This excursion is designed to combine the discovery of sites of great cultural and artistic interest with the pleasure of fine food. We’ve put together a number of interesting ideas but we also offer open-ended tips for travelers who would prefer to explore on their own. If you’d like additional advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
We begin in the old town with a visit to a group of Medieval Romanesque-style structures of unusual beauty: the Modena Cathedral, the Ghirlandina Tower, and Piazza Grande. Together, they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The UNESCO site is striking for its grandeur and for its historical significance. Give yourself the time to take in the details and be astounded by the mastery of the designers, artists, and architects who created these works. A gem of Romanesque-style art, the Modena Cathedral amazed Modena’s citizens when it was built and it still does today. On one flank stands the elegant Ghirlandina Tower, a symbol of the city beloved by all of Modena.
The Cathedral is a symbol of faith and a place of worship for Modena’s Catholic community. In addition, it’s the “home” of St. Geminianus (San Geminiano), the patron saint of the city. The astounding architecture has been called a “Bible in Stone” for its astonishing depictions-in-relief of stories from the Bible and of life on Earth.
Built as the bell tower of the Modena Cathedral, the Ghirlandina and its bells have always served both a religious and an important community function.
The Museums of the Cathedral are not far from the entrance to Ghirlandina Tower, and a visit there will make your experience here complete. The Museums, which closely follow the history of the Cathedral, are divided into two collections: the Lapidary Museum and the Museum of the Modena Cathedral.
Once you’ve visited the museum’s many rooms, continue on to the adjacent Palazzo Comunale, the site of the town hall since medieval times. There is so much to admire in the Palazzo’s beautiful historic rooms, and the Municipal Vinegar Cellar, managed by the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Consortium, is in the same building. Numerous “batteries” of barrels of precious traditional balsamic vinegar are stored here for aging.
And now let's think about lunch, next stop: the historic Albinelli Market!
From Piazza Grande, take a short walk across lively Piazza XX September, and you’ll find yourself at the Albinelli Market. The cheerful ambiance of this historic marketplace with its beautiful Art-Nouveau-style architecture has always represented the heart of Modena’s wine and food traditions.
Enter the market from its main entrance on Via Albinelli, where you’ll experience the excitement of everyday street life. Stroll among the stalls and stands where local specialties of every kind are on offer. Listen to the voices of people going about their days, and stop for lunch in one of the Market’s welcoming restaurants. You can choose either a quick bite or a more leisurely lunch to be savored at a table.
After lunch, head for the lovely countryside of the Castelnuovo Rangone area, the homeland of the honored pig, for a visit to MUSA (Museo della Salumeria or the “Museum Of Charcuterie”). MUSA is the first museum in Italy whose mission is to illuminate the art of making sausages, prosciutto, and other cured meats. A complete multimedia installation introduces visitors to the history of the local people who, over time, both developed and perfected high quality charcuterie products and created an important culinary center, a source of pride for all Italians.
If you’d like an alternative, consider a visit to one of the facilities where Modena PDO (protected designation of origin) prosciutto is made. Prosciutto is a dry-cured but uncooked ham with a sweet, intense bouquet and a flavor that is savory but not salty. If you’re looking for suggestions about where to go, get in touch with us. We’ll be happy to find the option that best meets your needs.
Along the way, make a brief stop in Montale for the Terramara di Montale Open-Air Archaeological Park and Museum and a journey back in time. Be aware, though, that the park is not always open, and we advise calling the park office before visiting.
Once you’ve returned from your time travel to remote prehistoric times, resume your culinary adventure in the wonderful world of traditional balsamic vinegar. The choices for a visit to a vinegar cellar are many and varied because of all the companies in the area that produce this local specialty. Another option would be to visit the Museum of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar in Spilamberto where you can discover the secrets of this elixir, unique among the world’s cuisines. In the Museum, you’ll learn about all the phases of the production of balsamic vinegar: the choice of grapes, the harvest and the pressing, the construction of the wooden barrels in which vinegar is aged, the cooking of the must (unfermented grape juice), and the role of the vinegar cellar. You’ll soon realize the complexity of the preparation and production of this special product—born long ago here in Italy and handed down ever since from generation to generation.
Much of a Terramara village has been rebuilt in the Open-Air Archaeological Park and Museum and features a moat, a protective rampart, and two homes furnished with glassware and crockery, utensils, weapons, and clothing that are exact copies of those used 3,500 years ago. To make your visit even more exciting, thrilling presentations by archaeologists and experts demonstrate ancient tool-making, weaving, and other crafts.
Let's move now in the direction of Spilamberto, to discover the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, perfected in the silence of the vinegar cellar and through a precise decanting technique and years of refinement and aging. Balsamic vinegar is prepared from cooked grape must (unfermented juice) and allowed to mature and acidify through a slow, natural process and through progressive concentration and decanting into casks made of various kinds of wood. No other flavors or substances are added to the vinegar as it ages.
Let's move on to nearby Castelvetro, the area where Lambrusco Grasparossa PDO (protected designation of origin) is produced, and specifically to the village of Levizzano. There, we’ll visit Rosso Graspa, the Museum of Wine and Rural Society, located inside the castle. Open on Saturdays and Sundays during some months of the year, the museum explores rural and farming life. Displays include farm equipment and tools used in wood-working and grape cultivation as well as extraordinary photographs.
After your visit to the museum, don't miss a stop in beautiful Castelvetro—perhaps for lunch.
After lunch, set aside a few hours for a visit to one of the local wineries and learn the secrets of producing Lambrusco which is bottled in four different “protected designations of origin”: Sorbara, Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Salamino di Santa Croce, and Modena.
Once you cross the rolling hills of the Terre di Castelli (the “land of castles,” so named for the presence there of many ancient settlements and medieval strongholds), you’ll reach Vignola’s Rocca, a splendid 15th-century fortress whose architecture absolutely demands a visit. Built for defensive purposes on the banks of the Panaro River, the Rocca was originally built in the Middle Ages and later transformed into a residence for the Contrari family of Ferrara, allies and advisors of the House of Este.
The fascinating atmosphere is a real blast from the past!
Don’t leave Vignola without tasting its famous Torta Barozzi, a local specialty cake with a long tradition, made with dark chocolate, decaffeinated coffee, almonds, and other ingredients. Torta Barozzi has made Vignola famous.