What's the connection between abbeys and monasteries, medieval castles, Art-Nouveau spa facilities, ancient pilgrimage routes, sailing on the river Po, wildlife parks and reserves, and bizarre museums (such as the museums of ham and Parmigiano Reggiano)?
That's an easy one: magic. The area around Parma is pervaded by an almost supernatural atmosphere. The best way to appreciate the spirit of this land is to drive around, maybe with a bit of cycling (there's a 50-km-long cycle path running along the river Po), or even cruising on a barge.
It would be impossible to list here all the attractions of the area around Parma, so we'll have to make do with the absolute must-sees. First of all,Colorno, 10 km from Parma, boasts a splendid palace with a French air about it, which, together with its distinctive corner towers, earned it the name of “Little Versailles”. This former summer residence of the Dukes of Parma is surrounded by a 15th'century park that Marie-Louise had redesigned as an English garden; the original 18th-century design has been partly restored.
After the luxury of Colorno, Fidenza comes as a balm for the soul. This is the place for faith and prayers: used by the Romans as a rest-stop along the Via Emilia, it became a popular point on the pilgrim route that connected Rome to the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. The grand Romanesque cathedral contains a carvings depicting all the miracles that had been bestowed upon the local population by several saints. Its facade, decorated by two towers, was worked on by the Parma master, Antelami.
A more romantic atmosphere can be found in the many castles around Parma, some of them extraordinarily charming, like those included in theCastle Circuit of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza: Bardi, Colorno again, Compiano, Torrechiara, Montechiarugolo, Felino, Fontanellato, Roccabianca, Sala Baganza, Soragna, San Secondo. Each one has its own story to tell – of lovers, struggles for power, banquets and balls. The impressive 15th-century castle of Fontanellato, in particular, was built by the powerful Sanvitale dynasty for defensive purposes: it has a moat, battlements, and a mighty-looking tower on each corner. On the ground ﬂ oor there is one of Parmigianino's masterpieces, a fresco of the legend of Diana and Actaeon (1523) which in itself is well worth the visit.
In Fontanellato, see also the recently restored theatre dating from 1868, a small jewel with two tiers of boxes that seats about 300. Another gem is the Berzieri building in the spa resort of Salsomaggiore Terme. It is a colossal ArtNouveau palace with profuse decorations of gold, ﬂ owers, and Oriental patterns, that take the visitor back to the ﬁ n-de-siècle days when people came from all over Europe to go to the spa and stroll idly along the tree-lined avenues of this green, cheerful town. The local spa water, by the way, is an excellent cure against a wide range of ailments.
Last but not least, two destinations everybody will enjoy: the Parmigiano Reggiano Museum in Soragna (which also has one of the most beautiful castles of the area), and the Parma Ham and Salami Museum (Museo del Prosciutto e dei Salumi di Parma), a few miles from the splendid castle of Torrechiara.
Reggia di Colorno
Tel. +39 0521 312 545
Duomo e Museo del Duomo - Fidenza
Tel. +39 0524 514 883
Tel. +39 0524 833 77
Teatro - Fontanellato
Tel. +39 0521 822 346
Terme Berzieri - Salsomaggiore
Tel. +39 0524 578 201
Castelli del Circuito del Ducato di Parma e Piacenza
Tel. +39 0521 829 055
Museo del Parmigiano Reggiano
Tel. +39 0524 596 129
Museo del Prosciutto e dei Salumi
Tel. +39 0521 351 350
Strada del Culatello di Zibello
Tel. +39 0524 939 081
Strada del Prosciutto e dei vini dei Colli
Tel. +39 0521 386 329
Strada del Fungo Porcino di Borgotaro
Tel. +39 0521 386 329
On the third Sunday of each month except January, the streets and alleyways around the Rocca Sanvitale in Fontanellato become crowded with market stalls selling old prints, vintage clocks and silverware. Info: Tel. +39 0521 823 220