Savoring the Moments in Modena, Italy

 “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”

Cesare Pavese

As we strolled the cobbled streets of Modena, Italy, surrounded by the graceful city’s earth-toned buildings, we couldn’t help but feel that we were back in a part of the world that doesn’t often see visitors. The portico-packed, elegant lanes were decidedly Italian in architectural character, but locals seemed to approach us at every turn, asking us to take their photograph, curious about our story and what brought us to Modena. The latter certainly wasn’t a phenomenon that either one of us had ever encountered in Italian tourist meccas such as Florence, Rome, or Venice, but here in Modena, we visitors seemed a bit like a rarity, and that made interactions come even more effortlessly.

The mood on the streets of this northwestern Italian town was undeniably cheerful and seemingly perfect, at least on the surface. The streets were immaculate, and blooming forsythia bushes guarded the entryways to well-heeled shops. Bikers of all ages pedaled past us, some in classic business attire. Well-clad couples strolled, arm in arm. Military cadets from Italy’s prestigious academy walked the streets, wearing traditional uniforms, dressed in capes adorned with gold buttons. Children played on timeworn lions guarding Modena’s celebrated Romanesque cathedral, one of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. For three wonderful days, we simply soaked up the city’s must-see attractions, as well its serendipitous charms.

During our first full day, we savored the gastronomic delights for which Modena is renowned. We learned about Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and traditional balsamic vinegar production. We also tied on our aprons for the morning and learned how to make some tantalizing (and gluten free) dishes with the help of a renowned local chef at the Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro. After we’d feasted upon the dishes and savored the region’s delightful Lambrusco wine, we immersed ourselves in Modena’s celebrated car culture, visiting the childhood home of Enzo Ferrari, and spying the meticulously-maintained motors there. Well on our way to purchasing a larger-sized wardrobe, we indulged in more culinary pleasures at the Ristorante Da Danilo, before returning to our monastery-turned-palace-turned-hotel, the Canalgrande.

The next day, we sauntered about the city with no definitive plan. We chanced upon a classic wedding on the city’s Piazza Grande, which brought a tear to my eye; picked up picnic fare at the fantastic covered Albinelli Market; enjoyed Latte Macchiatos at a café teeming with bubbly personalities, admired porticoes adorned with fantastic frescoes, strolled past the city’s theatre honoring its favorite resident, the celebrated opera singer, Pavarotti; explored an open air art market as well as an archaeological park featuring treasures unearthed while building a parking garage, and finished off with three flavors of gelato ice cream. What a great city in which to savor life’s moments!

Modena Italy Chalk Art
Known as an ‘art city’, Modena’s offerings vary from splendid architecture and museum holdings to brilliant chalk art, such as this sidewalk scene.
Modena Cathedral scaffolding
With so many architectural treasures in Europe, it’s inevitable to encounter restoration work, as we discovered at Modena’s celebrated cathedral, the Duomo di Modena.
Modena Cathedral Dog Stroller Italy
A father whisks his daughter and a canine companion by the Modena cathedral on a lively Saturday morning.
Duomo di Modena Cathedral lions
Lions guard an entrance to Modena’s magnificent Romanesque cathedral. The cathedral’s construction began in 1099.
Modena Italy Street Scenes
Modena’s symbol, the Ghirlandina Tower, peeks out above earth-toned buildings. Its construction was finished in the early 14th Century, and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Modena Italy Statue and Shadow

Modena Stylish Bike

Modena Military Academy Cadets Accademia Militare di Modena
Cadets from the Military Academy of Modena, Italy’s West Point, stroll the city’s streets in their timeless uniforms.
Accademia Militare di Modena Military Academy
The Palazzo Ducale, where a portion of the Modena Military Academy, or Accademia Militare di Modena, is housed. Its construction began in 1634, and housed the Este Court for more than 200 years.
Modena Italy architecture

Modena portico frescoed vaulted ceiling
A stunning frescoed ceiling in one of Modena’s innumerable porticoes.
Modena Italy Street Scenes
Modena seems to have been tailor-made for unwinding in quiet spots or biking.
Modena Art Market Lady Bug Magnets
Lady bug magnets for sale at a vibrant, outdoor art market.
Art Vendor Modena Italy
An easygoing art vendor sells his brightly-colored oil paintings.
Modena Cafe Italy T & S
Shawn and I pause for Latte Macchiatos at a café within a well-trafficked portico.
Modena Italy Street Scenes

Modena Italy Latte Macchiato

Modena Italy Pastries Bensona Modenese
Treats to tempt at every turn.
Modena Italy Picnic Food
Picnic delights acquired at Modena’s fresh covered market, the Mercato Albinelli: Pepato Sicilian cheese (made with sheep milk and studded with peppercorns), a gluten-free baguette, and plump strawberries
Modena Italy Menu
Tortelloni stuffed with pumpkin and gnocchi favor prominently on this menu of the day (left).
Modena Gelateria Italy
Enjoying three scoops of gelato at the Gelateria Pomposa. We indulged in Pear & Cinnamon, Mascarpone & Figs, and Ricotta with Honey & Nuts (Pera e Cannella, Mascarpone e Fichi, and Ricotta, Mile e Noci.)
Modena Italy Art Architecture

Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti
The city’s theater, the Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti. It was opened to the public in the 1840s, and later re-named after the celebrated operatic tenor, Pavarotti, who was born in Modena.
Modena Italy fashion in store window

Modena Italy Il parco archeologico
On the outskirts of the Old Town we were surprised to find the Novi Ark Archaeological Park. Presumably when an underground parking garage was being built, Roman-era artifacts were uncovered. The findings date back to the 1st Century BC and 5th Century AD and include headstones, rural buildings, and ancient dumps. This ancient road was found about 5 meters below the surface, so archaeologists meticulously reassembled it at the surface.
Parco Novi Sad Modena Italy
A Roman-era headstone from the ancient city’s necropolis, and a cobblestone road bearing wagon wheel wear and tear.
Man Cafe Modena Italy

Statue of the Bonissima Modena Newsstand
Statue of the Bonissima, which overlooks Modena’s Piazza Grande.
Modena Italy Streetlamp

Modena Porticoes Italy

Modena Italy Architecture Details
It’s all in the details: look carefully on the right, and you’ll see some clever trompe-l’œil painting where the artist has created an optical illusion that the window on the right is also three-dimensional. No wonder trompe-l’œil, a French term, translates to ‘trick the eye.’
Modena Italy Art City Architecture

Il risotto ai funghi porcini
My first course at the Ristorante da Danilo: Risotto con Funghi (Mushroom Risotto, which is naturally gluten free). That was more than enough delicious fare to fill my belly, but next came grilled chicken and eggplant. Shawn enjoyed Lasagna Verde, made with green spinach noodles.
Grilled eggplant Italy
Grilled eggplant.
Modena Restaurant
Panna Cotta dessert dressed with a tasty blend of berries.
Canalgrande Hotel Modena
The historic and elegant Canalgrande Hotel, which is situated in a former monastery and palace.
Modena Italy by Night Scenes
Night falls on the Piazza Grande, as pedestrians walk past the illuminated Palazzo Comunale (City Hall). Like the Ghirlandina Tower and Modena Cathedral, the Piazza Grande is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Our Video of this Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • We picked up our picnic fare from the fantastic Albinelli Market, and dined at Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro and the Ristorante Da Danilo.
  • Our 3 nights were spent at the elegant, historic, and centrally-located Hotel Canalgrande (affiliate link). One of our favorite memories from Modena, in fact, was sitting out on our hotel room balcony just before sunset, looking out over Modena’s rooftops, while enjoying goodies that we’d procured at the Albinelli Market earlier in the day.
  • Peruse the Emilia-Romagna Tourist Board and Modena websites for more details about Modena’s and the region’s rich offerings. The tourist board just recently released a free e-book that chronicles Emilia-Romagna’s Art Cities. I wish it’d been published when we were in the region, yet it’s since presented even more excuses to return to this stunning part of Italy.
  • If you’d also like to “eat, feel and live local in Italy” as we did in Modena, check out the BlogVille project website.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Italy.

Disclosure & Thanks:

Our Modena visit was supported by the Emilia-Romagna Tourist Board, to which we extend thanks.

An extra special thank you to Nick and Francesca for coordinating all the details and making us feel so welcome in Emilia-Romagna. For these excursions, we also wish to say Grazie mille to our guide, Elena, for giving us much insight into local culture.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

21 thoughts on “Savoring the Moments in Modena, Italy

  1. Great reportage, dear Tricia! Photos are just great as well! I can see that you’ve a great time in Modena. Emilia-Romagna is just a welcoming region!Happy Sunday!Cris

    1. Cris, grazie mille! Happy to hear that I conveyed my enthusiasm for Emilia-Romagna here. :) From architecture, to archaeology, gastronomy, and people-watching, we found that Modena has it all.

      1. Heat wave? Lucky you! Oberammergau is having a tricky time escaping a grey veil of clouds – and I think it might approach freezing one of these nights. I sympathize with those who already decorated their yards with their pretty spring blooms.

        Enjoy the CA sunshine! :) Perhaps one of these days our paths will cross and we can savor gelato together, whether it be in Italy or Germany.

    1. Packurthings, you’ve been relocated to Modena? Lucky you! Thanks for your thoughtful words about the reportage. From Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and traditional balsamic visits, to the Enzo Ferrari Museum, we have more reports coming. :)

      How long will you be in Modena?

  2. Well done, Tricia. I loved reading along while looking at the lovely details of this interesting town. You did well capturing the ambiance not just in the buildings, but also the beautiful architectural details, the way food is displayed, the colors, the snapshots of people. It makes me home-sick for Europe…

    1. Annette, while I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoyed the post, I’m sorry to hear that it made you homesick. Do you have any plans to return ‘home’ soon? And of course, thank you for your kind words and for joining along on our journeys. In this post, I did try to present a mélange of topics; glad you noticed that. :)

  3. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. How marvelous to be introduced to Modena – with the luscious food and the intriguing streets scenes. This would be the place to escape to and just enjoy life in Italy. V.

    1. Greetings, Virginia, hope you’re enjoying a wonderful Wednesday. Dare I say that we might be getting snow here?! Makes me yearn for the warmth we experienced in northern Italy, and that glorious pesto and cheese. Perfect comfort food. :)

    1. Oh, Carol, the food. There might have been a healthy dose of fattening ingredients (cheese, butter, chocolate) going into our dishes, but the rich flavor kept our appetites under control, well, sort of. :) When I got home, I couldn’t help but whip up a few look-alike dishes (risotto and eggplant parmigiana). I’m not sure our cooking class instructor would approve, but they helped cure our homesickness for Modena a bit.

  4. Tricia. I am savoring each moment in Modena through your attention to detail in words and photos. What a delightful place, Ancient, timeless and with a personality of its own. The attraction is that tourists don’t include this. I know I will, per chance I get to Italy. I believe I will grille eggplant tonight, but the mushroom risotto will have to wait for another evening. You both look so content and happy to be there.

    1. Lynne, glad to have had you along virtually for the jaunt. :) As we worked with the videos and photos from Modena, we also noted that we seemed especially happy. I’m not quite sure what the secret was – probably just that so many strangers went out of their way to greet us. I’m sure you noticed that phenomenon in India as well?

      Here’s hoping your grilled eggplant was a resounding success. When we got ‘home’ following our trip to Italy, I also churned out a few rounds of eggplant dishes and risotto.

    1. Dorothy, the earth tones of the buildings do make for a wonderful backdrop for the foreground colors – vibrant scoops of gelato, eye-catching fashion, and colorful characters.

      I’m also curious about the symbolism of the lions. It seems I’ve forgotten something from my university art history classes. :-) We encountered a great number of them on Croatia’s churches in the Dalmatia region too (which was once a part of the Republic of Venice). Art history is fascinating!

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