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Drive Culture Irresistible Italian cuisine and sports car museums in one place: What could be better?

A row of vintage Maseratis including the 1959 Tipo 61 race car, commonly known as the 'Birdcage,' that raced at the 24 hours of Le Mans. Also featured is the 1934 6C 34 single-seater race car, and its first successful Gran Turismo, the 1958 3500 GT.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

The Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy is home to some of the world’s best cuisine. But beyond the irresistible aromas of tagliatelle al ragu and prosciutto di Parma lie some of the world’s most-cherished car museums.

It’s a pilgrimage of sorts for Italian car and motorcycle fanatics who salivate over the heritage of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani, Maserati and Ducati. If it’s Italian, it’s here in a 22,500-square-kilometre region of 4.4-million inhabitants dubbed the “Motor Valley.”

A rental car is ideal for moving freely around the region, saving on time and customizing preferences. That was my strategy on a recent family vacation throughout Italy. There wasn’t enough time to go through all that that Motor Valley has to offer in its public and private museums, car factories and race tracks, so we made reservations at two spots, with the goal of balancing automotive joy without overdoing it.

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The morning started with a 60-kilometre drive west to Modena for a tour of Hombre, an organic dairy farm and producer of some of the best aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It doesn’t sound automotive, but this aromatic sanctum happens to house a collection rescued from the Maserati museum, thanks to its late owner Umberto Panini.

In the mid-90s, Maserati was in financial crisis and planned to sell off its collection at the London-based Brooks auction house. The Panini family purchased the entire collection, and now it’s stored in a two-storey warehouse on the family’s dairy farm.

From left, the 1936 Maserati 6CM single-seat race car, first shown off at the 1936 Milan Motor Show, and the 1958 Maserati Tipo 420M, known as the 'Eldorado Special' piloted by the legendary Sir Stirling Moss at the 500 Miglia di Monza.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

It’s a little surreal to pick up some Parmigiano-Reggiano then head next door to check out a 1934 Maserati 6C race car, the 1954 A6 GCS Berlinetta Pininfarina two-seater, and the literal crème de la crème: a 1958 Tipo 420M, simply known as the Eldorado Special, thanks to a sponsorship from Eldorado Ice Cream.

A visit to Hombre is worth it for the story behind the Eldorado alone. It’s not known for winning (it did only take 20 days to build), but for its groundbreaking sponsorship, as it was the first non-automaker-sponsored race car in Europe to be driven by racing legend Sir Stirling Moss at the 500 Miglia di Monza. Moss piloted a vanilla-coloured V8, capable of 350 km/h, to a seventh-overall finish despite a steering problem in the final heat.

Hombre was a nice surprise in a rather sluggish start to the day as the morning cappuccino settled in. The cars and caffeine provided a nice jolt ahead of the 17-kilometre trek south to Maranello, where the brilliance of Enzo Ferrari is on display. A stroll through the Ferrari Museum offers the chance to learn about the company’s racing foundation and 70 years of brilliant engineering, while taking a glance at priceless original works and tracing the development of the brand through the decades.

Ferrari’s racing heritage is woven into each and every car at the museum, using the one overriding rule governing how things are done at Ferrari: technology is never put before the human element. Legends of the road are on display throughout, including the 166 Inter – the first car Ferrari car designed mainly for the road – a few late-1950s 250 GT Bernilettas, one of them in a knockout livery featuring Martini colours; and its new performance benchmark, the 812 Superfast.

A collection of F1 trophies are a feature of the Ferrari Museum.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

The museum showcases original drawings, vintage videos, a 25-euro racing simulator, special-edition vehicles, plenty of engine parts (including its 12-cylinder masterpiece), and a gluttony of Ferrari gear in the gift shop. But nothing compares to a stunning display of eight of the Prancing Horse’s finest race cars and a host of F1 trophies in one of the final rooms. It’s a trip through time, starting with the Alberto Ascari-driven 500 F2 that won Ferrari’s first Formula 1 World Championship in 1952 to the dominance of the F2004 driven by Michael Schumacher for 15 victories in 18 races.

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Emilia-Romagna may not be the most famous region of Italy, but there’s no other place in the world that has such a concentration of cars and racing history. It’s a car fanatic’s dream.

Other attractions in the Motor Valley

Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari

Via Paolo Ferrari, 85, Modena

This renovated museum is the building where Enzo Ferrari and his family lived. There’s a collection of cars that go beyond Ferrari, an art gallery and an opportunity in its cinema to learn about Ferrari’s history. Combine your tickets with the visit to the Maranello museum for a better price.

Museo Lamborghini

Via Modena, 12, Sant’Agata Bolognese

These walls house some of the most prestigious luxury sports cars of our time including the Diablo and Gallardo. If that isn’t enough, the factory tour allows you to have a look at the Huracán and Aventador being assembled. The guided tour is recommended.

Museo Ferrucio Lamborghini

Strada provinciale 4 Galliera Sud, 319, Casette di Funo, Bologna

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Like the Ferrari museum, there’s no point in stopping just at the Lamborghini museum. Continue the Lamborghini journey with a tour of Ferrucio’s humble beginnings, the company’s history, mechanics, engineering, recent innovations and, of course, its beautiful lot of cars. It was opened only in 2014 by Ferrucio’s son, Tonino and is situated near downtown Bologna.

Pagani Automobili

Via dell’Industria 26, San Cesario sul Panaro, Modena

Pagani also offers up a factory and museum tour, as well as the chance to meet Horacio Pagani himself. Stroll through the showroom and pristine factory to see the precision and hand craftsmanship that goes into these super-expensive specimens.

Museo Ducati

Via Antonio Cavalieri Ducati, 3, 40132 Bologna

For the bike fanatic, the Ducati museum in Bologna takes you through its collection of motorcycles, as well as a one-hour tour of the factory and museum. Compared to the others listed, this is a reasonably priced visit that goes through the company’s 90-year history to its current offerings.

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