Modena may be a small city in comparison, 175 000 residents, but the stretched piazze and wide pedestrian streets pack a punch not only amongst most culinary realms of Italy, but also in its famously renowned automobile industry.
Since Modena is home to Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Pagani have settled in the nearby hills thus anyone who visits Modena can tap into an unforgettably racy scene, right here at their fingertips.
The beautifully crafted Enzo Ferarri Museum can be found in town for a trip down racing car memory lane and into the future, according to Mr Ferrari himself who was born here in 1898.
An hour away is medieval, university city Bologna, registered foodie heaven for many reasons including mortadella, bolognese, tortellini and tagliatelle. The province of Emilia Romagna produces Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano but while bustling Bologna usually takes the cake, baby-sister Modena also has a couple of famous names up her sleeve, putting her very much on the map.
Modena has a lot to boast about but what I love most about this city is how unflashy she is. At lunchtime, the streets slow down, traffic stops and all you see are bicycles and locals on the cobbled streets, not a sportscar in sight. People sit casually at cafes by the roadside, sipping drinks, tucking into lazy lunches or ambling the wide, paved piazze in quiet conversation. This is not a loud city but it's home to Vasco Rossi, Italy's most beloved rock star. Likewise the famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti was from Modena and you can visit the house he spent his last happy years in, or the theatre in his name. You can't blame him for coming home - it's peaceful here.
While we're on names, here's another impressive one: Massimo Bottura. Chef Bottura heads Osteria Francescana, officially ranked as one of the World’s Best Restaurants. In 2013 and 2016 it was voted The best, if you get a chance to dine there, you'll be in luck, meanwhile have a browse through their sumptuous website - blending cuisine and art. Once again this Three Michelin Star establishment is serenely understated and you'd be forgiven for walking straight past the pastel-pink osteria if you didn't know where to look.
Modanese foods and wines constitute most of the city's fame (besides Ferrari of course) the most important of all being Balsamic Vinegar.
Italians won't bother with any other balsamic if it's not from Modena. As with all culinary specialities in Italy, aceto balsamico is geographically protected following a strict recipe, it matures with age like fine wine and is treated as such. Expect aceto balsamico to feature everywhere around here but only in small drops on cheese, cakes or fruit, anything. Its tangy, sweet demeanor lends to an exquisite local cuisine including the bubbly red Lambrusco bottled in these hills. Lambrusco is meant to be drunk young so ignore anything you've had out of Italy - this is frothy, delicious and light - nothing like its overseas versions.
Simple foods like gnocchi fritti and tigelle are also Modena specialties, you'll find these and a plethora of culinary delights all squished into the historic indoor market, Mercato Albinelli. Open weekdays from 7am to 3pm, and Saturday from 7am to 7pm, try to get here on Saturday around 5pm when the market buzzes to the sounds of Aperitivo Time. The Italian ritual of casually gathering to sip on a spritz or glass of wine with small bites and local nibbles becomes saturated in the middle of this gated, bustling market where stalls impressively shout out wines and drinks to impress the finest of connoisseurs - you'd never expect the best of wines between crates of artichokes and aubergines and cheese counters overflowing in Parmigiano.
Try tigelle when you visit Modena - they're simple flatbreads, made between two iron or clay discs or and stuffed all kinds of meats or cheese - opt for gooey squacquerone cheese with mortadella and then make sure you taste the golden pillow called gnocco fritto - puffed-up dough deep-fried in lard, served with cold meats, cheeses or jams for breakfast. They're a city favourite.
Modena's d'Este family brought wealth, style and culture up til 200 years ago, transforming a simple Roman settlement into the glorious, sun-trapped city it is today. Traces of their grandeur remain in fine details around the city and you can visit a collection of their pieces housed in Galleria Estense.
Modena Cathedral on Piazza Grande form the heart of town and will fill up with concerts and events throughout the year. This declared UNESCO HERITAGE SITE encompasses the Cathedral bell tower as an unmistakeable symbol of Modena - Torre Civica known as the Ghirlandina, well worth a climb to the top for vast city views.
Finally, for an atmospheric experience, visit the Este family's old vinegar cellar, restored as part of their Palazzo, now a Military academy. There's access to the celebrated 'acetaia' of the Ducal House of Este with divine vinegar tastings.
By train, Modena is well-linked and the train station a quick walk from town. See Trenitalia's website here. You'll be pleased to know all signage and announcements are now also in English on Italian trains and stations. Where to stay
Modena is a relatively contained city and if you're after a city-break with glorious dining from street food to the best in the world, you'll find it here, accompanied by art and culture. Stay as central as possible, take your time and go everywhere on foot or by bike.
If you have a few days more, venture out into the surrounding countryside for castle-topped hills and luscious, green landscapes, try the agriturismo.it website for impeccable hospitality and incredible farm or bed and breakfast stays, we love agriturismo accommodation for a truly Italian experience.