The Duhessa Isabella is a famous hotel in one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, Ferrara. It inhabits a Renaissance palace built around 1500, and is a five minute taxi ride from the Cathedral, an edifice which possesses a sumptuous Romanesque façade, an 18th Century interior and a row of shops along its southern outer wall. This is a town which likes the unusual, and the Duchessa Isabella has its unusual moments, for it was furnished by those who clearly had no truck with the minimalist school of interior decoration. At no other hotel, for example, have I been blessed with a pink frilly shower curtain. Some of the décor might be in need of a spot of refreshment, but the overall effect of all the paintings, the gilt, the ornaments, the trompe l’oeil and the lace doilies is to create an atmosphere of sumptuous, if faded, luxury. I liked it.
I do like my restaurants to be civilised. But what does ‘civilised’ mean in this context? It has to do with tone, atmosphere, décor, the welcome and the service. When they are all right – that is, discreet and calmly efficient – there is harmony. And that is what I called civilised. And the Ristorante Antica Moka, on the outskirts of the ancient and attractive city of Modena, is undoubtedly civilised. True, the approach is a little off-putting, for the property is on a busy road a 15€ taxi ride from the centre of town. (The location comes from the fact that the establishment began life as a little coffee shop – hence the ‘moka’ of its name – before becoming a formal restaurant in the mid- 1980s.) But, once inside, all is elegance and quietness.
I like food and I like motor cars. No wonder, then, that eventually I should visit Modena. This ancient and attractive city of arcades and palaces is famous for its balsamic vinegar and for its Ferrari sports cars. I will confess that I prefer the former, for on the only occasion I tried to enter one of the latter I found I had to be rescued – ‘extracted’ might be a better word – by those who realised that I was not one of those capable of the contortions necessary to fit into a Ferrari. (I decided to stick to Royces thereafter.) But Modena has another claim upon your attention. It has an impressive Romanesque cathedral with one of the most harmonious and atmospheric interiors to be found anywhere. I found it captivating and truly calming for the spirit. But where can one stay in Modena? I think I have the answer.
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See also Dining in France & American Farm to Table