Ferrara, city of stone and brick and the most gorgeous doors, is about a half hour north of Bologna, its big sister in the region of Emilia Romagna. While it may be smaller in size, it holds its own in regards to its resume. The small city was the brain child of northern Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here, one might run into Piero della Francesca, who decorated the palaces of the House of Este, or perhaps you might pass the ‘humanist city’ designer, Biagio Rossetti, who introduced the concept of perspective to urban design. The wide, straight streets remind me of the meatpacking district in New York; not industrial by any means, but full of texture, and an ambience of ‘cool.’ The doors really had me, however. I’ve come to the conclusion that one could have a well-spent day traversing the city and photographing solely the porte magnifiche, especially the ones ensconced in jasmine.
In fact I was so taken with the straight, stone-laid roads lined with brick and ancient wood doors, I found myself more consumed with the architecture than anything else. Of course, if one appreciates art, one should most certainly visit Palazzo Schifanoia for the Renaissance frescoes and its ‘Hall of the Months.’
Generally speaking, any city or ‘paese’ in Emilia Romagna will not disappoint when it comes to food. I was serendipitously rained-in at the adorable gastronomia down the street from Schifanoia, La Manu in Pasta, where I chatted with the owner’s husband about their infamous piadinerie, handmade pastas, creative baked goods, and myriad mini quiches. Needless to say, I left with more treats than necessary for the one hour train ride back to Firenze.
(Click on the photos for a larger slideshow view.)
Next stop: Modena, also in the Emilia Romagna region. You may recall an article or two about Parma, one of the most elegant cities in Italy. Modena is just one Michelin restaurant away, one hour from Florence by train. Its pastel mix of yellows, oranges, burnt reds, and light blues are a direct reflection on the magnificent colors of Parma, and while I put Parma forth as one of the most fabulous gastronomic cities in the world, many will tell you that Modena is the seat of great gastronomy. Here you will find the mayor, otherwise known as Massimo Bottura of Francescana, but you will also find cozy little cafes that remind one of any other Northern European city. There is a ‘bookish’ feeling here, perhaps because it is home to one of the world’s oldest universities. I find this ambience to be a common thread in Emilia Romagna; the people feel very learned and studious. In fact, we had our Sunday morning caffe surrounded by drawings and quotes of Italian philosophers.
If you are impressed with Italian cars (who isn’t) you might be interested in the nearby manufacturers, who have supported Modena since their creation. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani, and Maserati, all have factories and/or headquarters here.
I seem to have a knack for visiting Tuscan towns on the one weekend of the month that they host large antique fairs. Lucca, a favorite for many Tuscans, has one of the most enormous antique fairs I’ve ever seen. You could decorate your entire villa in one fell swoop, from Copenhagen blue to headboards. I adore Lucca for its ancient walls surrounding the city center, perfect for strolling, bicycling, people-watching, and walking to the flower market with views of the mountains. It is apparent that the quality of life here is quite high. The streets are clean and elegant, the shutters typical Tuscan green, the church one of the most architecturally magnificent in the world. This is the ideal Tuscan town for renting for a few weeks, a few months, or perhaps longer if you find yourself as entranced as the rest of us. And word to the wise, do not miss the antiquario. While I could not lug exquisite 10-person dining tables on the 40 minute local train, I purchased a few handmade plates and took a treasure trove of colorful photos.