range and the difficulty to reserve a table, but if you have the possibility, once in a lifetime, you would find a perfect combination of tradition, terroir, and art, almost as if Pollock decided to cook for one day!
If you want to bring home a souvenir, I suggest you visit the shop Bensone , a concept store that also sells unconventional souvenirs representing our city. By the way, Bensone is the most famous dessert of Modena, a pastry roll filled with homemade marmalade.
Hope I have interested you and convinced to come and say hi in Modena, I’ll meet you at the corner between via Emilia and Corso Duomo, ciao!
Via Emilia, crossroad with Corso Duomo, on the right the famous Chiesa del Voto church that usually hosts classical music concerts.
Alicja is Polish but Modena adopted her since she was a young lady, so much so that her daughters say that she speaks Modenese dialect better than Italian! She breeds Golden Retrievers and shares her life with seven furry kids. Vegetarian, she lives in the countryside and loves outdoors, nature, healthy food, and good wine. She blogs about her 20-year experience as a Golden Retriever breeder on Alice in Goldenland, trying to spread her love for this amazing breed and for dogs in general.
All photographs are by Natascia Rioli – unless otherwise stated.