By Karin MartinezMarch 28, 2018
MODENA, Italy - Creating an itinerary for a day in the medieval town of Modena is decidedly easy, as there are several places to choose from depending upon one's travel style and desired experiences.
An itinerary that works beautifully for a small group with a variety of tastes could look something like this: balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese tastings, a visit to the Ferrari Museum, a walk through downtown combined with a delicious lunch, and a tour of the home of one of the most celebrated tenors of the 20th century. Make sure to get on the road early so you can fit it all in - or spread it out over a weekend if you want to move a little slower and even add to the itinerary.
The first priority of the day should be a visit to one of the balsamic vinegar producers, acetaie, in the area. Find information about locations at the tourist office on Piazza Grande 14, or online at www.visitmodena.org.
My group chose to visit the world's oldest producer of balsamic vinegar, Acetaia Giuseppe Giusti. The company was founded in Modena in 1605 and is guided by the 17th generation of the Giusti family. Be one of the more than 10,000 guests who visit each year.
You'll walk among centuries-old vinegar barrels and the family museum, learn the method of creating balsamic vinegar, and sit down to taste what is sometimes called "God's nectar." Giusti was the first to put into writing the "golden rules" for creating a perfect balsamic vinegar: choice of grapes, quality of casks and time.
Guided tour and tasting is free, and this acetaia has a history of receiving awards for the quality of its products, so there is no way you'll go home without buying some of this incredibly tasty product for yourself!
Whether it's a bottle of 12-year-old vinegar, one that's 25 years old, or a variety of flavored balsamic glaze, visitors rarely leave empty-handed. In 1929, the company was an official supplier of the Royal House of Savoy, King of Italy, and has been a supplier to the Duke of Modena and many popes of the Roman Catholic Church.
The acetaia is located at Strada Quattro Ville 155 and is open seven days a week, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Call to schedule a tour, 059-84-0135; visit online at www.visitgiusti.com, or Facebook @AcetoBalsamicoGiusti.
King of Cheese
After learning all you need to know about balsamic vinegar, it will be time for cheese tasting. And where better to taste cheese than at a cheese dairy that processes what Americans know as parmesan - but let's call it by its real name, parmigiano-reggiano - cheese. Also dubbed the "King of Cheese," its round shape, crumbly surface and salty taste is best enjoyed after at least 24 months of seasoning. Parmigiano-reggiano is believed to have originally been imported by French monks in the Middle Ages and is one of the most popular cheeses still today.
Book a guided tour at one of many dairies, all of which can be found on the comprehensive list at www.parmigianoreggiano.com, or download the free app called RPE Mobile that represents the cheese consortium. Make sure to check the hours; many are open seven days a week, but a handful are closed Sunday or Monday.
Drive to see the work of master cheese makers and taste some of the freshest parmigiano-reggiano you've ever had. You'll never look at a green can of "parmesan" again!
The next stop is city center to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site, Modena's cathedral, or duomo, on which construction began in 1099. Two free parking areas are available close to the town center: Piazzale Giovani di Tien An Men-Viale Monte Kosica and Ex AMCM-Viale Carlo Sigonio, as well as some street parking.
The cathedral, considered a masterpiece of European Romanesque architecture, was consecrated by Pope Lucius III in 1184, and the crypt houses the tomb of the city's patron saint, Geminianus, or Saint Gimignano. He was a fourth century deacon (approximately 390 A.D.) and became Bishop of Modena.
After paying your respects to history and religion at the cathedral and wandering through town, allow yourself time for lunch to enjoy Modenese cuisine at one of several restaurants. A few dishes in particular are local specialties: cotechino, culatello, gnocco frito, Modena prosciutto, tigelle, tortellino, and zampone. (*See below) Don't forget the specialty wine of the area, Lambrusco. Made from the Lambrusco grape, the sparkling wine is created with sweet must - freshly pressed grape juice that contains skins, seeds and stems of the fruit. It can be one of two colors, a dark ruby or a pinkish rosè, and serves well as an aperitivo (happy hour drink) but also is tasty with tortellini and meats.
To dine like a true Italian, end the meal with a digestivo (digestive); in Modena, ask for nocino, made from unripe walnuts and aged for a minimum of six months.
Italian sports cars
Modena is the capital of motorsport and is sometimes referred to as "Motor Valley" because many famous cars and motorcycles are made here. That includes Maserati, Dallara, Ducati, Pagani, Lamborghini and Ferrari. There are opportunities to see them all, but this itinerary includes only Ferrari, and the next stop on our trip is the Enzo Ferrari Museum (Museo Enzo Ferrari), located on Via Paolo Ferrari 85.
This is company founder Enzo Ferrari's birthplace-turned-museum and includes the restored house where he was born. There is a permanent exhibition on Ferrari's life, and the gallery houses exhibitions of vintage cars. A separate space shows Ferrari engines, including experimental designs, 2 to 6 cylinders, 8 cylinders, the classic 12-cylinder, turbos and Formula 1's. Services here include guided tours, audio guides, book shop and store, restaurant and cafeteria, and a shuttle to Maranello. The museum in Maranello offers a look at some Formula 1 and significant road cars, as well as the factory and test track.
Ticket costs for Museo Enzo Ferrari are as follows: full price €15, reduced €13, and under 19 when accompanied by family member €5. A combination ticket that includes the site at Maranello is €26, €22 and €10, respectively. Hours for both are April-October, daily from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. *Note: To stay on the one-day itinerary, choose one museum or the other. Learn more at www.museomodena.ferrari.com and www.museomaranello.ferrari.com.
The Luciano Pavarotti House Museum, Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti, is the best way to wrap up your day as you unwind with the beautiful music of opera legend Luciano Pavarotti.
Pavarotti was born in Modena in 1935, and the world-famous tenor made his operatic debut on April 29, 1961, as Rodolfo in La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini. He soared to stardom because of his voice that had rare range and clarity.
Just outside of town, about 10 km from city center and before getting back on the autostrada for home, the residence in which the Maestro lived during his final years invites guests to take a look around. Buy a ticket, get an audio guide, and immerse yourself in Pavarotti's music while wandering through his home and getting a glimpse of his everyday life. He lived there with his second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, and their young daughter, Alice, who was 5 years old when he died in 2007.
Guests are able to peruse some of his most famous theatre costumes, photos with family and friends (a framed Pavarotti with Colin Powell and Julie Andrews on the piano!), some of his bold-colored paintings, countless awards (see a Grammy up close), and gifts from fans.
The museum is located at Stradello Nava 6 and is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ticket price is €8; reduced (65 years old & older and ages 12-18) €6; free for younger than 12. Get more information online at www.casamuseolucianopavarotti.it.
Modena is easily accessible via the A22, the A1, or by train. It is approximately 100 miles from Vicenza and 140 miles from Livorno.
Cotechino - A large boiled sausage traditionally served on New Year's Eve with lentils.
Culatello - If you like cured meats, try this local specialty, as it cannot be exported to the United States because of preservation methods. Pork is seasoned and salted and inserted into a pig's bladder, wrapped with twine and cured for a year.
Gnocco fritto - Fried dough.
Modena Prosciutto - Thinly sliced, salt-cured strips of pig thigh. Only 180,000 pieces are seasoned each year.
Tigelle - Looks like a flat English muffin; has crispy exterior and soft interior and is filled with a variety of foods, from pesto to prosciutto and arugula.
Tortellino - Handmade pasta shaped like a knot, also called Venus' belly button. According to legend, a voyeuristic innkeeper, peeking through a keyhole to spy on Venus and Mars, caught a glimpse of the goddess' perfect belly button and tried to reproduce it in pasta form. Usually served in capon broth.
Zampone - Pig's trotter stuffed with various ground pork parts and the rough outer skin. Pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves can be added.