The area of Modena, from the plains to the mountains, offers nature lovers ample opportunities for discovery and recreation, with plenty of nature trails to be followed on foot or by bicycle.
The plains, marked by rivers and canals, offer cycle and walking trails for spotting local flora and fauna. There are also plenty of parks and nature reserves for pleasant walks and peaceful breaks. The area has particularly interesting wildlife reserves, amidst woodlands and pathways, where water and land merge and the sounds of the local fauna reveal another world to be discovered.
An undoubtedly unusual and interesting experience can be had at the Salse di Nirano Nature Reserve in Fiorano, where the presence of methane in the subsoil causes salty mud to erupt through fractures in the earth, forming little volcanoes with craters, explosions and gas emissions.
The Secchia River Detention Pond and Nature Reserve, created to monitor the water levels of the river, is a fascinating nature zone for its bird species and comprises farmland, sand and gravel quarries, as well as areas for water sports.
Also worth a visit is the Panaro River Detention Pond and Nature Reserve, situated on the right bank of the Panaro river and including several small lakes; again along the same river is a Nature Itinerary, an interesting nature trail that skirts the river south towards Marano and northwards towards Spilamberto-Modena, while at Casona di Marano it joins the Belvedere Itinerary as far as Montese.
A vast and recently re-vegetated area that can be explored on foot or by bicycle is the Valli Mirandolesi, with water lands home to different and rare bird species, ideal spots for bird watching.
The Partecipanza agraria di Nonantola farming collective is one of the last forms of collective ownership with medieval origins still used in Italy and it stretches northeast of the main town of Nonantola to cover about 765 hectares of land. Inside is the Area di Riequilibrio Ecologico “Il Torrazzuolo” Ecological Readjustment Area.
Visitors can admire a “romantic” garden, regarded one of the most important informal gardens in Emilia Romagna, in the eighteenth-century Villa Sorra, one of Modena’s most beautiful historical villas, in Gaggio di Piano, Castelfranco Emilia.
The Sassi di Roccamalatina Natural Park near Guiglia has striking stones that look like huge sculptures but have actually been formed by erosion over the past millennia.
Another memorable visit is to the Parco del Palazzo Ducale in Pavullo, Frignano, created by the House of Este, where you can admire two monumental trees: a Giant Redwood and a Lebanon Cedar.
A short distance from Pavullo is the Sassoguidano Nature Reserve, a protected area dominated by the impressive calcarenite walls of the Cinghio di Malvarone and by the ridge of Sassoguidano.
Near Lama Mocogno, the eighteenth century Via Vandelli is home to the age-old Hercules’ Bridge known as Devil’s Bridge, a sandstone monolith moulded by natural agents over the course of the centuries.
Of certain botanical and wildlife interest is the Frignano Regional Park in the Upper Modena Apennines, founded to protect the flora and fauna of Frignano. Also worthy of note is Mount Cimone and the lakes, in particular Lake Santo, the largest natural lake in the Modena Apennines.
Splendid pathways through mountain woodlands lead right into a magical landscape, where legends of fairies and elves enchant adults and children alike, and the lakes become mirrors that reflect the mountain vegetation.
For more expert walkers the Apennine crest, from Radici Pass to Abetone and from there to Croce Arcana Pass, offers breathtaking panoramic views of upper altitudes. The Apennines provide skiing enthusiasts with facilities and pistes for skiing and other fun pursuits. The mountains around Modena are a sports destination in summer and winter, whether on foot, on horseback or mountain bike.
Of interest in the city is the Este Ducal Gardens, a vast green area once belonging to the duchy but later public, which combines a part of an “Italian” garden with pathways inside an English-style park. Palazzina Vigarani provides a spectacular backdrop to the urban view of Corso Canalgrande. In 1758 Francesco III d'Este had part of it made into a Botanical Garden which still exists today and can be visited.