In 2020, Parma is due to enjoy its role as Italy’s Capital of Culture in which it will host a multitude of concerts and exhibitions from July to December.
It has recently been recognised as a ‘City of Gastronomy’ (www.parmacityofgastronomy.it/en/) with distinctive produce such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma Ham, Culatello di Zibello, Coppa di Parma, Salame Felino and Mushroom Borgotaro and also, its own range of wines and balsamic vinegar.
While in Parma I stayed at the Hotel Palazzo dalla Rosa Prati (www.palazzodallarosaprati.it). It’s fantastically situated opposite the Baptistery, bang in the city centre and in walking distance of all the sites. I arrived late at night into the calm and clear cathedral piazza and got a glimpse of the delights to come. I awoke to the sound of church bells and met Victor, the hotel owner, who took us upstairs to where his parents live and still uphold the traditions of their family heritage with rooms of a bygone era including the ‘sala grande’ ballroom.
I went on the ‘Lowlander Tour,’ with Food Valley Travel (www.foodvalleytravel.com) and was reminded that it’s very easy to forget the connection between field and food. Food here is a labour of love handed down from family to family, from generation to generation.
The ‘Food Valley’ has forty-five different types of produce from meats and cured meat products, cheeses, bread and pasta, vegetables, fruits and cereals, oil, wool, bees and honey, milk and eggs, wines, ciders and fish and I was off to discover more.
I had come to witness the process by which they make ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ the official name for the hard, granular cheese we call Parmesan and whose trademark can only be branded onto the cheese if it’s produced in the place of origin and accords to the strict rules that require precise production methods and the controlled feeding of the cows.
The other principal pride and joy of the region is their salumi and, in particular, their ‘Culatello di Zibello’. It’s made from pigs buttocks and is only officially recognised as coming from the eight villages located in the lowlands of the Po Valley where the humidity and the fog rising from the river give it its unique taste of world renown.
I recommend staying, as I did, at the Antica Corte Pallavicina (www.anticacortepallavicinarelais.it) with it’s resident peacocks, it is the ultimate boutique hotel and with only six bedrooms it is the perfect romantic getaway with an authentic rustic style.
I lastly stayed at the Cortaccia San Vitale Hotel (www.cortacciasanvitale.it) a well-kept hotel ideal for young families in walking distance of the peaceful village of Sala Baganza. It’s also a perfect place from which to set off castle hunting as the area is abundant with fortresses and palaces that sprung up between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
I had a final day enjoying the Parma Golf Experience (www.parmagolf.it) that comprises three golf courses in the area. I was touched by the very attentive and hospitable vice president who told me all the local gossip. “Parma”, he explained, “is a small city where everybody knows each other it’s like a big family.” His generosity and warmth across our lunch table conjured up for me visions of the long family tables of food planned for the streets of Parma for the 2020 celebrations.
Adam Jacot de Boinod