During our trip to the Emilia-Romagna region, we ventured to Modena for a day trip. We were lucky enough to snag a lunch reservation at Osteria Francescana, so we decided to spend all morning and afternoon in this charming city.
Perhaps most famously known worldwide as the home of Ferrari and Pavarotti, Modena is also familiar to food enthusiasts; it claims balsamic vinegar, Lambrusco, and one of the world’s top-rated restaurants (the aforementioned Osteria Francescana) as their own.
Here’s a Modena day trip guide on what to eat and see.
If you’re all caught up on Master of None, you’ll already be familiar with Modena, the backdrop to the first two episodes of the second season.
For MoN fans, Bar Schiavoni is where Dev and Arnie grabbed breakfast sandwiches and they recorded each other waving and kissing their sandwiches to text to their cuties. (Of course, we did the same.)
This was our first stop after we arrived in Modena via train. The sandwiches (€7) here are legit. We asked the woman working there for a recommendation; there were a wide range of sandwiches on the menu, and no English translations. She said we had to try the cotechino—a slow-cooked pork sausage that originates from Modena—at least once in our lives. We didn’t need any further persuading and ordered two.
We got one of the sandwiches with the traditional salsa verde and the other with a pumpkin puree spread. The savory/sweet contrast was perfection, as were the the rich, fatty sausage and the toasted bread . . . oh so crispy! We wanted another sandwich to share but held back and saved our appetites for what was to come later.
Directly connected to Bar Schiavoni is Mercato Albinelli. This covered Art Nouveau-style food market pretty much has everything you could want and need: gorgeous produce, fresh meats and fish, homemade pasta, a large assortment of regional cheeses . . . the list goes on. (This is also the market where Dev and Arnie walked through and sampled fruits and cheeses.)
Open to the public since 1931, Mercato Albinelli is one of those places you wished you lived next door to so that you could do your regular grocery shopping there. Definitely bookmark this market if you’re staying in Modena for a few nights and want to cook your own meals!
4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia
We then caught a taxi and headed just outside of Modena to 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia in Lesignana. After all, when you’re in Emilia-Romagna, you have to visit a Parmigiano Reggiano dairy! 4 Madonne has won various world cheese awards in recent years, and for €10, it offers a tour of its facility, an inside look at the cheesemaking process, and a tasting of five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano. There’s also a shop where you can stock up on some delicious souvenirs.
The main highlight of the tour for us was seeing the impressive warehouse. More than 30,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano sit here to age anywhere from 12 to 36+ months. 4 Madonne was one of the area dairies that suffered major damage from the May 2012 earthquakes. Its warehouse now features beams on its shelves to protect against future earthquakes. Fun fact: The total value of the cheeses aging in the warehouse is around €4 million.
Ah, the main attraction: The most decadent, filling, and expensive lunch at Osteria Francescana, voted the #1 restaurant in the world in 2016 and 2018.
Here are some tips on snagging a reservation.
The meal itself was eye-opening, inspiring, unique, beautiful. It was certainly the most creative meal we had experienced to date, as well as the longest! (The entire affair ran close to three hours.) We had the 12-course Tutti tasting menu (€270), and the standout dishes for us included the spring tart and the famous five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano.
After exploring the five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in its varying temperatures and textures, who walked in our dining room but the mastermind chef himself, Massimo Bottura. He went to every table to chat with the customers and take pictures. It was such an honor (and a wonderful surprise!) to meet him.
A meal here is truly an experience. The service is impeccable. We loved how intimate it was. We were in the smaller dining room with just two other tables. As we tucked in to every course, we could see our fellow diners’ eyes light up and hear their moans of approval with every bite they consumed.
Having eaten the largest lunch ever, we were stuffed and had to take a long walk around Modena. We were basically done eating for the day, at least while in Modena!
One thing we regret not doing was a balsamic vinegar tour (the condiment is exclusive to Modena and the Emilia-Romagna region). However, considering how stuffed we both were after Osteria Francescana, I think it would have been very difficult for us to enjoy it!
After lunch, we made our way to this expansive plaza to people watch. Its main attraction is the Palazzo Ducale, built in the 1600s; the palace now serves as the headquarters for the Military Academy.
Once the locale for the Este Dukes of Modena to greet other royals, this square now draws kids who want to cool off in its fountains and couples looking to relax and soak up the afternoon sun.
Classical music lovers know that Modena is the hometown of the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti. We stopped by the Teatro Comunale to pay tribute to his statue there.
About nine kilometers south of Modena is Pavarotti’s former home. It’s now a museum showcasing his costumes and other memorabilia. We sadly didn’t have time to visit. If you don’t have your own car, a taxi is the easiest way to get there.
Enzo Ferrari Museum
This was another popular sight that we didn’t have time to see. Admittedly, this museum wasn’t high on our list at the time; we had seen our fair share of car museums (Porsche and Mercedes) when we were in Germany a few months prior. It would be fun to visit it the next time we’re in the area, though.
Parco Enzo Ferrari
Just west of the city center is the largest park in Modena. Parco Enzo Ferrari is a great option for people watching and relaxing. It was such a beautiful day that we spent about an hour lazily strolling around here.
Getting Here and Around
The closest airport to Modena is Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ). By car, it’ll take about 45 minutes to Modena from the airport, or about an hour from Bologna city center.
If you won’t have a car, it’s an easy 30-minute train ride from Bologna Centrale station. This was how we got to and from Modena, since our Airbnb was in Bologna. There’s also a faster, slightly more expensive train that will get you there in around 20 minutes.
For public transit within Modena, trolleybuses (a.k.a. electric buses) and buses are your only options. The city is pretty compact enough that you could walk to most places.
Taxis are likely the best and easiest way to get anywhere on the outskirts of Modena. To get to 4 Madonne, it cost around €15–20 each way (we hailed a cab from a taxi rank near the Modena train station, and an employee at the dairy called one for us after our tour). The Pronto bus line 500 gets close to the dairy, but pickups have to be arranged in advance by phone. When I called, I asked in my terrible, basic Italian if she spoke English. I received a cold “no,” followed by a click. Unless you get an operator who speaks English, or you’re fluent in Italian, expect to take a taxi to go further afield.
Modena is worth visiting at least for a day trip. If I had to do it again, I would probably extend my stay to two days so that I could visit Pavarotti’s house, do a balsamic vinegar tasting, and have more room in my belly to try more local restaurants.