48 Hours in Modena, Italy
Ever since watching Chef's Table (S1, E1), Brandon and I had been trying to get a reservation at Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura's 3-Michelin Star restaurant in Modena. A small fact about us you may already know: we're obsessed with Italy. We take after my father, who I've already mentioned bleeds red wine.
Reservations at Francescana open up 4 months in advance, on the first of the month, at 10AM Italy time, which means 4AM NYC time. Which means... we slept through the alarms every single time because, life. However, when we traveled to Paris, Morocco, Hawaii (note to self: write blog posts about these trips) the time difference worked in our favor, and we would dutifully log on to the site, watch it inevitably crash, and set a new reminder for the following month to try again.
On our honeymoon, it was 11/1/17 and we were in Italy! A sign. I completely forgot about Francescana by this point but Brandon still had the reminder set in his phone. We tried the site at 10AM and it crashed again. I began to rant about how the reservation system probably only favors VIPS. After all, it's 12 tables and the second best restaurant in the world. We fiddled around with the site to no avail, and moved onto our breakfast. When we got back to the room, it was around 11AM and the site was still pulled up. I figured "what the hell, I'll give this ONE more go." Click. I'm in the date selection. Click. I'm in the time slots. Click. Enter my credit card. Oh. My. God. We had gotten a reservation.
We set price alerts on all the flights going into Milan, Bologna and Florence and when they dropped to around $450 PP, we used points to buy them. The we packed our parmigiano, I mean bags, and off we went! Below is our 2ish day itinerary in Modena. Enjoy!
We arrived to MXP around 8AM (flew Alitalia, highly reco) and hopped on a train to Modena. I was unsure if we should book a car, but in the end, I'm so happy we used the trains. They are affordable, efficient and very easy to understand. I would say unless you're doing a road trip, skip the car.
We stayed at Quartopiano B&B. I cannot explain the charm of this beautiful place. It's located on the fourth floor of an apartment building (hence the name) and it's been redone to look like a vintage home in Provence. Brandon and I were obsessed with the thick linen sheets, cozy ambiance, and kind hosts, Alessandro + Antonio. They also own "Mon Café" around the corner from the property, which is where they serve a delicious breakfast to guests. Here are a few glances:
We like to move slowly when traveling and not be in a rush to see everything. I know it can be tempting to jam pack your itinerary but remember that the point of a trip like this one is to simply enjoy life. A good glass of wine, lovely company, etc. So rather than rush to hit the town when we arrived, we chose to take a nap that would revive us. I personally would rather lose a few hours after a red-eye and feel great all weekend than constantly be powering through.
Around 5:30 PM we headed out on the town and were told we must try ice cream from Emilia Cremeria. There were like 20 people crammed into the shop on a rainy Thursday so... we knew it must be good. YOU GUYS. It was so %$#@*& good. The cherry gelato stole my heart. They mix in fresh cherry jam and pour hot fudge into the inner lining of the cone. AH it was divine.
A few more loops around the town center and we found ourselves at Archer. I had the Spritz-Cynar which was life changing. If you love spritzes, you must try this one which is made with an herb + artichoke liquor. Sounds weird, tastes dope. Later, ask Marina, the owner, to recommend a local wine and make sure to get some parmigiano with balsamic for snacking.
When in Modena, you must have tortellini in brodo, the local specialty. We waltzed over to Trattoria Da Danilo which is crazy delicious and very affordable. In addition to the tortellini, the maialino (pork neck) was phenomenal. Slow-cooked and salty, with pronounced flavors of garlic and rosemary. This restaurant felt like sitting at nonnas house, and I loved it.
The following morning we woke up early to go see the market. We ate breakfast at Mon Café and then walked over to Mercato Albinelli. I loved getting to see the beautiful local produce, abundance of meats and cheeses, and fresh pasta galore. We snacked on local strawberries and tomatoes while taking in the sites. If you're looking for lunch near the market, I hear great things about Trattoria Aldina, just across the street. We didn't make it over, but wanted to.
After the market, we headed to the Duomo for a quick peek inside, and a walk up the watch tower. A nice little bit of history and some steps were a good mental + physical workout. Then, we went back to Quartopiano and got ready for the moment of glory: our meal at Osteria Francescana. In order to prevent this post from being ten pages long, I'll be sharing a full review separately, later this week :) Stay tuned.
The meal took about 4 hours, and after the champagne and wine, we desperately needed another siesta. That evening, we hit the town again, still quite full but simultaneously wanting more #pasta. We started out at Spaccio Delle Carceri. We sat at the bar and enjoyed perfect "Hemingway style" martinis (their description) and nibbles. The service was fantastic and the bartenders were working black magic. They were doing an intricate dance behind the scenes complete with twists, turns, and surprise acts.
Around 10PM we headed to Ristorante da Enzo. We ordered two pastas, which were tasty, but the "Stinco al Balsamico" was the real star that evening. Stinco is pork shin, and it's one of my favorite cuts. The meat was so soft it came right off the bone, and it was swimming in a balsamic gravy, sitting in a moat of mashed potatoes. I'm salivating just writing about it. We didn't have a reservation so while we waited, they brought us wine, salami, and fresh-fried dough. YUM. We appreciated the lovely hospitality. One thing to note about da Enzo, it's crazy loud. Especially on a weekend, we were situated between 3 bday parties (a good sign, locals come here) but the noise level was insanity. If you want a quieter spot, try somewhere else!
On Saturday morning we went on a tour of a balsamic vinegary factory at Villa San Donnino. The tour is free, but you'll need to take a cab to the outskirts of town, which costs about 20 euros each way. The tour lasted about an hour and our guide Alice was lovely + informative. We got to taste about 5 types of vinegar, and even enjoyed some fior di latte gelato with balsamic. So delicious!
Once we got back into the city center, we walked around and enjoyed the sunshine. We popped into a few clothing stores. Some memorable ones where I picked up cute items were Spoon, La Vacchetta Grassa and Montorsi. My favorite was Felicita, where everything is handmade (!!!) and very reasonably priced. I bought an adorable dress, shirt, and blazer. The design of the store is worth seeing on it's own. A tiny space with so much character. Photos below:
My overall opinion is that Modena is an amazing little town that's perfect to visit for a few days. It's local + authentic, with lots of charm. I hope this itinerary helps you plan your next trip to Italia! If you end up going, please drink a spritz for me. Cheers!