A Car Enthusiast's Guide to Italy's Motor Valley

Museo Enzo Ferrari

Elizabeth Heath

The Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy is home to the Motor Valley, where some of the world's most renowned sports cars are built. Dubbed "the land where speed was born," the Motor Valley centers around Modena and includes Parma, Bologna, and parts of the Romagna, the eastern portion of the larger region.

For sports car enthusiasts, a tour of the Motor Valley offers the chance to visit the assembly lines of some of the world's fastest and most expensive cars, ogle rare and priceless editions in automotive museums, and even drive one of the stunningly fast sports cars on a professional race course.

Here are some highlights of the Motor Valley, a must-see for car-lovers visiting Italy.

Ferrari-Focused Attractions

Ferrari race cars and sports cars were first made in Modena, and two museums in and near the city tell the story of the legendary company and its larger-than-life founder, Enzo Ferrari.

Ferrari was born in a farmhouse in northeast Modena, where his father had an auto repair shop. That preserved farmhouse plus a modern annex, shielded by a bright yellow roof designed to mimic the streamlined form of a Ferrari, comprise the Museo Enzo Ferrari. The museum has displays on Ferrari's life, the founding of the Scuderia Ferrari racing team and later, of the eponymous race car manufacturer. A futuristic exhibit area holds an astounding collection of mint-condition vintage Ferraris, as well as new prototypes. In the original Ferrari family home and workshop, visitors can see a display of Ferrari engines—possibly more of interest to real car buffs—as well as Enzo Ferrari's office, kept as it was when he occupied it.

For an extra fee, the museum offers a driving simulator that puts participants behind the wheel of a Formula 1 race car. There's also a gift shop (naturally) and a cafe.

In Maranello, a few miles outside Modena, the Museo Ferrari Maranello contains more displays on the history of the Ferrari brand, as well as models of F1 race cars and sports cars. Included in admission is a bus tour of the Fiorano test track and an outdoors-only look at the factory complex where Ferraris are built. Note that no photography is allowed during the factory/track tour, and visitors stay on the bus the entire time.

The Maranello museum also offers, for an extra fee, two driving simulators, photos inside a recent model Ferrari, and for groups, the chance to book a tire change experience, where they get to race the clock to change an F1 tire in a simulated pit stop.

Lamborghini simulator
Elizabeth Heath

For Lamborghini Lovers

The story goes that when Ferruccio Lamborghini, a tractor manufacturer and lover of fast cars, approached Enzo Ferrari with a suggestion for how Ferrari could improve his cars' design, Ferrari told him, in so many words, to "stick to building tractors." Lamborghini's response to the slight was to start his own sports car company, and Lamborghini Automobili was born. Today, the sports cars are still produced at the site of the original factory—now greatly modernized—at Sant'Agata Bolognese, about 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) from Bologna.

The MUDETEC Museum, also on the site of the original factory, holds a priceless, decades-spanning collection of Lamborghini cars, and offers an optional driving simulator for those who want to feel what it's like behind the wheel. But the experience that Lamborghini devotees reserve months in advance is the factory tour, which allows guests to visit—but not photograph—the production lines for the Aventador and Huracán models. Each car is custom made per client order, and the precision—down to the second—with which the cars move through the line, from empty chassis to painted and upholstered vehicles is indeed impressive.

Lamborghini also offers the Esperienza, a day-long program where participants visit the museum and factory tour, then transfer to the Autodromo di Imola to drive one of the fabled sports cars on a real racetrack.

More Highlights from the Motor Valley

Maserati Showroom and Factory Tour: In Modena, visitors to the futuristic Maserati Showroom can see the current range of Maserati sports sedans and the company's new SUV, which has quickly become a best-seller. During the factory tour, guests can witness the precision robotics and meticulous quality control on the assembly line. The company offers a range of driving experiences, from practice runs on a racetrack to a day of full-speed racing, with prices beginning at 3,900 euros.

Panini Motor Museum: This Modena museum houses a collection of 19 rare and vintage Maseratis, dating from 1934 to 2002.

Pagani Factory Tour: Find out how much work goes into each handmade Pagani roadster, which cost around $1.4 million. But if you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it.

Ducati Museum and Factory Tour: Swap four wheels for two at the Ducati motorcycle museum and factory tour. Driving experiences are also available.

Dallara Academy: Long associated with F1 and IndyCar racing, Dallara only introduced its first street sports car in 2017. The Dallara Academy offers a history of the company, as well as hands-on experiences to help visitors understand the science behind automotive design.

Where to Stay in the Motor Valley

If the purpose of your trip is primarily to tour sports car museums and participate in factory tours, it makes sense to base in Modena. Fortunately, especially for members of your party who are not wild about expensive cars, Modena is a great city to visit in its own right, with an important culinary and artistic heritage. It's the center of balsamic vinegar production, while prosciutto and parmesan cheese from neighboring Parma feature prominently in local cuisine. A historic opera house, the Ducal Palace, the 12th-century Duomo, and the Museum Palace complex are all worthwhile diversions in Modena.

Casa Maria Luigia garden
Elizabeth Heath

In the heart of Modena's centro storico, or historic center, the Hotel Milano Palace is a well-priced 4-star hotel. For something decidedly more upscale, celebrity chef Massimo Bottura and his wife, Lara Gilmore have opened Casa Maria Luigia, a luxury guesthouse in a parklike setting just outside Modena. Bottura, whose Osteria Francescana has repeatedly been designated the World's Best Restaurant, oversees the breakfast menu, so rest assured that it won't be your average hotel breakfast buffet.

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