Situated on the great plain of Emilia, Ferrara stands a few kilometres south of the Po River, and about 50km from the sea.
Ferrara is a splendid city of art, to be enjoyed by walking its streets, its character - this magnificent Renaissance capital - revealed on every corner. Through its glorious past, you can understand the roots of its present.
The Este family governed here for three centuries and gave the city the appearance it has today: a uniquely planned city, harmoniously fusing Mediaeval and Renaissance architecture, Europe's first modern city. It is precisely these characteristics that secured its UNESCO World Heritage status.
It's a peaceful city to wander on foot or by bike, every step re-living the magical atmospheres of the past.
The best times to visit are in spring and autumn. May, in particular, is a month of celebrations linked to the famous Palio of St George; in March and September there are prestigious exhibitions in the Palazzo Diamanti, a jewel of Ferrara's Renaissance; during the last week of August street musicians from around the world come together for the Ferrara Buskers Festival, filling the late summer evenings with music.
Visit the many museums. Far from being simple repositories for works of art, Ferrara's collections stand out because of the way they cross-reference with the reality outside, whether that be legacies of the past or reminders of the present.
Finds from the legendary city of Spina, vestiges of the Greek and Etruscan worlds, are displayed in the rooms of Palazzo Costabili. Great paintings of the 15th & 16th Centuries are in Palazzo dei Diamanti.
Sights include Palazzo Schifanoia with its splendid Hall of the Months, frescoed in the 15th Century by the painters of the Ferrarese School; the Estense Castle, former residence of the Este dukes; the harmonious Romanesque and Gothic Cathedral (the Cathedral is partially open due to restoration works) and its museum with precious artworks, including an organ screen showing the Annunciation and Saint George killing the dragon by Cosmè Tura (1469), the master of the Ferrarese school. On the left side of the cathedral as you face the piazza, the Loggia dei Merciai has held shops since the mediaeval period.
Going deeper into the mediaeval part of town you can discover jewels of religious art like the Monastery of Sant’Antonio in Polesine with its Giotto-esque frescoes, or the Church of Santa Maria in Vado, a pilgrimage site since a Eucharistic Miracle that took place in the 12th Century.
You shouldn't leave without having walked around the enchanting mediaeval streets and taken a bike ride round the Renaissance city walls, which remain nearly complete.
The "coppia", Ferrara's famous elaborately shaped and tasty bread (it boasts PGI certification of origin); “cappellacci”, pasta filled with pumpkin and parmesan cheese are very popular, as is the “pasticcio di maccheroni”, a true culmination of the court traditions; and the “salama da sugo” is an unusual mixture of pork products. Finally, there's “pampepato”, a spicy cake covered in a layer of chocolate.
At sunset, in the medieval streets around the Cathedral, young people meet for happy hour: in one of these alleys there is also the oldest tavern in the world, remembered by Ludovico Ariosto and included in the Guinness Book of Records.
The city walls are the locals' preferred 'park' for jogging: you can run along an almost uninterrupted 9 km of earthwork between the green of the lime and plane trees and the red brick of the wall.
For those who prefer cycling, the best is the circuit around the bottom of the walls, and this can be extended onto the “Destra Po” cycle track by crossing the Urban Park to the north of the city.
The Palio di San Giorgio (the oldest in the world) on the last Saturday of May: more than a thousand participants in Renaissance costumes parade to Piazza Ariostea, where they compete in various games between eight contrade - teams representing parts of the city. Ferrara Buskers Festival in the last week of August is a rendezvous for street artists who fill the streets with music and colour.
Most of all it's worth visiting the network of Estense Delizie (country retreats), scattered all around their former territory.
For those who love the sea, there are the Comacchio Lidi, seven beach towns that boast wide beaches and a huge choice of entertainment.
A paradise for naturalists, biologists, scientists and birdwatchers, there is the Po Delta Park, one of the most important wetland areas in Europe, a vast green area surrounded by ancient woodland, pinewoods and reserves, studded with architectural gems inherited from the golden age of the Este family.