Modena, The Motor City of Italy Travel Guide

It's not all fast cars, there's marvelous food and a fantastic Romanesque Cathedral as well

Modena is located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, on the fertile Pianura Padana. It is Italy's equivalent of the "motor city" as Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena, and other Italian sports cars like Lamborghini, Maserati and Bugatti were all conceived and built around Modena, in what is known as Italy's Motor Valley, celebrated each year in May by a weekend festval called the Motor Valley Fest. Don't miss it if you like automobiles; the event is totally free, and there are extrordinary openings of car related places in Modena which might be hard to get into outside the festival time.

Modena is easily accessible by train; its railway station, Stazione di Modena, dating from 1859 is part of the Milan to Bologna line. Two secondary links get you to Verona and Sassuolo.

Our map is centered on Modena's fabulous Piazza Grande, which contains the World Heritage Cathedral, the Duomo di Modena, whose first stone was laid in 1099. Mouse over the map markers to see what they represent.

Modena Map

Modena Cuisine

ristorante da enzo modena picture

Modena may surprise you. It's not a popular tourist destination, but its central city is quite pleasing, the restaurants good and the food is quite earthy and satisfying. The regions favorites include Cotechino and Zampone, two types of sausage traditionally served with polenta. Pasta favorites include tortellini and tortelloni, stuffed pastas.

Restaurants? Try the stinco al balsamico--pork shank with the region's celebrated balsamic vinegar--at Da Enzo (Via Coltellini, 17), we also liked the tortellini in brodo and the bollito misto at Da Enzo. Try anything at Osteria Ermes (Via Ganaceto, 89) at lunch, Ermes is closed at night and on Sundays.

A reader recommends the four table Hosteria Giusti, his favorite lunch-only restaurant in Modena serving traditional Modenese cuisine. We've recently visited, and agree that the small place with its fine attention to the details of cooking and preparing food make it one of the culinary icons of today's Modena.

Want to head over to the current best restaurant out of the World's 50 Best Restaurants? That would be Osteria Francescana, the brainchild of skinny Italian chef Massimo Bottura. Reservations are essential. Phone: +39 059 223912.

The Big Three: Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico and Prosciutto di Modena DOP

You won't find the production areas of these three iconic foods in the hostoric center of Modena, you'll just have to head into the suburbs after a little planning session with your GPS. But there's another way, and it's highly recommended.

Aceto Balsamico di Modena

aceto balsamico di modena


The Acetaia Villa San Dommino is set in an idylic spot in the coutryside that surrounds Modena. Production begins here in 1947, when the product was "all in the family" and folks would save it for a special occassion. Today it's a commercial product that hasn't changed for the undiscerning tourist. It's a great place to visit, and it smells great to be there. By the way, the oldest aging barrel still in use has the year 1512 engraved upon it.

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Parmigiano Reggiano

parmigiano reggiano

Ah, the Cheese!

Did you know that you don't have to go to Parma to get real Parmigiana Reggiano cheese? The Caseificio 4 Madonne Offers the full explanation of how the cheese is produced, then you can go to the store and buy not only the cheese but other artisanal food goods as well By the way, the machinery in the aisle brushes off the cheese and turns it over. 

Guided Tours

Prosciutto di Modena DOP

prosciutto di modena dop

Hamming It Up

When you drive up to the large establishment dedicated to the hind quarters of the pig, it seems like all the other large farmhouses. But when you are welcomed into Prosciuttificio Nini Gianfranco, the magic starts. There's the perfume of the aging hams, there's the suggestion that the prosciutto di Modena, aged longer at least a month longer than the Parma product, is superior. Taste it for yourself. 

Find Out More

Modena's covered market is the historic Albinelli Market that's been selling good things to eat since 1900. Apartment dwellers will find prepared and ready to cook items here.

There is an additional food and clothing market held on Monday, 8am to 2 pm in the Parco Piazza D'Armi Novisad. Don't just look at the stalls; the road that bisects the modern oval road is a Roman Road! Under the park is a large parking lot that's convenient to the train station. If you're a meat lover, a restaurant just to the south will serve your needs well: Steakhall Mattatoio Modena on Via Jacopo Berengario, 86 isn't just steaks, the chicken and the many hamburgers are fantastic as well.

Culture and Food Tour in Modena Traditional Home Cooking Experience in Modena

A Hidden Car Museum: Stanguellini Automobile

Not far from the Enzo Ferrari Museum or the showrooms of Maserati is a museum dedicated to Stanguellini cars and the machines used to build them. Stanguellini Automobili was the first company to connect Modena to engines--and believe it or not it all started with a metallic tuning kettledrum. The museum holds many of the race cars developed in Modena, plus a large collection of personal street cars. Stranguellini machines won the 28th Targa Florio. and a car called the Colibrì won 6 world speed records on the high speed ring of Monza using a Guzzi 250 single-cylinder engine. The museum is now part of the family's Fiat dealership, and you need to make an appointment to see it. There is no admission fee.

Via Emilia Est, 756 - 41100 Modena (Italy)
Tel: +39 059 361105

straguellini race cars

Recommended Places to Stay in Modena

Best Western Hotel Libertà is a three-star hotel in the pedestrian zone of Modena, between the Palazzo Ducale and the Cathedral. There is free wi-fi in the rooms. The hotel is 550 meters from Modena's train station.

Hotel Castello is a luxury three star hotel 4km ouside of Modena built in a former noble residence. The hotel is convenient to the Ferrari Factory and Museum, which is 20 minutes drive away.

For those looking for a hotel room with kitchenette, the Residence Masone is conveniently located in the heart of Modena and highly rated by folks who've stayed there.

For other places to stay in Modena with locations and current prices, see the map below. It is centered on the Duomo di Modena, and offers places to stay from many vendors at the best prices.

Top Things to See in Modena

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Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari - The boyhood home of Enzo, a new museum in Modena that traces the life of Enzo Ferrari and holds examples of some of Italy's most famous classic cars. Well worth a visit.

Did you know you can test drive a Ferrari for up to an hour in Modena and then head for the restaurant where the "other" test-drivers hang out? Check out the Viator Tour:

Ferrari Full Day Experience with Test-Drive

carving on the cathedral of modena
The side of the Duomo di Modena is covered with interesting carvings telling stories to the illiterate

Duomo di Modena (1184) and the bell tower La Ghirlandina

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La Ghirlandinia
This pair makes a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Favorite son Luciano Pavarotti's funeral was held here. The Duomo exterior is brick, but it reuses lapidary material from the Roman city of Mutina, now below the surface of the modern city. Designer Lanfranco introduced a new form of architecture with the Cathedral of Modena, which was passed down to the Romanesque forms that followed.

Palazzo dei Musei - Once an alms house, now a complex of galleries and museums which includes the Galleria Estense, which shows off the collection of the Este family, the archaeological museum, and the important Biblioteca Estense and its collection of ancient manuscripts.

modena partisans picture
Modena Partisans

Palazzo Comunale - It's the town hall, but you can see beautiful historic frescoes and tapestries here.

The Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia is headquartered in Modena. In the Piazza Grande there is a memorial dedicated to Italian Partisans, interesting for the style of dress at the time among other things.

Modena Historic Temperature Chart

Modena offers a temperate climate with hot and humid summers with very little rain but frequent thunderstorms and cold, damp winters. Rain falls mostly in spring and fall.

Modena historic temperatures

Modena Travel Resources

Emilia Romagna Vacation Villa Rentals Compare Prices on Modena Hostels

Ever wonder what it's like to teach English to Modenese kids? You'll get a good idea with Never Trust a Thin Cook (A Review of Sorts).

Massimo Bottura has written a tome with a similar title: Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef

More Italy Travel Planning Resources

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