Paid Content from The Italian National Tourism Board®
To learn about a country, simply open a history book. To understand a nation, begin by closing the book and looking to the streets—because the ultimate expression of a place and its people lies in anything with an engine and a steering wheel.
In America, for example, look no further than that most American of automotive creations, the Muscle Car. These brawny beasts trade luxury and comfort for defiant design and torque to spare, like an overpowered advertisement for Manifest Destiny. Travel the M1 in England to discover how a royal flush of automakers steep their vehicles in centuries of regal tradition, understated luxury, and British charm. Brave the autobahn to watch German efficiency and engineering tear past you at blinding speed while maintaining full control.
In most places, cars can reveal a country’s heart. Italy, however, is not most places. Each Italian auto is both a work of art and the perfect distillation of the passion, flair, style, history, beauty, playfulness, drama, and madness that makes Italy such a special and spectacular country. A Ferrari or a Lamborghini does more than reveal the heart of this ancient place—it captures the very soul of Italy. Italian automotive artisans then adorn that soul in bold colors, supercharge it, then gently nestle it inside a stunning metal and carbon fiber body that can strut down the narrow streets of Rome, caress the curves of the Amalfi coast, and conquer the mountainous, mind-bending Stelvio Pass.
Every inch of Italy is infused with thousands of years of history, culture, art, science, and design, so much so that it can be hard to comprehend how all of that richness can occupy such a relatively small strip of land. Emilia Romagna packs in everything that Italy has to offer and more, with barely enough room for something even more remarkable: The entirety of Italian automotive history, all packed into a postage stamp of land that has gasoline pumping through its veins. Benvenuti in Emilia Romagna, Italy’s Motor Valley.
The Essence of Italy is Emilia Romagna
To understand Italy through its magnificent motoring history, you must travel to the birthplace of Italian engineering: Emilia Romagna. This gorgeous region is more commonly known as ‘Motor Valley’ because it is where some of the most iconic motor vehicles of all time—Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati—are designed and manufactured in such close proximity to one another, they may as well be in a piazza in Florence.
Just like the cars born within its borders, Emilia Romagna encapsulates so much of Italy in one beautiful place, starting the second you arrive by the Via Emilia, the main roadway that dates back to the ancient Romans. Start your journey with a culinary excursion to indulge your palate in Parma, home of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and delectable prosciutto di Parma, then head to Modena for one barrel-aged delicacy—balsamic vinegar—paired with another: a glass of joyously bubbly red Lambrusco wine.
Before you worship at the altar of autos in Motor Valley, feast your eyes on the works of the Old Italian masters—like at the half-marble façade of the Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna, the 13th Century ceramic heritage of Faenza, the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, and the medieval treasures at the Parmeggiani Gallery in Reggio Emilia. From there, experience Italy’s natural splendor at the beautiful beaches in Rimini and its Riviera, just as celebrated Italian filmmaker (and Rimini native) Federico Fellini once did; then celebrate his Centennial year by taking in his works at the newly reopened Fulgor Theater or the dedicated Fellini Museum inside the Castel Sismondo.
The Cradle of Cars
Once you have traveled the length of Via Emilia and experienced the food, culture, art, and history of this wonderous region, you are ready to appreciate the Italian automotive aesthetics that give Emilia Romagna its Motor Valley moniker. The city of Modena dates back to the Iron Age, and just as Milan is known for its fashion houses, Modena houses more influential and innovative automakers than any place on earth. There are more than a dozen car museums and even more private collections in this region—many of which have virtual tours—where you can admire the masterpieces of more than a century of manufacturing. But to see art in action, you must visit the source of inspiration, starting with the factory and home of the most important man to ever navigate the roads of Italy: Enzo Ferrari.
As the hometown of Enzo Ferrari—the man who all but invented the idea of cars as art—the first stop for any gearhead should be the Ferrari factory. Among all automakers, Ferrari stands alone for its legacy in engineering, design, innovation, and aesthetics, with a legendary racing pedigree and a reputation for building some of the most beloved and beautiful cars in history. The nearby Museo Ferrari is a cathedral to cars, and the best place to see the scope of Enzo’s artwork as well as his original family house and workshop. Just make sure to wear something in Ferrari red.
Fittingly, the Maserati factory is just a short drive away. Long associated with its older cousin, Ferrari, the five Maserati brothers were involved in the earliest days of racing and set the standard for the ultra-luxurious, elite performance vehicles that still carry the iconic trident logo today. More recently, Maserati has focused on building cars that marry pure Italian performance with a distinct sense of Italian practicality, all in the form of versatile vehicles that can be tamed for everyday driving, then unleased for pure performance bliss.
Ferraris and Maseratis can hardly be called ‘subtle’ supercars, but compared to what rolls off the assembly line in nearby Bologna, the two marques made in Modena are downright civilized. Less than an hour away, Ducati and Lamborghini make vehicles that don’t just announce their arrival—they broadcast it like a fireworks show full of bone-rattling sound, explosions of color, and bursts of literal fire from their chrome exhaust pipes.
Cycling has always been popular in Italy, and Ducati traces its roots to the humble bicycle. Founder Antonio Cavalieri Ducati was an innovator in engine-powered two-wheelers, and the first Ducati motorized bicycles reached top speeds of up to 40MPH. Today, Ducatis can barely stay that slow even when parked—the modern monsters are, well, Monsters (yes, that is a real Ducati model) that are more akin to riding rockets down the road. The breakneck speed and high-pitched whine of a Ducati is instantly recognizable anywhere, but for anyone still unsure, Ducati is kind enough to style their motorcycles in Italian racing red and glistening chrome so that they cannot possibly be mistaken for anything else.
If that whine you hear is more of a volcanic eruption, you may be in luck. Forget racing red—Lamborghini has spent decades creating ludicrously fast and absurdly powerful cars that will overwhelm your eyes in exotic yellows, neon greens, and proud purples. Ferrari’s signature stallion logo seems to represent how Enzo Ferrari managed to harness the animalistic soul of his homeland and given the driver control over a wild beast. In comparison, Ferruccio Lamborghini made cars that are all but possessed by the spirit of Italy—just watch how an Aventador or Hurucán rumbles, whinnies, and strains against its reins at a red light, and you will realize that the raging bull on the hood is as literal a logo as it gets. And just as Modena embraces its native son Enzo, so too does Bologna, especially at the Museo Ferruccio Lamborghini in Funo di Argelato, where Lamborghini’s vision can even be seen in his earliest creations—tractors. Maybe Lamborghini’s are practical after all. For a closer look into the future of Lamborghini, do not miss the newest Mudetec at Sant’Agata Bolognese.
Push your limit on the track
Emilia Romagna captures the spirit of Italy because the entire region is a feast for the senses, thanks to its sumptuous food, ornate architecture, vibrant culture, and world-renowned art. But unlike anywhere else in the country or indeed abroad, Emilia Romagna enflames your senses with its beautiful, brilliant, and seductive vehicles that are purpose-built to awaken your adrenaline from the engine noise alone.
Beyond the heritage brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini, Motor Valley is also home to some of the most innovative, cutting-edge newcomers in the entire motorsport world—and is the only place to witness the future of Italian motoring. Just near Enzo’s original workshop is Pagani, a relatively small automaker that has spent the last three decades reinventing the supercar as the hypercar—as evidenced in the dramatic gullwing doors, fire-spitting quad exhaust valves, and outrageous silhouette of the magnificent Hyuara. More spaceship than car, Paganis are among the fastest on earth and practically scream “viva Italia!” as they break records and ignite passions at tracks around the world.
Just looking at these incredible performance machines can feel like torture for a racer’s spirit, so if the scent of motor oil and gasoline spurs a need for speed, Emilia Romagna will provide the track, like the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in the town of Imola. There are four separate race circuits and speedways in the region, all of which play host to some of the most exciting races in all of motorsports. If you’ve had enough of being a spectator, Modena provides numerous opportunities to test your skills behind the wheel with different driving experiences and racing schools that will let you live out your dreams with every squealing start and heart-pounding hot lap. And if road cars simply won’t satisfy, head to Parma to find Dallara, manufacturers of brilliant, unstoppable open-wheel race cars that have swept the podium at the most legendary races in the world—and electric vehicle innovators crafting battery-powered road rockets that sing like the greatest Italian engines in history.
There’s nowhere quite like Italy, and there’s nothing at all like Emilia Romagna. Get a taste of the entire nation and experience the magic of the Motor Valley yourself, all in one unbelievable region.