Once upon a time”namely, from the 13th to the 17th centuries”small and unassuming Ferrara was one of the peninsula’s most important cultural centers. Its university and wealthy dukes attracted such sought-after minds as Petrarch, Tasso, and Titian. Ferrara was one of the only cities in Emilia with independence from the Florentine nobility in the Middle Ages, and it lays important claims to the development of urban planning and theater.
But in the late 1600s, the Este dynasty fell apart, and Ferrara and its dukes were all but forgotten. It spent the next few centuries as the ugly stepbrother of the wealthier neighboring states, and its poorer inhabitants developed a taste for eels from the Po River delta.
Even these days, Ferrara’s enological and gastronomic delights rarely draw a crowd. Much of that has to do with geography. In the powerful triangle that comprises Emilia-Romagna’s three major cities, Ferrara occupies the lonely corner. Unlike its twin siblings, it does not share the A-1 autostrada, the country’s backbone, or the parallel railway that handles most of the nation’s traffic. Bikes are a must in Modena.
This anonymity can only be a good thing for anyone in search of Italian pleasures without the tourists. Ferrara is a quiet place, clean and livable. Slowly pedaling around on a bicycle seems to be the preferred mode of transportation in this city best known for its Lamborghini cars. It has a network of bike paths that leads from the medieval castle to expansive, leafy parks and stretches eight kilometers north to the banks of the mighty Po. When imagining the downtown, don’t assume that the city has lost its grandeur. Its center is dominated by a bona fide castle, with turrets, a moat, and drawbridges. From there, the main pedestrian artery leads to one of the most peculiar cathedrals in Italy, crafted of pink marble and flanked by an arcade of merchants.
The moral of this fable is, if you’re in search of fairy-tale Europe, where princesses and knights live among moated castles, Ferrara is the first place you should look”mostly because it won’t cost a king’s ransom. Real estate here goes for noticeably less than in Bologna: a modest two-bedroom apartment can be purchased for ‚100,000 or rented for about ‚550 per month. Or, for about twice that, you can move your family into a large suburban house. If your budget is healthy and your timing is right, ‚500,000 will land you a wonderfully restructured villa from the 19th century and a nice plot of land, a miniature fiefdom for the 21st century. Keep in mind that Ferrara lies in a floodplain, not in the hills, so the views can be pedestrian. Stately villas and estates don’t appear to be as common here as elsewhere in central Italy”for example, Parma”and if you do find one, it may be difficult to convince the wealthy duchess or farmer to move out.