Thinking of going to Italy? Let me tell you why you must see Parma, a beautiful yet often overlooked city in the north of Italy.
A CHARMING ITALIAN CITY
A charming city renowned as Italy’s food capital, Parma is a gastronomic delight. Located in northern Italy, approximately an hour and a half drive south of Milan, you really must see Parma. Here I will tell you why you should visit this part of the boot-shaped country.
In Parma you will experience delicious Italian food in the heart of the Emilia Romagna region. This region of Italy is famous for Parmesan cheese known as Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma or Parma Ham, and balsamic vinegar. Furthermore, it is the birthplace of Barilla Pasta, Guiseppe Verdi (the opera composer) and loads more… It also has one of the oldest universities in the world, founded in the 10th century.
I really love this city, not only for the food culture, but because of my Italian heritage. My mother and grandparents were born here in Parma. I have previously visited twice as a child, so coming back here after so many years, was a trip down memory lane for me, one I was thrilled to share with my husband and children.
We chose to hire a car from Milan, which we pre-booked on-line. After planning our route, we drove directly to Parma to enjoy a 4 day stay. I have some great tips I can share with you on driving in Italy, if you’re interested.
Upon arrival, markets greeted us everywhere. It was Saturday and vendors were in full swing on almost every street and alleyway. I love markets – such a frenzy of activity, and all your senses are alert. All manner of goods were for sale; from clothes, crafts, bags and shoes, to food, food and more food!
A huge assortment of Italian delights were on display for your tasting pleasure, a veritable smorgasbord, including salami, prosciutto, cheese and wines. Mouthwatering stuff. Markets run every week, which is fantastic if you love the hustle and bustle, as I do. Italians love to shop and talk about food, and sample at the mercati.
As a big foodie, a big part of my time here was devoted to researching the food. It involves hours of laborious tasting and testing. It’s a hard job, but someone’s gotta do it, right?
I discovered there is a Festival of Prosciutto each year in September, to honour the king of cold meats. The ‘Prosciutto di Parma’ brand is made from a special breed of pigs from the region.
After thorough and extensive investigations, eating my way around Parma, my findings conclude firstly, that pizza in Parma is absolutely delicious everywhere you go. Without a doubt, there is no such thing as a bad pizza here.
Pasta of course, is absolutely exceptional here. The standouts for me are Tortelli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, absolutely delicious and very popular in these parts. But my personal favourite, Cappelletti in Brodo, are clear winners and something everyone should taste. These cute little hat-shaped pasta, filled with meat and served in a delicious broth are a culinary delight, and are good for the soul!
These local dishes from the Emilia-Romagna region are served in almost every restaurant here. Cappelletti and tortelli are widely featured on the menus. I was ecstatic and in foodies heaven, having grown up on these dishes at home, thanks to my Nonna, who brought the tradition from here to Australia with her, more than 60 years ago. Grazie Nonna.
Lambrusco wines are from this region of Italy also, with more than 60 different varieties of Lambrusco grapes grown in the region. The making of Lambrusco dates as far back as Roman times. The Romans drank wine? Really??!! The most popular is the sweet red frizzante variety.
I was a bit disgruntled to find that restaurants were only open a few hours each day; lunch was only from 12 to 2.30pm, so if we wanted to have a late lunch on our holidays, we couldn’t because a lot of kitchens were closed. But perhaps that was due to the fact it was Winter. Similarly, in the evenings we had to wait until 7 or 7.30pm before restaurants opened. I got caught out a couple of times, thinking the restaurants were open longer hours, which was very annoying. However, takeaway outlets were more readily open. Crisis averted!
Two fabulous restaurants I went to are Pizzeria Orfeo in Via Giosuè Carducci and La Greppia in Strada Giuseppe Garibaldi. I thoroughly recommend both of these establishments for authentic Italian fare and excellent service, the second one being more upmarket. To top off a scrumptious meal at La Greppia, our wonderful waiter brought out a complimentary dessert platter. OMG! Unfortunately, I had to share it with my dinner companions.
The Parco Ducale is the central meeting point in the city with a lovely pond and garden to stroll around and to just hang out. It’s been here since 1560 and has fruit trees and fountains too. I remember it as a young girl, although it seemed much bigger then. A very peaceful spot to relax.
However, a word of warning, watch out for the birds! We were virtually attacked by a flock of birds, dozens of them in fact, which swooped over us touching our heads. I ducked as I had my finger on the camera button and managed to get photos of this frightening ordeal. Luckily, we survived relatively unscathed.
History & Art
Touring around the city there are numerous ancient sites which I loved to admire and appreciate. You must see Parma’s Piazza Duomo where you will find the Cathedral of Parma, an important historic attraction of Roman architecture dating from 1059. It has grand frescoes painted by Renaissance artists and sculptures of the Gothic era.
The Battistero (above) is a very distinct building. It is an octagonally shaped medieval monument next to the Parma Cathedral. It is made of beautiful pink Verona marble. Dating from 1196, it has been very well maintained. One of the most important buildings in Europe. Apparently, the design aspects of the edifice are some how related to the astronomical calendar governed by the sun, moon and planets.
When visiting old cities I particularly enjoy wandering around the gorgeous old streets and lanes. Whilst exploring you absorb the atmosphere of a city, and find interesting places. The streets of Parma are quite enchanting and very romantic to get lost in.
I visited the delightful Glauco Lombardi Museum. This is the former home of Napoleon’s second wife. She was made Duchess of Parma after he was defeated. Artefacts and memorabilia from their life together in Europe during the 1800’s really show you intimate details of these historical characters. Entry is only €5. Well worth the visit.
Everywhere you turn there are historic buildings, as with all European cities. Great architecture and fabulous artwork in the form of paintings and sculptures from ancient times adorn the many galleries and churches here. And that is why Parma has recently been given the title of Italy’s Capital of Culture. Truly well deserved, but of course, I’m a bit biased. You must see Parma for yourself.
There’s more …
Another feather in its cap is that Parma is the capital city of the region that designs and produces engineering masterpieces – Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini. Yes indeed!
I was lucky enough to be granted an exclusive VIP tour of the Lamborghini factory. So have a look at my blog post. Read all the details, with loads of pics for all you car enthusiasts.
I recommend doing either a foodies/cooking tour here, or a walking tour of Parma. Some great options are listed below. You can even have a private home cooking class!
Have fun and buon appetito.
I hope you now have a little taste of why you must see Parma, Italy.
I’d love to receive any comments. Have you been to Parma? Please share below.
Ciao for now.