Modena, Italy or other charming town

Nov 9th, 2019, 05:56 PM
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Modena, Italy or other charming town

Hi all,
I am still looking for a small city or town to spend next September. I was almost decided on Aix, as it seems like the size and pace we are looking for to "live" for the month, and has cafes, markets, bakeries, museums, churches and gardens. We also like that it is a pretty town and not referred to as gritty.

That said, my daughter just found out she will be studying in Florence. She would like to come visit us for a weekend and Aix seems way too difficult (a connecting flight or very long train ride) so I'm looking at other options that are easier to get to from Florence. The Florence airport serves so few cities but Paris (Marais or Saint Germain) or a town/city close to Paris is still an option. We are very open to a town or country. We considered Bath, England but the flight from Florence to London followed by train or bus to Bath is too long of a trek from Florence for a weekend. This, hopefully, is the first of several "live in Europe for a month" adventures.

I have read a bit about Modena and would like to inquire about it here. I also am open to other cities in Italy that might make a good place to live and easy to get to from Florence. Rome seems overwhelming but maybe I'm wrong if there is a charming neighborhood there to "live". Milan seems to metropolitan. Bologna too gritty. Siena too small.

Thank you in advance!
lrice is offline  
Nov 9th, 2019, 08:27 PM
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First of all no reason to use the Florence airport. Pisa is nearby. Airport is bigger with better weather. The time to get to Pisa airport is similar to get to the airport of many cities. In other words it takes no longer to get from central Florence to Pisa airport than many Romans take to get to one of the Roman airports.

Having said that. What you find overwhelming depends on what you're used to. I don't find Rome in any way overwhelming but I guess if you're from a smaller town it might be. OTOH if you're coming from that small a town I don't understand your comment on Siena being too small. It's not the biggest city in the world but it is a provincial capital. I wouldn't hold size against it. I might consider it less than ideal if you're hoping to catch weekly flights. OTOH Florence isn't that far.

In general neighbourhoods are gritty. University towns tend to have areas full of students. Doesn't mean the whole city is like that.

I'm also confused about you looking at both cities and countryside. A rural location is going to make Siena seem like New York city.
Traveler_Nick is offline  
Nov 9th, 2019, 08:50 PM
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This is a pretty open-ended question as there are countless "charming" towns that are easy to get to from Florence. You don't say how you intend to travel, but Modena to Florence by train would take about 90 minutes each way and involve a connection at Bologna Centrale. Driving into and out of Florence can be tricky because of the ZTL*, but it depends on where your daughter will be living (which could be outside of the ZTL).

If you plan to spend a month, you need to delve into the sightseeing available in and around different towns and areas and develop a general plan for your trip beyond meeting up with your daughter. On that point, you could investigate Arezzo and Ferrara as well as the small towns of Chianti. If you're willing to travel for more than 90 minutes to Florence, obviously the geographic circle would be bigger. FYI, Siena is not what I would call "small."

*If you intend to visit towns by car, you need to learn about ZTLs.
Jean is offline  
Nov 9th, 2019, 08:52 PM
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Bologna too gritty? That's the first time I've ever heard of that. The only city in Italy I've heard that adjective applied to is Napoli, and even then only in parts.

But beyond that, it's really unclear what you're looking for. There are dozens of places in Italy that fit your very wide-ranging parameters: Torino, Bergamo, Perugia, Trieste, ...just to name a few off the top of my head. There are equally many such places in France: Avignon, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Toulouse...again, just random picks, but all perhaps fitting your criteria.

The fact that you mentioned Bath, England, throws off the whole equation. If you're trying to narrow this down to places you can fly from the Firenze airport, then you've started off on the wrong foot and should re-think. Pisa is the most obvious airport to use, but there are myriad places in Italy you could easily access by train.
StCirq is online now  
Nov 9th, 2019, 09:08 PM
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Lucca might fit what you're looking for. It is close to Florence and very charming.
werth is offline  
Nov 9th, 2019, 09:30 PM
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Thank you everyone! This isnít a sightseeing trip, and we will not have a car. We are looking for a town to settle in for a month and live... enjoying the architecture, sidewalk cafes, museums, cathedrals and history of Europe.

The information about Pisa is very helpful. When the Florence college kids travel on weekends, do they use the Pisa airport? How do they get there?

What do you think of Modena?
lrice is offline  
Nov 9th, 2019, 09:51 PM
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They can use Pisa,either Rome airport or even others like Bologna. Depends on where they're going .

Florence to Pisa take the regional train less than an hour. I think just under €9 one way. Then take the people mover to the airport. Just under €3 Total time not much more than an hour.

To Rome. Highspeed train to one of the stations. Ninety minutes. Prices start with Italo just under €15 without an offer. Tiburtina to FCO by regional train is I think €8 . Or there is the regional bus. From Termini to CIA €5 by bus but there are local buses for a bit less. To FCO €6 by bus. No reason to take the express train at €14. I think there are buses from Florence bus station straight to FCO. No idea on prices or length of trip.

Modena is nice. But then so are all the other cities
Traveler_Nick is offline  
Nov 10th, 2019, 04:27 AM
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Read about Arezzo, Lucca and Livorno as well.

DH and I loved Pisa and made it a travel base for for bus and train trips to many towns.

Our hotel was convenient to the university so we got to enjoy that vibe. And we were far enough away from the Tower to get great food for less money.

That being said, the Tower, Duomo and Baptistry are incredibly interesting.

Please let everyone know what you decide to do!
TDudette is online now  
Nov 10th, 2019, 05:19 AM
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I love Modena, it might fit what you are looking for. I think if it were me that Modena might be too small and quiet though for a whole month.

Bologna is a lovely city, I don't think of it as gritty at all, but it is a city so might be bigger than you want. But great train connections for tons of fabulous day trips.

Have you considered Siena - really close to Florence and just a lovely place. But without a car the train/bus connections for day trips to places other than Florence are not ideal.

Bergamo is another town I really like and have considered for an extended stay and easy day trips to both Lake Como and Milan (and further if you don't mind slightly longer trips with connections in Milan).

Photos of Modena (and other similar towns) here:
isabel is offline  
Nov 10th, 2019, 01:24 PM
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I've spent the morning watching travel videos and reading articles about Italy!

Traveler_Nick We live in a suburb outside Los Angeles. Small and very suburban. That said, we don't want to stay somewhere remote. We love London and Paris and have found neighborhoods in each city that make it feel smaller. We love Saint Germain des Pres and Marais in Paris and Chelsea, Notting Hill and Hampstead in London.

I'd love thoughts on neighborhoods in Rome! We would go to Florence and would love it IF my DD wasn't in school there I just don't want to invade her space.

StCirq isabel I have read that Bologna has wonderful food and history. I also read an article where the New York Times called it scrappy and scruffy. There also was a traveler on TripAdvisor who mentioned it was very urban and gritty, and wished that they had stayed in Modena. Isabel, I actually have your album marked as a favorite and use it often as I look at small cities/large towns.Thank you!

werth TDudette Thank you for the recommendation of Lucca. Rick Steves also loves Lucca I will research it, Pisa and Arezzo more closely. Off to the bookstore in a bit.

I'm looking for a combination of churches, art, lively cafes, bookstores, markets, wine shops, cheese shops and coffee shops that isn't overly touristy nor too quiet. My sister who had a house outside Florence for 10 years said she would go to Lake Como or Perugia if she couldn't go to her absolute favorite, Florence. A good friend said she'd go to Venice if she couldn't go to Florence.

I know I know! I'm spending a lot of energy avoiding Florence... September is the only month that I can escape the 8am - 6pm PT grind of my work and it happens to coincide with my DD being in school in Florence. It seems to make sense that we go to Italy so we can visit her for a weekend, she can visit us in our own town/city + we haven't been to Italy in over a decade.
lrice is offline  
Nov 10th, 2019, 02:09 PM
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If you are going to stay in Emilia-Romagna, I would recommend considering Ferrara over Modena--we thought more appealing and more interesting--but my heart belongs to Ravenna, about 40' from Bologna by regional train. Bologna Centrale is a large and central train station to get to various towns in the region as well as an easy ride to Florence. Ravenna has world heritage 1500 year old mosaics as well as a pedestrianized antique center, lovely passagiata, and the fabulous regional food the area is known for.

Arezzo is interesting, walkable, culturally relevant, and again an easy train ride. I find Umbria/Perugia --in the antique center another good prospect, though the train station is down the hill (there are also escalators in those ancient city walls!) Perugia connects well to other stops via train as well. Small hill towns such as Spello are on the train line and still small and walkable. Also consider an agriturismo outside of Florence, in a smaller town such as Impruneta. Forty minutes away by big blue air-conditioned SITA bus.

For that matter, an apartment in a quiet area of Venice (2 hours from Florence by train) gives you access to all that the Veneto has to offer and excellent connections to Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and even Lake Garda, and of course to Milan, but probably more pricey than Emilia Romana and Umbria or even Tuscany.

As for Rome, scaling it down to a neighborhood, such as Trastevere, would give you great culture and restaurants and only be an hour 35 min by fast train from Florence and would definitely feel "away" from Florence.

It's a nice choice to have, and I hope you enjoy your time there!
annw is offline  
Nov 10th, 2019, 02:41 PM
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"Rome seems overwhelming but maybe I'm wrong if there is a charming neighborhood there to "live".

Rome is an assortment of neighbourhoods. There are a few charming ones as well.

"Milan seems to metropolitan." OK

"Bologna too gritty." That's totally wrong. Given that it has the oldest Western university of the world, how could it be anything, but a cultured and civilized historic city?

"Siena too small." It is the perfect size for human existance. Not too big, not too small.
BDKR is offline  
Nov 10th, 2019, 02:41 PM
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You say this isn't a sightseeing tour, so why don't you do what normal people who move overseas to rural areas do and not even think about the tourist attractions? A month to you may seem like a real settling-in to a town or city, but in reality it's nothing, certainly nothing the locals are going to notice. You're another flash in the pan.

<<a combination of churches, art, lively cafes, bookstores, markets, wine shops, cheese shops and coffee shops that isn't overly touristy nor too quiet.>> You've just described all of Italy. No wonder you can't hone in on where you want to be. Pick any place from all those offered here and you should be happy.
StCirq is online now  
Nov 11th, 2019, 01:01 AM
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We were in Bologna a few years ago and really enjoyed it. We did not see every corner but I don't remember anything that appeared "gritty" and would happily return. I haven't been to Modena but it looks very nice. I think Lucca would be another great choice.
Personally, I would likely choose Rome as there is so much to see and do there but I knew it isn't the small, pretty city you are looking for.
KTtravel is offline  
Nov 11th, 2019, 08:04 AM
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Another town near to Florence you could look at would be Pistoia. Really lovely city center, full of history and not really a tourist destination yet.
werth is offline  
Nov 11th, 2019, 08:19 AM
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We certainly saw the 'gritty' side of Bologna, but the government maintains the usual tourist areas as well as most large Italian cities do. Except for the graffiti. I don't think I've ever seen more than in Bologna.
Jean is offline  
Nov 11th, 2019, 10:27 AM
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You have enough information to make your head spin. My two cents go to Arezzo. The passegiata on the newer main shopping street to the east of the uphill street that bisects the old town is one of my favorites. Delicious food, art and antiques, and pleasant people in my limited experience. The monthly anitiques fair is special and I thought it was a friendly town. Very good bakeries. Easy and fast direct trains from Firenze.

To me, Lucca is dark but then again, September has longer days. Still those streets away from dead center are pretty dark and quiet. I also don't love the confined feeling, especially at night. And on the third hand there is a special festa in September.

Siena is plenty big and has good bookstores but more tourists than Arezzo. Not flat (I don't like walking hills) but an amazing Duomo. Quick bus from Florence.

Arezzo has about 100,000 people, Siena about half as many.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Nov 12th, 2019, 01:25 PM
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Irice, otoh, why not go to Florence? Train and bus are convenient. You can be busy enough that you won't be in your daughter's hair (if that's even an issue). Sorry if I missed anything about not going to Flo.
TDudette is online now  
Nov 12th, 2019, 01:46 PM
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FWIW I've spent 3 weeks in Bologna over the last 2 years and still have lots to see and do, and I've been to Modena for a day and seen most of it.

So for a month's stay I'd vote for Bologna hands down. And it's so easy to get to so many different places on the train, including Florence and Venice.
annhig is offline  
Nov 13th, 2019, 07:56 AM
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Thank you all! I am researching Arezzo, Perugia, Bologna, Ferraro, Lucca, and a couple cities further north, Verona and Vicenza. Venice sounds lovely but overrun with tourists.

DD will attend school in Siracusa after 6 weeks in Florence so we will want to visit her there as well so Iím going to explore some towns and cities in the south. Catania is a very popular airport so it seems easy to get to.
lrice is offline  

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