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Modena, Reggio Emilia or Genoa for a month?

HappyTrails2

10+ Posts
My husband and I are torn between these three cities for vacation in September. We will rent an apartment, and I will be attending a language program for three of the weeks. Each city on our list has at least one school that appears to fit my needs. My husband will relax and wander while I’m in class from 9:00 to 1:00, so he would enjoy any of these cities. The schools have optional afternoon activities for both of us, so we aren’t really looking for things to do in the city itself. On weekends we plan to take the train to nearby cities to have lunch and spend the afternoon. Food and wine are important and we prefer small, informal, affordable restaurants. We will be doing some cooking and prefer to buy our produce at outdoor markets. I know Genoa is a very large city, but our research suggests staying inside the walls puts it more on par with a smaller city. Can anyone offer any thoughts that will help us make a decision on which city would be more enjoyable to stay in for a month? Are any of these cities more pedestrian friendly than the others? Thanks.
 

joe

500+ Posts
I am not an experienced traveler as others here, so I hope they will also chime in with some advice.

However, my wife and I have been twice to Genoa, that's how much we loved it (albeit only three days each time). Like you say, although it is a big city, the interesting part is small and very enjoyable. Being a major port for centuries, the place has a lot of character, the background of the sea certainly has a presence and gives a stay there another dimension, and the labyrinth of narrow alleys of the old city is hard to beat. There is also a great open market, and a small biological/organic market that comes to town.

Our last trip to Italy was to Bologna, and Modena was on our list of potential day-trips - but Bologna kept us so busy that we didn't make it. And I think that this is where Modena might possibly appeal to you more - the fact that Bologna, Reggio, Mantua, Ferrara and many attractive villages are so close by, will give you a huge selection for those hours and days that you will not be occupied with the studies, after you feel that you have gotten to know Modena. Modena also boasts a great market (Albinelli), which we wanted to visit. Genoa is slightly more challenging topographically - it has expanded to the hills above the sea, and inclines can be stiff (although this also gives impressive views to the sea and the older city below), even though most of the older part is only slightly above sea level. Travel is possible mostly west-east along the coastal highway or rail (you didn't mention if you'll have a car). From Modena it appears that you can go out in any direction.

Food and markets are great everywhere in Italy, so I wouldn't worry about that.

Basically I don't think that you can go wrong with either of the options, especially if you have never visited them (if that's the case). So it might just come down to which school offers you the best learning experience, and how eager you both are to see sights outside of where you'll be staying. Italy is such a wonderful place for travel.
 
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Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
I think the big choice will be between Genova and the two Emilia-Romagnan locations.

Genova is bigger and will feel bigger, especially compared to Reggio nell'Emilia. Thus a big part of the decision will be on whether you prefer bigger or smaller.

Personal highlights of Genova? A fine indoor food market, and land/sea well represented in the food. Decent transport links, though it does have the odd setup of two (unconnected IIRC) stations set quite a way apart. Historic part of town (between city and harbour) has some appeal, though it did occasionally feel a little edgy. Some very attractive day trip options either way along the coast, but also into the inland hills. I've also been told that nearby Recco (an otherwise humdrum place) has a fine evening passeggiata. Being a big city, it's mostly immune to the worst aspects of tourism / generally avoided by mass tourism.

Personal highlights of Reggio nell'Emilia? They've long had an eco push, so it will be interesting to see where that is now. That helped to give it a relaxed feel, that plus it being a decent stride off the tourist trail, which can appeal if you lean towards embedding in local Italian culture, rather than somewhere actively appealing to tourists (this comment a factor in choosing between Modena and Reggio). Food pretty exceptional here and in Modena, and you're in range of visits to balsamic vinegar, parmesan etc. producers. Lots of easy day trip options via the trains running along the old via Emilia route.

Modena? As I only day tripped here, I'll not add much. More used to tourism than Reggio, which can be good or not. It felt visually more attractive from memory.

In terms of wine, none are high profile, but all will have interest worth exploring. For Emilia-Romagna there are a small number of higher quality sangiovese producers (e.g. Umberto Cesari), plus a lot more palatable table wine. In addition, there are the Lambrusco producers and there are quite a few decent ones that still remain inexpensive. Decent Lambrusco and cured meats is one of the great food matches, both complementing each other really well. On top of that there are the dessert wines from a little further east. I will also recommend a balsamic vinegar producer visit for those interested in wine. The process from wine to finish is interesting and the tasting is eye-opening. A little more challenging for Genova, but worth looking out for Rossese di dolceacqua, the coastal whites and the dessert / meditation wine sciacchetra. On top of that through, you'll also likely see the Piemontese reds in force.
 
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HappyTrails2

10+ Posts
Thank you, Joe and Ian. Great information. Both of you erased my uncertainties about Genoa due to the size of the city.

Joe, what was the main reason you made a second visit to Genoa? Was there more in the city itself you wanted to see, or did you feel “at home“ there? Or something else? You mentioned the open market, is it daily? You also mentioned Genoa’s character, are you referring to the residents, the city structure, the architecture, the overall atmosphere or something else?

Ian, you made some good points about Genoa as well. We were hoping staying inside the walls would make it feel more like one of the smaller cities. Your comment about it occasionally feeling edgy might be a factor since we‘re retirees and I would be alone going to and from the school. I hadn’t thought much about Modena being more touristy, but that’s a very good point. Like you and so many others, we made a day trip to Modena. It was years and years ago, so I’m certain the number of tourists there, at least day-trippers, has dramatically increased. We tend to look for places where fewer tourists are found (I know that’s a bit of an oxymoron since we are tourists). Your comments about Reggio Emilia really piqued our interest, especially the food and wine.

Thanks again to both of you, you’ve given us some direction.
 

joe

500+ Posts
Joe, what was the main reason you made a second visit to Genoa? Was there more in the city itself you wanted to see, or did you feel “at home“ there? Or something else? You mentioned the open market, is it daily? You also mentioned Genoa’s character, are you referring to the residents, the city structure, the architecture, the overall atmosphere or something else?
The market is the Mercato Orientale, a daily market for fresh produce, that has anything you could possibly wish for in such a market, many products of course from Liguria. I should have said that it is "covered", not open, but the feeling you get is that it is open, because it is so bustling and chock-full of produce . I see that the website has changed, and that they have introduced some sort of "Piazza del Gusto" - like many such markets the world over, they are probably upscaling the consumer's experience, so that it is not only a place to buy fresh produce, but also offers classes and events.

We happened upon Genoa the first time quite by chance, it wasn't in our plans. But we liked it because of the proximity to the sea and the lovely promenade there, the blend of impressive new and old architecture, palaces and churches, the local cuisine (we had come from Piemonte), the maze of old alleys with their surprises, people were all very nice, and great stores even if only for window-shopping, both high-end and small businesses. We arrived on sunny weather after some dismal days in Piemonte, so that also put a nice spell on us. We were only two nights there that time, so when a second trip to Liguria came around, we felt that we just had to get to know it better. It's not the type of place I could call "home" - I'm not the city type - but definitely a friendly and immersive city with lots to see, taste and learn at every corner. What Ian said about certain places being a bit "edgy" is true, but doesn't necessarily have to deter from the general experience. Our type of stay is just wandering around different parts of the city - we didn't even go to what might be considered the main tourist attractions - and we weren't bored for a minute. The local Eataly there is also a good stop if you like to see a gastronomical showcase of all the country in one spot. And of course there is an endless list of restaurants.

On our second visit we purposely took an AirBnB apt. close to the market, so our meals were based on purchases made there. As for atmosphere, I guess I would have to say that staying in such a beautiful and impressive city with the DNA of a historical major port was a special experience for us.
 

HappyTrails2

10+ Posts
Ha! I was leaning away from Genoa until your second post, Joe, now it’s back on the list. The daily market sounds exactly like what we look for, and it’s close to one of the schools I am considering. We enjoy visiting Eataly locations, too. The fact that you chose to visit a second time to get to know it better speaks volumes. It’s strange, because I’m not a big city person, but Rome felt like home to me the first time we were there. It remains a favorite after numerous visits. Who knows, maybe Genoa would strike me the same way. I neglected to mention we will not rent a car there.

Ian, your comments elevated Reggio Emilia on the list, but we’re finding AirBnB availability to be pretty limited, which makes sense for a city that isn’t focused on tourism. Maybe the food and serenity will make it worth renting an apartment that doesn’t check all the boxes on our list for an extended stay, those trade offs sometimes pay off. How lively is the city in the evening? We’ve stayed in a couple cities that roll up the carpet after everyone makes their way to dinner, and we prefer a little more activity. As to Genoa feeling edgy at times, did you get that sense inside the city walls? In a specific area or time of day?

Modena is falling a bit lower on the list solely due to the tourism, but we’re not ready to cross it off yet, mainly because of the food. If it makes any difference in anyone’s thoughts and opinions, when we leave our chosen city (sounds like some sort of pilgrimage, doesn’t it?) we’ll rent a car and spend October in Alba, a city we’ve stayed in twice previously during the truffle festival.

By the way, Ian, your advice, thoughts and instructions have factored into several of our past trips, thanks for continuing to share your knowledge and experience.

Again, thanks to you both. We have lots of things to consider, and I know how lucky we are to have this choice to make. It’s nice to get confirmation that any of these cities would be a good choice.
 

Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
Hi Happy Trails
Difficult to say for sure for nightlife, as we stayed in a suburban apartment about a 30 minute walk from the centre, buying food in the centre to take back to the apartment. I doubt the city closes up, and expect it to have some charm in the evening, as befits a 'slower' city, plus I recall a decent passeggiata / socialising in and around a central park area.

Modena certainly not blighted by tourism, as some other places are (e.g. I found Siena worse for that), but yes if you prefer to be a minority amongst locals, then Reggio may well be a better choice. The nice thing is you have so many places in day trip range.

I do agree that they are 3 good choices, good enough that in choosing one, you've no reason to think the other two won't get their chance again later.

Regards
Ian
 
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Alpinista

100+ Posts
If Modena/Reggio Emilia, you can do day tours of the balsamic vinegar production sites and the cheese making, both of which we really enjoyed.

We have generally avoided the city of Genoa, but if you base there and are looking for excursions, we love going just down the coast to Rapallo and enjoy the restaurants there. There is a walking trail that connects Rapallo to Portofino that we always recommend. You can stop in Santa Margherita Ligure for drinks or lunch on your walk along the coastal path. You can also connect by train to Cinque Terre and Portovenere if you want to venture further out.

If your husband wants a class of his own while you are in your language school, there is an absolutely fantastic half day cooking class offered by the U Giancu Restaurant in the hills above Rapallo -- enjoy the humor of the chef/owner for the class and return that night to eat the items prepared in the class that morning (you would need a car to reach, however).
 

HappyTrails2

10+ Posts
More great thoughts to add to my tangled brain, thank you Alpinista. The trail to Rapallo is intriguing. Is there a reason you have avoided Genoa?

So, my husband could do the cooking and I could just swing by in time for dinner? Hmm...
 

Alpinista

100+ Posts
We have gone to Genoa for the aquarium when our kids were little and for Sunday dinners with my wife's cousins, but generally are not fans of city traffic and noise. My wife's family home is up in the hills near Lucca and we spend three months a year there doing side trips around Italy and have very much stayed in the places outside city centers. I will say that there are no bad choices when picking a spot, so whatever you and your husband decide on will be wonderful.

Here's a teaser for U Giancu -- they have their own brewery on site, so craft beer for the lunch for your husband and then a great meal in the evening.

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joe

500+ Posts
@HappyTrails, here are some photos of our last trip to Genoa, autumn 2016, good luck with the planning and let us know who got your stay ;) :



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HappyTrails2

10+ Posts
What a cute name for the trail, Alpinista. I’m sure the brewery would be on the list, too.

The produce in Italy is so much better than ours. Thanks for all the photos. I can almost see us there now...
 

Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
I can't remember where it was / what it was called, but the brains of the operation described walking downstairs into a (very local dominated) Genovese restaurant as like walking into a mafia gathering o_O

It was all good and nicely traditional, but I guess they weren't used to foreigners going there!
 

HappyTrails2

10+ Posts
Well, Ian, my husband’s mother’s family is from Sicily and his father’s family is from the Naples area so we would probably feel right at home.
P.S. I’ve been told repeatedly there is no mafia.
 

HappyTrails2

10+ Posts
And the winner is...drumroll, please...Modena. It was really a tough decision. The schools are pretty comparable, so they didn’t really factor into our decision.

The photos from Genoa confirmed that is was enough of a small city inside a big city, so we knew we’d be comfortable there. And the ease and appeal of traveling in the area was tempting. Being situated on the water was one of the reasons it made it into our top three choices. We found a trip report that mentioned Genoa as being an embarkation port for cruises, with many cruise passengers staying a few days before or after their cruise. We checked the cruise calendar and saw there were between three and five mega (think MSC with 5,400 passengers) ships docking every week in September. That’s a lot of people concentrated in one area, the same area where we would stay. We decided we wanted something a little less busy.

Reggio Emilia ranked high due to the charm, the pace and the lack of tourism, but when we looked at accommodations close to the school, our choices were limited. I’m not a morning person, so I really didn’t want to add a long walk to my prep time. Ultimately, we couldn’t find anything that looked really comfortable for a long stay.

We were a little concerned about the tourism in Modena. Thanks, Ian, for
assuring us it wasn’t blighted by tourism. From what we can determine, most tourists are there just on a day trip, which helps. The city size, the food and their market ranked high. Transportation throughout the area for day trips isn’t as easy as in Genoa, but it‘s easy enough. When we found a nice apartment with a sunny terrace we knew our decision was made.

Thanks, everyone. Your advice, photos and thoughts played a big role in our decision. Ciao!
 

Alpinista

100+ Posts
No bad choices when booking a trip in Italy. There are many choices of balsamic and cheese tours, but we were very happy with the visits we made to the following (put some money aside for the product shops at the end ;-)

Acetaia Villa San Donnino, Via Medicine, 41126 San Vito di Spilamberto, Modena

Latteria Sociale La Grande, Via F Rosselli 41, Reggio Nell’Emilia (8:30 AM opening)
 

joe

500+ Posts
Wish you a great stay and enjoyable studies. September is a fine time to be anywhere in Italy. I'd be happy to hear your impression of the Albinelli market. Like I mentioned, we missed it last time, and markets are our first interest anywhere we go.
A deli and restaurant that was highly recommended to us is Hosteria Giusti .
Good luck!
 

jan

100+ Posts
I hadn't posted before but I would have chosen Modena. We've been there a couple of times for 2 nights each and once as a day trip from Reggio Emilla.
You might want to look at my blog: keepyourfeetinthestreet.com and search for Modena to see our experiences.
Our meal at Hostaria Giusti was very memorable and super delicious. Pre covid, you needed a reservation far in advance and I believe they only serve lunch. Then there;s Francescana 58, the little sister restaurant to Massimo Botturo's #1 in the world place. The real hidden gem place to eat in Modena IMHO, is the Bar Schiavoni. It is in a corner of the Albinelli Market with a few picnic tables outside. They serve delicious panini and wines by the glass.
 

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