The Magic of Modena

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

Our nephew Avery surprised us in the first few days of our trip when he barely pulled out his camera and said that he really had no desire to. “It’s about the experience,” was a statement I had not expected to hear. At 18 years young, and on only his first visit overseas, he declined a quick visit to Pisa to take the legendary selfie, and was less in awe of the big tourist sights than I expected him to be.

And in a last unexpected twist when discussing his favourite parts of the trip, he declared the tiny city of Modena as a very close second to Florence, beating out Venice, Rome, and Cinque Terre.

Modena from Above

Modena from above

If I could have anticipated his desires more closely, I might have planned the trip a little differently and a little more into the unknown. But our original plan to hit up the Emilia Romagna region was for our own selfish purposes: we wanted to return for the amazing food we had discovered on our last visit, and Pete wanted to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari. We kinda felt like we were dragging Avery away from the tourist route all first-time travelers should see and just hoped he wouldn’t mind.

He didn’t, and instead he raved, and not just for the thrill ride in a Ferrari. The exquisite dishes we ate won him over as the best food from Italy we had. With 25 yo balsamic vinegar drizzled over parmesan, prosciutto that melted in our mouths, and the most luxurious pasta we’ve ever eaten, Ave actually slowed down his frantic eating pace to savour each bite. (For an 18 yo male with an insatiable appetite, this is the biggest compliment he could give.)

And then there was also the divine Emilia Cremeria gelato shop that we frequented twice daily (seriously the best we had in all of Italy, and we tested a LOT), and an unexpected festival right outside our hotel door that enraptured us one evening. One event had an artist using an old-fashioned projector – as he rapidly painted with both hands to the rhythm of music on a thin plastic sheet, the screen lit up with his colorful sketches and the plaza echoed with the rise and fall of his voice. We longed for the ability to understand the story, but were nonetheless enthralled with the dramatic flair in which it was told.

Overall though, we revered the calm. We did not miss shuffling among hundreds and hearing English more often than not. Here, we felt like we were cherishing a real slice of Italy.

We kinda felt like we were dragging Avery away from the tourist route all first-time travelers should see, and just hoped he wouldn’t mind. Instead, he raved.
Modena Cobblestone
Modena Piazza
iPhone Modena
Modena Portico
Modena Cuisine
The final event that exalted Modena (maybe moreso for me than Ave) occurred during our trip up the Ghirlandina tower. Or should I say, after that trip in which I somehow dropped my wallet without noticing, when a harmonious string of events saw the police track me down at our hotel and drop if off before we left the next morning.Would that have happened in Rome? Or Florence? Probably not, and convinces me yet again that it is the off-beat tourist destinations that provide the most endearing experiences. And I’m glad that Ave didn’t have to just tolerate this side-trip, but instead enjoyed it as much as we did.

We don’t often get to play tour guide to family and friends, but when we do, I have been pleasantly surprised to find their experiences most enriched by those that I cherish as well. Like my Mom choosing Burhaniye over Istanbul, and now Avery lauding Modena over most of Italy. Their reactions have mirrored mine, and I don’t know if it is a familial traveler gene within, or if this is indicative of humankind as a whole. I don’t want to start the beaten debate of traveler-versus-tourist, but I think that deep down everyone would enjoy a trip off the well-treaded path, they just need to give themselves the chance to do so.

And with Italy being one of the most frequented countries in the world – Modena is the perfect place to start.

We don’t often get to play tour guide to family and friends, but when we do, I have been pleasantly surprised to find their experiences most enriched by those that I cherish as well.

Heading to Emilia Romagna? Then be sure to check out this helpful Modena travel guide.


And because the Ferrari is what predominantly drew us there in the first place, the experience needs to be shared:

where we stayed and how to do it

The lovely Hotel Libertà was right in the center of the action and very comfortable for our two day stay.The nearby town of Maranello is home to Ferrari, an incredible interactive museum, and the ability to test drive various Ferraris (Pete and Ave enjoyed the California) via the local company Push Start.

Many thanks to the Emilia Romagna Tourism Board for hosting us during our stay. As always, all opinions are our own.

16 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • November 13 2014

    Even though I’ve always dreamed of visiting Rome and Venice, Emilia Romagna seems to be moving toward the top of my Italy wishlist- thanks to blog posts like this one! Beautiful photos, and it’s so nice to hear that the police tracked you down to return your wallet!
    Ashley recently posted..Relaxing in Railay

    • Pete
      November 14 2014

      It is one of favourite regions for many reasons. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back in the short future. It’s so incredible that they tracked us down for the wallet, completely unexpected.

  • Wynne
    November 13 2014

    This is EXACTLY how I like to travel through Italy and I’m with Avery. Modena sounds like a destination town for me! It seems you three appreciate exactly what I do, and Modena and many other towns off the beaten path are on my ever-expanding list.

    Thanks for the gorgeous shots, Pete!

    • Pete
      November 14 2014

      Thanks Wynne! Modena definitely packs a lot of charm. I could see spending quite a bit of time here.

  • A Montrealer Abroad (@marievallieres)
    November 13 2014

    You guys need to do a post on your photography gear soon 😉 Exceptional photos. And it’s nice to see a young adult that isn’t completely immersed into himself. Great story!

    • Pete
      November 14 2014

      Funny, I just had that conversation with Dalene yesterday about a post regarding our gear. It’s in the stars 😉

  • I definitely understand how a quieter place in Italy with less tourists was more appealing to him. My favourite memories of Italy were spending time in Cefalu, Sicily and hiking on the Amalfi Coast. Both experiences involved hardly any people and it was so nice being away from the crowds
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Getting to the heart of Fijian island culture on a village visit

    • Pete
      November 14 2014

      Ooooh, Sicily. We need to get back there 🙂

  • November 15 2014

    Italy’s so romantic… your photos are amazing, Pete! Thanks for sharing this little piece of the boot country with us 🙂
    Lily Lau recently posted..20 surprisingly strange images on Google Maps

  • November 15 2014

    What a pretty city, never heard of it before but then I always find these unheard, small towns so much more better then the bustling cities with all the rush, pollution and traffic. And I always love your pictures, they never fail to transport me to the land itself 🙂

  • Vanessa
    November 16 2014

    Lovely photos! Having seen a lot of beautiful photos of places from everywhere in Italy and having seen it myself, still, I cant stop appreciating it when I see another beautiful place from the country. It never ceases to amaze me.

  • November 22 2014

    Gorgeous photos! Magic is the right word! So true that going off the beaten path will lead to something special!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..26 Wonderfully Weird Animals Around the World

  • December 2 2014

    Perfectly timed for me as I just booked a trip to the Emilia Romagna region for three nights in March. My plan was to stay in Bologna, but maybe I’ll have to do a night in Modena as well!
    Anna // The Blonde Banana recently posted..Aruba on a Budget :: An Island Vacation For Less

  • December 2 2014

    Couldn’t agree more! Your Modena sounds like our Mantua (Mantova), magical. Now I’m adding Modena to our list of places to visit, especially when my nephew comes to see us next year. Thanks for all the details. A great post.
    Jenny recently posted..Love a panettone festival!

  • December 14 2014

    Bet your nephew’s travel preferences make you proud 🙂
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..How to make the most of a road trip

  • May 5 2015

    From Toni:

    Sheer wonderment. What a wonderful experience.Hope that it will be the same for Arlene and me.

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