Food, wine, shopping, opera, sightseeing, oh and even more food and wine!
I’ve just returned from an amazing weekend in Parma Italy, and wanted share with you, what I think are the top highlights whilst you are there.
Parma is a northern city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. It has its own airport, I travelled in from Heathrow on a BA flight, taking only a couple of hours. It’s fairly small, as cities go, and therefore easily conquered over a weekend away, whether on foot, or by bicycle, as most of the locals like to get around. Its divided by a river, has many green spaces, and parks, countless places to eat, drink and shop. Equally perfect for a romantic trip away, or if you had children. I’m going to concentrate on a trip either on your own or with someone today, believe me there are lots to pack in!
Think Acqua di Parma, Prosciutto di Parma ham, Violetta di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan Cheese) plus sparkling wines are this regions speciality, particularly the famous Lambrusco wines (newly been given a very cool makeover) made just to the east of Parma, around Modena. This is my kind of place!
We walked around the center of Parma, visited deli’s, popped into Italian pharmacies, spotted many people enjoying an expresso, the cafe culture really is alive and well here.
So what did I buy?
Lots of Italian sweets, some balsamic vinegar from the local Emilia-Romagna area, I’ve already tried this and its amazing! Stationary, Parmesan cheese (we were recommended to go for it vacuum packed, so we didn’t have problems at customs) this was a set of three, each was aged differently. A vintage camera from the 1950’s, that was made in Milan. I picked the camera up at Mercanteinfiera an international antique and collectable fair, held twice a year in Parma Italy, it was full of treasure I would have loved to have taken home with me!
Just a small selection of the vintage suitcases Mercanteinfiera had on offer!
Food & Drink :
It’s very normal in Italy for the restaurant to serve you a dish to awaken your appetite, something small before the meal. If you have drinks in a bar, it is also quite custom (especially in the northern areas) to serve an aperitivo, a drink with some small portions of food, not as a substitute for a meal, but just to enjoy whilst chatting and relaxing with a drink. The drinks usually served are lower in alcohol content, dry or even bitter rather than sweet, usually Campari or Aperol, but also wine and Prosecco.
I would definitely recommend you try out some of the local food specialities, whilst in Parma. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations at the restaurants you visit. The Italians we met in Parma were incredibly proud of the produce from the region, and wanted to show us the best it had to offer.
Authenticity and fresh produce are the order of the day!
Top tips to try would be of course the Parma ham and the Parmesan, but also another very prized cured meat called Culatello di Zibello. I would highly recommend gnocco fritto, which are small pillows of fried dough, amazing with chutneys and cheese such as Gorgonzola. Tortellini in brodo, which can be made with meat or vegetarian with cheese inside, a filled tortellini in a broth. Also Ravioli di zucca, which is pumpkin filled ravioli. Another speciality is ricotta filled egg ravioli served with butter, sometimes sage infused, and always with more Parmigiano, and my personal favourite.
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was a pre-eminent Italian composer of operas in the 19th century, and from the Parma area. When I visited, it was actually his birthday, and outside of the opera house (Teatro Regio di Parma) was filled with his music, so uplifting. We did get to visit inside too, and I was blown away by the buildings decadence.
With many golden and red velvet floor to ceiling boxes, owned by families in the area, crossing the expanse of the whole theatre. The owners of which are given first refusal on any upcoming performances, before being offered to the public. It might be tricky to get a ticket, but I was told that the spectacle if you can, is unmissable and reward enough. The local Italians are very vocal about the enjoyment, or lack of, as the performance unfolds, but at least they no longer throw food which was also a custom some years ago.
There is so much to see and do whilst in Parma, and we did a whistle stop tour of the city. We visited amazing churches, with paintings on the walls and ceilings that were breathtaking. This was in Parma Cathedral, and is an incredibly famous painting, depicting the assumption of Mary into heaven, and painted in an illusionist style that was to become famously known and influential.
The Baptistery of Parma (next door the Cathedral) was an amazing octagonal pink marble building, again with a ceiling heavily decorated. It had statues depicting the seasons and the zodiac, and a huge baptismal font, from when full immersion was the norm.
Finally, another unmissable thing on the Parma site-seeing trail for me, would be Teatro Farnese Parma, the wooden theatre. It has a rich and troubled history, built quickly (only taking one year) from wood, and then disguised as marble to give the illusion of grandeur. It was built to symbolise the joining of two Italian families, and the passing of Cosimo II de’ Medici through Parma, on his way to Milan. Unfortunately as the building was finalised, Cosimo II de’ Medici grew ill and died, so never visited.
It wasn’t until 10 years later that they opened the building, and an incredible show was put on, the climax of which was an extraordinary naval battle. They flooded the ground floor of the theatre via a number of pumps located underneath the stage, and ships floated on the water. It must have been an amazing thing to see. It was only used another 8 times, before it was abandoned and left to ruin. It was bombed during the second world war, and completely destroyed. However it have now been painstakingly restored, leaving the wood exposed, you can see the true nature of the building below.
Have I whet your appetite for a trip to Parma? Italy is a place full of passion for good food and wine, the Italians definitely believe in a varied diet, a little of everything, and that’s exactly how I left Parma, satisfied with my journey there, but definitely left wanting more!