Travel is full of surprises, and the seasoned traveler is always open to a ‘Plan B’.
Even after the workout of wandering the streets of Padua all morning, the satisfying breakfast at the hotel in Venice still makes the case for a late lunch.
So it’s back to the autostrada and on toward Bologna in search of a lunchtime ‘Plan B’.
Fortunately, the city of Ferrara sits just off the autostrada between Padua and Bologna, and the impulse for an unscheduled stop proves irresistible. Sometimes the best Plan B is the one that presents itself to you.
Another of Italy’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites, Ferrara is about half the size of Padua, and the feel of this place is decidedly more intimate and timeless.
This is not a town of ornate marble and Baroque as much as one of brick and Romanesque.
It’s still surrounded by more than 6 miles/9 kilometers of ancient walls which are among the best preserved in Italy.
Maybe that’s because Ferrara’s medieval and Renaissance history are considerably less turbulent than those of many neighboring towns.
In fact, one of the most violent episodes in Ferrara’s history occurred in 1944, when a synthetic rubber plant located here became the target of Allied bombing.
The city’s silhouette is dominated by its signature Castello Estense, a once-fortified castle. It’s still surrounded by its original moat, which makes it a sort of urban island.
The best way to see Ferrara is to park at the edge of town and walk or cycle in.
Not surprisingly, Ferrara is known as the ‘City Of Bicycles’… no small achievement in a country where bicycles often outnumber motor vehicles on historic streets.
Hotels here are even known to furnish bicycles to their guests, and bikes can also be rented in many points within the city.
Whether you walk or cycle Ferrara, it’s a place where you’ll not have to vie with motor traffic.
Ferrara’s Corpus Domini Monastery is the tomb not only of local notables, but also of Renaissance-era princess and femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia, whose third and last husband was the Duke of Ferrara.
The Ferrara Synagogue and Jewish Museum is located in the former Jewish Quarter, which was maintained as a ghetto for over 300 years, until the unification of Italy in 1859.
Few Italian towns this size have so many palaces, but their more modest scale only adds to the city’s intimate ambiance.
Visitors with more time to spend here will want to see the Palazzo dei Diamanti, which is now home to the National Picture Gallery, and the Casa Romei. The Palazzo Schifanoia is now home to an impressive collection of Renaissance artifacts.
Those with even more time and a cycling inclination will find the surrounding countryside laced with excellent bicycle routes over unchallenging terrain.
Ferrara is on the main rail line from Bologna to Padua and Venice. It’s also connected by rail to Ravenna, the last Italian capital of the Roman Empire. The trip one-way takes little more than an hour.
The point of this impromptu visit, though, is finding place to have lunch. A perfect setting presents itself as an outdoor table beneath the canopy of a trattoria facing the piazza.
There’s nothing quite as quintessentially Italian as people-watching while you savor a freshly pressed panini… or sip a cappuccino, Campari, or Cinzano.
The piazza cafe is an experience that can be had in just about any town in Italy, but in Ferrara it’s particularly tranquil and unhurried.
Far less trafficked by tourists then larger or more well-known destinations, it’s arguably the most laid-back stop of these 10 Days In Italy. It’s only half an hour’s drive further to Bologna, where a room in the old city and a ‘foodie’ heaven await.
See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”