Modena - Emilia-Romagna
Whoever has heard of Modena has probably also heard of her internationally-renowned balsamic vinegar. Located almost exactly midway between Bologna and Parma, Modena succeeds in rivaling these neighboring cities by boasting Luciano Pavarotti, the Ferrari and Maserati factories, and a tantalizing cuisine. The area around Modena holds some of the most fertile soil on the Italian peninsula, and the city's daily and weekly markets tempt locals and visitors alike with wonderfully fresh and copious produce. Colorful buildings and flavorsome fare make Modena a stop on many Italian food tours, with travelers visiting from around the world to learn the secrets behind the legends and lore of Modenese cuisine.
To the Modenese, balsamic vinegar production is not just a business; it is an art. Balsamic vinegar, or aceto balsamico, can be traced back as early as Roman times. Regular production, however, did not begin until a millenium later when the Duke of Modena first used it to ward off the plague in the 1400s. Soon, Italians came to appreciate the more culinary and less medicinal purposes of the sweet, tangy vinegar, and learned to enhance foods like strawberries, cheese, ice cream, and salads with only a few drops of the once homeopathic elixir. Well-aged vinegars have a consistency that approaches that of port, and at times are even sipped as apperitivi. What sets Modenese vinegar apart are its fresh base and careful aging process: instead of being fermented from an alcohol base, Modena's vinegars are refined directly from Trebbiano grapes. After a period of simmering-which takes many hours-the juice is stored in 500-year-old barrels for up to as long as a century, and gets transferred periodically during this time to caskets made of various types of wood. The smooth and richly-flavored vinegar that results is unique-and expensive. Even in Italy, balsamic is regarded as so precious a delicacy that is often included in wedding dowries.
The first stop in a tour of Modena's sights will find you at the city's Romanesque duomo, dating from the early 12th century and home to a relic of patron saint S. Geminiano. Walk down Via Emilia or Via S. Eufemia to the Palazzo dei Musei, and visit the Biblioteca Estense with its exquisite collection of illuminated books and the Galleria Estense, which stores gigantic canvases such as Francesco Botticini's Adoration of the Child and Valázquez's Portrait of Francesco d'Este. For a view of the city, climb to the top of Ghirlandina Tower, a Gothic and Romanesque-styled tower built in the late 13th century with a WWII memorial placed in front, dedicated to those who died fighting the Nazis and Fascists during the war.
Modena's automotive claim to international fame, the Ferrari factory, is located just southwest of the city in Maranello. From there, buses will take you straight to the factory and its museum. Finally, though you won't hear him serenading crowds from his balcony, Pavarotti will let you take a peek at his villa. The big house is hidden at the corner of Stradello Chiesa and Via Giardini.
Trains leave regularly from P. Dante Alighieri for destinations such as Bologna, Milan, and Parma. ATCM buses depart from V. Fabriani, and will take you to Ferrara (every hour) and Maranello (every 1-2hr.).