FLAMBOYANT FERRARA; Italy's Pretty City Has Art to Rival Florence's and a Rich History of Femmes Fatales

Daily Mail (London), July 19, 2017 | Go to article overview

FLAMBOYANT FERRARA; Italy's Pretty City Has Art to Rival Florence's and a Rich History of Femmes Fatales


Byline: Lucy Hughes-Hallett

THE walls around Ferrara were built to repel enemies. Now, though, the wars that kept medieval Italy busy are a distant memory, and those same walls feel more like the packaging around a scrumptious selection of sweets.

Built of brick in shades of strawberries and cream and wrapped in a ribbon of scented acacia trees, they are a delightful promenade. Inside them, the palaces and piazzas of this splendid little city, the domain of the d'Este family, are packed as compactly as chocolates in a box.

A short drive or train-ride from Bologna's airport, Ferrara is easily accessible for a weekend break. It has art to rival that in Florence but without the crowds or queues. Palaces, a market alongside a gothic cathedral, and beautiful squares or gardens in which to picnic. Here's how to enjoy it.

ON YOUR BIKE

CARS can't penetrate the narrow streets of the medieval quarter, and are banned from the grand boulevards of the Renaissance town. Walking is a pleasure, but the locals all pedal -- they coast slowly and carefully over the cobbles. The elderly gentlemen, who congregate in the main piazza at dusk, chat astride their bikes. Women ride home from Mass, tweed skirts neatly arranged. Most hotels provide bikes.

KING OF THE CASTLE

THE Castello Estense rises, tremendous, from its moat in the centre of town. Its exterior is magnificently grim, its inside lavishly frescoed. Here lived Renaissance Ferrara's three most famous women. They were Lucrezia Borgia, illegitimate daughter of a pope, whose reputation as a golden-haired, poison-dispensing femme fatale obscures her real achievements as a patron of scholars and poets.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

The ten-FERRARA in Bassani September, largest in more balloon Her sister-in-law and rival, Isabella d'Este, became the ruler of Mantua, and, lastly, Parisina d'Este, was the wretched childbride who was murdered in a dungeon along with the step-son with whom she'd unwisely fallen in love.

INDULGE YOURSELF

THE Palazzo Schifanoia (whose name means 'banish boredom') is all about pleasure. It was built as a summer-house and party venue for the Renaissance court, and its main salon is decorated with exquisitely beautiful frescos showing courtiers in gorgeous damask robes and labourers in tatters, mythical beasts and endearing dogs. …

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