The city of Parma
Parma is a city with almost 200,000 inhabitants with just as many again in the surrounding provinces. Split from west to east by via Emilia – it is located between Piacenza and Reggio Emilia – and the river Parma runs from the south to the north. The river is nicknamed “la voladora” because when it floods, it takes everything with it down towards the valley. Parma's title of ducal city or "petite capitale" comes from its two centuries of Farnesian domination and especially from the influence that Maria Luigia and her reign had on general traditions and customs. Locals from Parma like to remember their roots and like to be seen as descendents of the sensitive Duchess. It is probably due to this illustrious past that the locals are well-known for their elegance. You will find it hard to see anyone in the central streets and boutiques who is not well dressed with clothes being just as good as the “prêt-a-porter” an high fashions of the capital.
Parma is also of course, the capital of good food. The many restaurants, to suit all tastes and pockets, are testimony to this. Capital of Parmesan cheese and Parma ham this is a real "food valley" thanks also to the presence of companies famous the world over, such as Barilla – which exports spaghetti, pasta, biscuits and thousands of types of bread and bread-sticks to America, Russia, Europe, Asia – and Parmalat, which specializes in milk and dairy products.
Parma was recently voted as the city with the best standard of living.
The heart of the city is Piazza Garibaldi, which stands on the site of the former Roman court. From here the historical centre develops, the 'noble' area with its beautiful palaces shops and elegant bars.
On the other side of the river is the Oltretorrente, the city's most characteristic area which still has an old feel about it even though recent town council works have re-modernised even the smallest areas and piazzas. In the Provinces
There are some wonderful places close to Parma that are easily reached by bus or by car: Fontanellato, with its Sanvitale fortress, perfectly conserved at the centre of the village is inundated with tourists every year. As well as being an enchanting area, inside the castle you can visit the Diana and Atteone room, decorated with frescoes by Parmigianino. Every fourth Sunday of the month there is a massive antiques market where you will find everything, from necklaces to furniture, from decorative items to old clothes. Every month thousands of tourists fill the streets of the old town.
The Santuario della Vergine Maria is a mecca for many pilgrims, a temple visited by followers from all over Italy.
A few kilometers away is Soragna, another village in the Po valley, characterised by the presence of a beautiful castle that is still inhabited by the prince of Soragna, Diofebo Meli Lupi. A few kilometres farther away is San Secondo where another 'marvel' welcomes tourists with a particular appreciation of castles and frescoes - the Russian residence with its lounge, decorated with frescoes from floor to ceiling, it is a unique example of its genre, although the whole building which has only been partly conserved, offers many other beautifully frescoed rooms.
For those who want to travel farther than San Secondo, then the village of Fontanelle is worth a look, it contains a handful of houses in the heart of the valley and is where the writer Giovannino Guareschi was born, as well as being homeland to Pietrino Bianchi, a famous journalist and cinema critic. Further on, still heading toward the Po, but approx forty kilometers or so outside Parma, you will reach Zibello, another famous centre in the Parma basin and home to Culatello, the king of salami.
Busseto may be a little out of the way in comparison with the other villages mentioned, but it is the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi, the great musician and composer who conquered the world with his operatic works. From here, you can head for the mountains and will reach Langhirano, kingdom of prosciutto ham, Felino, where cured meats are prepared, and Traversetolo where every Sunday they hold an enormous market full of local foods and people.
Food and drink in Parma
Where to start? With parmesan cheese or prosciutto ham, with the anolini stew or the herb tortelli? Parma, proud of its role as the petite capitale in the 'Food Valley', has great traditions of good food behind it. And the cuisine, with its typical products and characteristic dishes is one of its main attractions for visitors. Its really unique cured meats are also worthy of their fame. Beginning with the raw ham, produced in the Langhirano area; and then the Felino salami, the culatello from Zibello, and the cooked shoulder from San Secondo. Less prestigious are the area's wines: the red wine from the hills of Parma, the Sauvignon and the Malvasia. These are honest wines which are great for accompanying a plate of cured meats. As far as Parma cuisine is concerned, you are spoilt for choice. In the old town, as on the city's outskirts, there are typical restaurants, from trattorias to more chic restaurants. A place to start especially for those for whom money is no object, is Parizzi . This is one of the city's most famous restaurants and is on the very central Via Repubblica. The owner, Ugo Parizzi offers top quality Parma dishes: from tortelli to parmesan cheese, from tripe to parmesan to beef stew. The cured meats are excellent, as is the wine list. Even more centrally located, in an enchanting location is the Angiol d'Or : overlooking Piazza Duomo (in summer you can eat out in the open with a view of the cathedral and the baptistery) and even here, typical dishes are served (herb or pumpkin tortelli, tripe, excellent cured meats). The chef, Jean Pierre Pastor, also offers a reworking of recipes created by the cook to Duchess Maria Luigia, published in a book in 1832.
Tradition meets innovation at the Greppia , which offers a top class menu: veal carpaccio with fresh fig sauce, (in summer and in autumn), parmesan mousse with pears in wine, tortelli, pasta with basil and pine nut sauce and and pigeon in white wine stuffed with pistachio (in autumn and spring); and there is an excellent sweet trolley with a good selection of wines. Other temples to local cuisine include the characteristic Sorelle Picchi (only open at lunchtime: you go into a delicatessen and at the back there is a room with tables laid out and various trattorias where you can eat well at prices to suit all pockets, especially at the Tri Siochett , ten minutes car journey from the city. And for those who have already tried the local cuisine and fancy a change, Parma Rotta , which is good for its grilled meat and Le Viole , an excellent restaurant which combines classic dishes and innovations. If you happen to be outside the city, and consider yourself a gourmet, then don't miss a trip to Villa Maria Luigia , in Collecchio, housed in the hunting lodge of the duchess Maria Luigia, in a beautiful park. The owner, Giancarlo Ceci, offers a variety of set menus and a la carte dishes. This is a place we can really recommend both for the quality of the food (from the starters to the dessert and including the wine as well as for its charm. Top class venues include La Cantinetta in Felino and for those who want to eat truffles, the Locanda Mariella , in Calestano.
Fancy a coffee after lunch or a short stop between museums? The Caffè Cavour has a lovely salon, which is French and "retro" in style, situated right next to the old San Paolo monastery overlooking the very central via Cavour, the city's main walkway. A break at the Cavour for breakfast is one of the locals' preferred pastimes. Or if you want to sit down in Piazza Garibaldi, the city's main piazza, you might opt for the Caffè Orientale , very popular in the early hours of the morning. From coffee to herb tortelli, from an aperitif to a giant ice cream, from a bread roll to a cake, there is something delicious for everyone.
Close to the cathedral and very popular among tourists is the bar Cardinal , which has outdoor tables and specializes in snacks and aperitifs.