Ten top tips for Parma
I love Italy - the art, the history and the culture - but I also love to eat! So it was only a matter of time before I found myself in the small city of Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region. It’s the area where many of the country’s finest foods are produced - from Prosciutto (Parma Ham), to Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese to excellent pastas and balsamic vinegars. As well as globally renowned foods the city is celebrated for its opera, Italy’s largest antiques fair and a quirky shopping experience. Here’s the attractions that shouldn’t be missed, so follow your gut and head to Parma.
1 Eat Ham - Prosciutto di Parma, or Parma Ham, is the pride of the city and fiercely protected by its passionate producers to ensure the quality of this PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product. Every restaurant - large or small, local or Michelin starred - will serve this delicacy, but if you wish to see and taste the real deal make sure you visit a Parma Ham producer. Various travel companies vie for your custom so choose a tour that works for you, a company like Food Valley Travel offers a mix of gastronomic tours in the region, or plan ahead and visit the city in September for the annual Parma Ham festival.
2 Eat Cheese - Parmigiano-Reggiano is a household name but the craftsmanship and love invested into every wheel of parmesan is a beautiful thing to behold. Like visiting a distillery in Scotland I find the best way to appreciate the exacting processes involved in creating a distinctive product is to visit a dairy and see it for myself. Parma Incoming Travel offers a range of food tours so you too can say ‘cheese’.
3 Eat Pasta - Everyone knows how consumed Italians are with pasta but I enjoy sampling the regional specialities. The Emilia-Romagna area is known for its Tortelli di Erbette (swiss chard and ricotta), Cappellacci di Zucca (pumpkin ravioli) and Anolini (beef and parmesan pasta broth). A very homely trattoria and a local favourite is just out of town called Parma Rotta - their pasta spread is quite something!
4 Drink Lambrusco - Before I visited Parma Lambrusco had quite negative connotations for me but it’s the local vineyards calling card and a very elegant, refreshing wine. It’s gently sparkling and served beautifully chilled: enjoy a glass at dinner or escape to a nearby winery for a tasting amidst stereotypically picturesque Italian countryside. I dropped by the small Lamoretti winery to try their PDO wines.
5 Get Operatic - Giuseppe Verdi was born and brought up in Le Roncole in the province of Parma so the city has distinguished operatic connections. Its annual Verdi festival in October is a date for the diary but I enjoyed visiting the opera houses in their own right. The Teatro Farnese, made entirely of wood, is architecturally novel and Parma’s art gallery and archaeological museum are housed in the same complex of buildings known as Palazza della Pilotta. Great rainy day options.
6 Go Food Shopping - You don’t have to leave the city centre to taste the best of Parma and buy some goodies to bring home with you. Strolling through the winding streets and dropping by quality delicatessens was a lovely way to spend a quiet afternoon mingling with the locals. Rastelli’s on Via Copelli and Silvano Romani on Via Paradigna sell a feast of Italian delicacies.
7 Go Shopping - At some points of my trip I occasionally wanted to think about something else other than food! I particularly loved the old fashioned hat shop Cappelleria Vender on Piazza della Steccata (it used to sell opera goers their millinery finery but now does a fine line in caps and trilbies). I found a cool vintage shop called Gazzabuglio on Borgo XX Marzo and I was also drawn to the leather goods for sale - Cocchinelle has its roots in Parma founded by the Mazzieri family in 1978. I love combining history and handbags.
8 Get Sacred - I always try to visit a key religious building in every city I visit as I think it reveals so much about a people and a place. The pink marble Baptistery was my highlight in Parma. Cool pink stone on the exterior, a colourful yet calming riot of artwork on the interior.
9 Bag an Antique - Mercanteinfiera is the biggest antiques, design and vintage trade show in Italy, held twice a year every spring and autumn. With over 1,000 stalls it’s ideal for anyone who enjoys hunting through a good treasure trove.
10 Walk Off Lunch! One of the attractions of Parma is that it’s a little undiscovered by tourists. It’s a pleasure to walk the cobbled streets, stroll by the colourful houses along the river, drop by a quiet coffee shop surrounded almost completely by Italians. As a small city it’s particularly walkable and I always feel that on holiday a stroll is the best way to sightsee and earn another gelato.
Factfile - Fly from Edinburgh to Bologna with Ryanair then hop on a train to Parma or grab a hire car. For anyone travelling with little ones Edinburgh airport has its own Family Lane to make things swifter and easier for families getting through security. For further tourist information on Parma visit. www.turismo.comune.parma.it/en
Milan Bergamo (Ryanair) and Milan Malpensa (easyJet) airports are options too as they are both well under two hours’ drive from Parma.
Janice Hopper is a travel and food writer with a background in directing arts and history documentaries for the BBC. She’s well versed in exploring Scotland and the world in search of great stories. Janice also runs the Scottish Family Travel site Tots2Travel covering days out, short breaks and holidays at home and abroad - www.tots2travel.wordpress.com