In my last post, I hit upon some lovely places to rest your weary head and what to do when in Rome. As I've mentioned before there's literally so much to see that you could keep busy for weeks on end. With all that seeing and doing, you need some sustenance, obviously, but you really need some cultural balance. Some wonderful ways to experience what Rome really has to offer is to take part in aperitivo, eat some local dishes, wander off the main roads, and for the love of God ditch the picture menus! After all, indulging in local cuisine and cocktails is why most of us travel (and if it isn't, then you're doing it all wrong and we need to change that!)
As I mentioned in my last post, the Italian region of Emilia Romagna is not necessarily on every tourist's radar and it should be for good reason. If you decide to drop on in, and you should, the small city of Modena is a perfect spot for your home base. Its piccolo size makes Modena very walkable in about 15 min max from one end to the other and it is full of lively piazze and cute places to stop and have a spritz.
Modena is only a 30-min drive from Bologna and reachable by regional train (although the car will come in handy for venturing outside the city). Its location is somewhere in the middle of Milan, Venice and Florence making it an easy, less-touristy stop on your vacation to the larger cities. The most convenient airport to fly into is Bologna's Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ) but visitors can also opt to fly into Milan's Malpensa Airport (MXP), Florence's Peretola Airport (FLR), or Venice's Marco Polo Airport (VCE) depending on what else is on the agenda. We flew into Bologna and made Modena our homebase for exploring Emilia Romagna but you could also fly into one of the larger cities and make your way through the region, stopping in places along the way. An Italian road trip...the best kind! Regardless of how you do it, make sure Modena is on your list. Here are my recommendations for a magical and memorable stay:
SEE & DO
Piazza Grande - As the name suggests, this is the largest of the piazze in Modena and where you'll find il duomo. Perfect for grabbing a cappuccino and watching the world go by.
Piazza della Pomposa - This lively square in the northern corner of the city is a little more quaint and a great place for aperitivo or post-dinner drink.
Acetaia Pedroni - Venture about 30 minutes outside the city center to experience one of the best balsamic vinegar producers in the region. This family-run acetaia offers guided tours to learn about the intricate details of producing this "liquid gold." After the tour, dine in their osteria where you'll have the chance to taste the thick, syrupy substance (*note: NOTHING like we Americans know) with your yummy dish of pasta. After having actual aceto balsamico di Modena, I'm convinced what we've been getting here in the States is not real! (Via Risaia, 6, 41015 Castelfranco Emilia)
Museo Enzo Ferrari - If you're into fancy cars and nice things, then this is the museum for you. Learn about the man behind the brand and admire these works of art in the area where the sports cars were born. For those interested, there are shuttle buses that bring you to the 2nd museum in Maranello (about 30-min away) which is where the factory is located. For those looking to splurge a little, it is possible to take a Ferrari for a drive from both locations. (Via Paolo Ferrari, 85, Modena & Via Alfredo Dino Ferrari, 43, Maranello)
Osteria Francescana - This 3-Michelin starred restaurant run by chef Massimo Bottura was named the Best Restaurant in the WORLD in 2016. Dining here will not be cheap but will be memorable to say the least. Be sure to reserve your table at least 3-4 months in advance or risk disappointment! (Via Stella 22, Modena)
Franceschetta 58 - Located on the outskirts of the city is this contemporary little cousin of Osteria Francescana. This place is a perfect way to experience amazing food from talented chef Bottura if gastronomy and fine dining is not really your thing (or if you simply cannot get a table at Osteria Francescana). Not a bad choice on the menu. Be sure to go with an empty stomach and make a reservation. (Strada Vignolese, 58)
Ristorante Da Danilo - A great place to experience the typical food and drink of the region like tortellini in brodo (ricotta-stuffed pasta in broth), tortelloni di zucca (pumpkin-stuffed pasta in a butter and parmesan "sauce") and lambrusco. Great wine list. (Via Coltellini, 31)
Mon Cafè - A lovely place to have coffee and breakfast, and reminiscent of a stylish Parisian cafe. The owners, who also own a B&B in-town (info below), are extremely welcoming and accommodating. Excellent coffee and pastry and a sophisticated outdoor terrace make this place a must. (Corso Canalchiaro, 128)
La Bicicletta Caffe & Salumi - Located in a quaint piazza, this lively salumeria is a great place to be for aperitivo (happy hour) sipping on an Aperol spritz. There is a large, outdoor patio for when the weather's nice and yummy snacks to go along with your drinks. (Via Sant'Eufemia, 26)
Al Goblet Birroteca - If you need a break from wine or are simply curious what local craft beers are like, head here. Its location in Piazza della Pomposa makes this place perfect for aperitivo or post-dinner drinks when you can expect the crowd to be congregating out in the piazza. (Via Castelmaraldo, 41)
Caffeteria Giusti - This tiny little hole in the wall makes a great spritz served with some salty nibbles and is great for a more intimate, quieter aperitivo. When the weather is nice, there are a couple tables outside under the loggia. (Via Luigi Carlo Farini, 83)
B&B Quartopiano - Unlike the larger hotels in this city which are limited and nothing special, this stylish 2-bedroom bed and breakfast run by owners of Mon Cafè is a cozy place to rest your head and bellies. The decor has a warm, charming, farmhouse feel to it with neutral linens and vintage furnishings and the owners are very welcoming, offering their local recommendations. You can opt to have breakfast at their cafe too which was lovely...and included in your room rate. Rooms from 100eur/nt including breakfast. (Via Bonacorsa, 27)
If you're looking for fantastic food, fizzy wine and fast cars then put Modena on your next Italian itinerary. I promise you will not regret it! Buon viaggio!
Ahh, Tuscany. I can almost taste the earthy Chianti Classico and the bowl of al dente pici in a light pecorino "sauce" as I type. We all can't help but associate good food and plentiful wine when we think of Tuscany. And that's for good reason. Tuscany is home to hundreds of wineries and serves up some of the most simple yet delicious food around. And Florence, being the capital of Tuscany, is full of amazing dining experiences. I love the Italian approach to eating--whatever's in season and whatever's nearby. Here in the States it's become trendy to "eat local" but in Italy it's just what you do. And I also love that in this region in particular, the dishes are quite simple but so incredibly delicious thanks to the fresh, quality ingredients used. That pici that I mentioned above, I recall having for lunch in a casual trattoria one day and being blown away only by 4 ingredients-- pasta (homemade of course), olive oil, pecorino cheese, and black pepper. My husband ordered penne alla pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce, yup that's all) and he still talks about it.
With good food must come good wine and luckily there is plenty of that available. Tuscany is known for its reds thanks to the sangiovese grape that grows on its vines. There are some whites available (Vernaccia di San Gimignano being a good one) but reds definitely dominate this region--Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to name a few. And we can't forget about the lovely dessert wine--Vin Santo. The local thing to do is to sip that with cantucci (what biscotti are known as in this region) for dipping.
Italy takes their wine very seriously (no new info there) and has a rating system which can help consumers distinguish the quality. Top quality wines are labeled DOCG, followed by DOC, and lastly IGT. You will see this on menus and on a label on the bottleneck. Now, let me say that IGT doesn't mean the wine is bad, it just means that it hasn't met the strict regulations (certain percentage of grape variety, location in which it's produced, etc.) that DOCG and DOC wines must meet to wear the label. Unless you're a sommelier or wine connoisseur, chances are the house chianti you order with dinner that is labeled IGT will be fantastic and only about 8 euro a bottle.
Tip: When ordering wine, do yourself a favor and choose something from Tuscany. Just like eating local the Italians like to drink local as well. And when else are you going to be in the middle of wine country able to sip a red made by Giovanni down the street? It doesn't get any better than that.
So it's pretty much a no-brainer that your visit to this region will involve lots and lots of great eating and drinking (better pack elastic-waisted pants...) so here's a list of my favorite places to dine in Florence:
- Il Santo Bevitore - My absolute favorite place for dinner but reservations are a must. They also have a tiny little wine bar next door to the restaurant that was super quaint and great for a glass. It's located in a great neighborhood--Oltrarno--which (as the word translates) is on the other side of the river, away from the touristy crowd and with some great boutique shopping nearby. (Via di Santo Spirito, 66r)
- Ristorante Parione - Another great place for dinner. At first I was nervous when I was being led to my table in the basement, until I saw that the basement was actually a wine cellar. Such a cool atmosphere! Food was delicious and the owner makes you feel like you're at home. Reservations recommended. (Via di Parione, 74/76r)
- Il Pizzaiuolo - Pizzeria with the best pizza I've ever had outside of Naples. Very casual but buzzing atmosphere and pretty inexpensive meal for a lot of food. Reservations are recommended because this place is always busy. Closed on Sundays. (Via de Macci, 113)
- Il Borgo Antico - Outdoor seating in a really cute piazza. Yummy food. They don't take reservations but I've been told if you have to wait they give you a glass of prosecco! I went for an early dinner so I didn't have to wait but by the time I left the place was hopping. This is also in the Oltrarno neighborhood I mentioned above, away from the touristy crowd. (Piazza Santo Spirito)
- Il Latini - They seat you family style here at either 7:30pm or 9pm. You can make reservations but it didn't seem to matter. I showed up for the first seating at 7 and people were already lined up. I just hopped in line and they opened the doors at 7:30. Really good tuscan food including the locally-famous Florentine Steaks. Closed on Mondays. (Via del Pachetti, 6R)
- Trattoria ZaZa - Great for pasta. Casual place. The truffle fettuccine was ridic. (Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 26r)
- Alla Vecchia Bettola - Slightly outside the old walls of the city, but a nice walk on the other side of the river. Definitely off the beaten path and so totally worth the walk. Had an awesome traditional tuscan lunch with checkered tablecloths, wooden stools, and 4 euro all you can drink house chianti. (Via Pratolini, 3)
- Gelateria La Carraia - There are literally gelaterias on every street corner of this city but this one had the yummiest flavors. Latte di mandorla? Si, per favore! (Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25r)
The only thing I've failed to mention is coffee or caffé as it's known in Italy. Stay tuned for Caffé Cultura:101 in which I will fill you in on what you need to know about ordering coffee in Italy. In the meantime, buon appetito! And sorry if I made you hungry.