For the last seven months I have been living in Ferrara. Unless you’re Italian or geographically savvy, you may not know where it is, or may not even have heard of it.
If you fall under one of these categories, as I was a year ago, then let me indulge you.
Ferrara, also known as the ‘city of bicycles’, is an Italian city located between Venice and Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region. Whilst small, Ferrara is mighty – mighty beautiful that is. Recognised by UNESCO in 1995, this city of Renaissance has a lot of impressive buildings and is packed with history. And a major bonus – whilst a popular place to visit, this city hasn’t become too heavily touristy (yet!).
So, why is Ferrara so beloved by its inhabitants and increasing number of tourists?
Castle and Walls
The most prominent building in Ferrara has to be the castle, ‘Castello Estense’. This building, which is more than 600 years old, was built by the Este family and includes a moat with drawbridges. Located in the city centre, it is worth a visit to see the dungeons and get a bird’s eye view of the city. Surrounding the historic centre of Ferrara are grand walls which are mostly still intact. A popular activity enjoyed by many inhabitants is walking or cycling along them.
When walking around Ferrara it is not unusual to see men parading in tights and baggy shorts and women wearing elaborate Renaissance dresses. Ferrara hosts a lot of historical celebrations throughout the year and its inhabitants are more than willing to take part. Flag throwing and regal music played by trumpets accompany these colourful costumes. One month when Ferrara particularly becomes alive is May, the month of ‘Palio’. There are weekly celebrations and parades, concluding with a big horse race on the final weekend.
Small town charm
Despite housing well over 130,000 people, Ferrara still maintains some small-town charm. This is likely due to its walled historic centre with atmospheric medieval streets. After visiting the same fruit and veg shop once a week for a month, the owner asked my name. The next time I went in I was greeted with “ciao, Emma!” Wow, small town folk sure can be friendly – you certainly don’t get this VIP treatment in London.
Are you a fan of pumpkin? If so, Ferrara is the place for you! After being in Italy for less than a week I was asked several times, “have you tried cappellacci?”, so I had to give this coveted speciality Ferrarian dish a try. Cappellacci is essentially pasta filled with pumpkin. It is incredibly sweet and is the perfect autumnal dish. Holiday cheer Ferrara is also a place which makes the most of holiday celebrations. At Halloween shops give away sweets to children, dressed up in their scary – or not so scary – costumes. At Christmas a twenty-five-foot tree is erected in the centre of town next to a festive Christmas market.
So, whilst it may not be on many people’s radar, Ferrara is definitely an understated city – and one certainly not to be overlooked.
Images: Emma Prentice