- - Friday, July 14, 2017

Tourists visiting Modena will find all the charm of small-town Italy, where people leisurely walk along cobblestone streets in the early summer heat while enjoying gelato — fresh, rich and creamy, as it should be.

As a base of regional travel through northern Italy, Modena (pronounced Mo-dah-nah) is located in the Emila Romagna province. Three airports — located in Bologna, Rimini and Parma — can bring you to this quaint medieval town.

Once in Modena, the Trenitalia train, clean and comfortable, can take you on day trips to Venice (90 minutes), Florence (45 minutes) or Rome in two hours, making Modena a base of exploration for 8.8 million people, according to the Emilia Romagna tourism bureau, that arrive to explore northern Italy every year.

Emila Romagna is the second most-visited area in Italy and while the city of Modena offers numerous properties, from the budget basic to moderate and luxury accommodations, however the Central Park Hotel is highly recommended, as it is conveniently located in walking distance of the city’s numerous sites and restaurants.

The boutique hotel is comfortable for tourists looking for amenities from Wi-Fi to flat-screen TVs. They also serve a traditional Italian breakfast buffet filled with parma ham, prosciutto, cheeses, breads, fruits, sweet pastries, and more. For Americans traveling to the area, lunch is a two-hour affair, and most stores are closed from noon to 2 p.m. daily.

The town of Modena has 20 beautiful churches, including the historic basilica, the Duomo of Modena, to the Synagogue, located inside the area that comprised the city’s ancient Jewish ghetto that serves the towns Jewish population.

The Corso Duomo of Modena was built as a final resting place for the city’s patron saint Geminiano (312-397 A.D.]. Sitting on the Grand Piazza, historical guides at the church say that the church is considered to be the Modena’s greatest treasure.

The first stone was placed on June 9, 1099, and the Duomo of Modena anchors the city Grande Piazza. The architect, identified only as Lanfranco, created the architectural style now known as Romanesque, in his design of the church.

Notable to the architecture style is that the church is said to measure exactly the same height and width, creating a visually harmonic space for the renaissance art, sculpture and history found within.

Excavations of the building in 2006 showed that materials from the Roman enclave of Mutina connect Modena with the earliest of Roman history, including Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Octavian and Caesar.

The excavation showed the stone materials from Mutina were used in the cladding, or covering, for the building’s exterior.

There are modifications to the original structure, like the magnificent rose window, carried out by the architect Maestri Campionesi who worked on the basilica from about 1170 to 1320.

Further restorations were made after the building was partially damaged by WWII bombs.

Four large reliefs by Wiligelmo an Italian sculptor, active between c. 1099 and 1120, symbolize the renaissance of art after the medieval centuries. Wiligelmo carved the Creation and Temptation of Adam and Eve reliefs at the west facade of the Duomo di Modena. Wiligelmo’s name is known due to an inscription over the foundation date on the Modena cathedral’s façade in that reads, in Latin: “How greatly you are respected amongst sculptors, Wiligelmo, is now shown by your work.”

While Modena’s basilica is a bridge to history reaching back before the birth of Christ, some of our greatest artists and inventors in more modern times come from the Emilia Regina province.

Moviemakers Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci and Michelangelo Antonioni, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, scientist Guglielmo Marconi, designer Giorgio Armani and chef Massimo Bottura are all native sons of the region.

Geographically unique to the region are the PDO (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta” or “protected geographical indication”) foods Prosciutto di Parma Ham, Parmigianino-Reggiano cheese and traditional balsamic vinegar.

Modena’s can trace its history of balsamic vinegar back to the XI century when the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III was given a silver bottle of balsamic as a royal gift from the royal family, the Estensi Dukes of Modena.

Today, balsamic vinegar can be priced for as little as a few dollars for a bottle to more than $200 an ounce in the U.S. because, quite simply, not all balsamic vinegar is equal.

For balsamic vinegar to be the true traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, it has to be made from whole, pressed, sweet white grapes — including skin, seeds and stems — which have been late harvested from the vines of Modena, cooked over a direct heat and simmered to one-third of its original volume, being left to ferment.

As the vinegar ages, it becomes thicker as liquid is reduced through evaporation through the porous barrel staves. The vinegar waits for 12 years to become vecchio (old), bottled with a silver cap labeled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale; or extra vecchio, the 25-year vintage traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena that has a gold cap.

When in the area, plan a visit to Agriturismo Opera 02, set among the vineyards of the Emilia Romagna countryside. The property offers luxury accommodations and amenities.

The elegant dinner venue overlooks the picturesque vineyards and rolling hills of the region. The pasta is made in house and the dishes are created using ingredients that are grown on its own property.

When making reservations for dinner or an overnight stay ask if you can see the balsamic batteria and wine operations. Before you leave, choose your favorite balsamic vinegar or Lambrusco wine made from the very vines you see from your table, and at a fraction of the cost found in the U.S.

Back in Modena, visit Da Danilo Restaurante, located in easy, and safe, walking distance to the Duomo and The Hotel Central to experience the traditional pastas and warm welcome one would expect from the neighborhood trattoria.

The menu is traditional, based on the freshest vegetables and classic pasta that change daily.

Da Danilo is Modena’s most popular trattoria (make a reservation). The culatello (sliced meats including Parma ham, dried salami, and cheeses) come to the table fresh and plentiful.

The meal is a progression of regional pastas.

The meal starter is Da Danilo’s version of a regional dish, a vegetable flan, a baked dish filled with savory vegetables including spinach and kale. Fresh parmesan cheese is added and it is prepared “impastato” (or finely chopped), baked in the oven “ban-marie” (or in a water bath to provide additional moisture) then wrapped in a pasta sheet.

The dish is then covered with a four-fromaggio (elemental, gorgonzola, parmesan and reggiano cheese) sauce to create a starter that is light and flavorful.

Small pillows of pumpkin tortellini, rich and buttery, speak to Italy’s food heritage where the pumpkin has long been relegated to the common person.

Tagliatelle pasta is traditional ribbon pasta from the Northern Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy. The pasta is thinner than a linguini yet robust enough to stand up to the deep flavors of the restaurant’s pork meat sauce.

What is immediately obvious about regional pasta dishes is that the sauce is thick, neither salty or sugary, and filled with the flavors of crushed tomatoes, onions and garlic. It clings to the pasta, making every bite a culinary delight.

And, of course, there are the chunks of regional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese drizzled with their own brand of balsamic vinegar and fresh fruit that finish the meal.

Before you leave, ask to purchase a bottle of the Da Danilo house brand balsamic vinegar to take home.

Despite a robust meal, there is always room for gelato.

Just next door to Da Danilo, stop by Emila Cremeria for a selection of desserts that includes a remarkably light and buttery brioche stuffed with gelato and topped with whipped cream. Or get a simple cone stuffed with any one or more scoops of gelato, made fresh every day in the store without the use of hydrogenated fats or artificial coloring agents.

What this creamy treat is filled with is fresh organic milk, fresh fruit, brown sugar, all IGP and DOP certified, meaning that the raw organic materials come from the region. Making it all the more special, choose light or dark chocolate, drizzled inside the cone before the gelato is generously scooped in.

With gelato in hand (the mint makes a nice digestive), a leisurely walk returns you back to the Central Park Hotel for a night’s sleep overlooking the cool, tree-lined street.

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning travel and food writer and travel editor at Communities Digital News.

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