The Italian Food Valley

Mon, 09/26/2011 - 04:09

My trip to Parma was a gastronomical delight. However, not only were there delights for the body but also food for the soul, the mind and the heart.

I did not know much about Parma other than Parmesan Cheese came from this region. It will forever be called Parmigiano Reggiano in my house as I have now sampled the real stuff!

The province has a fascinating history. It is surrounded by castles: Torrechiara Castle on the hill built in the fifteenth century in the Langhirano district, Colorno Castle once inhabited by Marie Louse of Austria, San Secondo and the Soragna fortress to name but a few. Most are open to the public for a small entrance fee though it is wise to check the times which vary depending on the season. A feast of history and legend mixed and combined to make a delicious stew in the imagination.

...feeding the soul!

This is the land of Verdi, the musician whose music is as sweet as a dessert, and the Parmesan residents are proud of this heritage.

In the town itself we found the famous Piazza Duomo and the Cathedral. The buildings seem to emit a pink glow, the light is extraordinary and I began to feel like I was wearing rose tinted spectacles. It is no wonder that the sense of romance is associated with Italy and no wonder great artists have been, and still are, inspired to be here.

Frescoes and Icons, cobbled streets and beautiful shops invitingly lit, stir the senses and an appetite for exploration. We had many doors to pass, wooden, carved and full of character. Windows with filigree work, and sculpted floral plaster designs. The buildings are so subtly colourful , with tones from ochre to yellow, and from pink to orange. Everything reminded me of an artist’s palette. for thoughts!

Visiting the Palazzo della Pilotta was an experience.

The Palazzo della Pilotta is a complex of buildings in the historical centre of Parma, built around 1583 around the corridor (Corridore) which connected the keep (Rocchetta, traces of which can be seen next the river Parma) to the Ducal Palace, whose construction begun in 1622 and was never completed.

On the first floor we were amazed by Teatro Farnese, a Baroque-style wooden theatre built in 1618 with its air of past glory, though opera is still performed here. A space which simply captures your heart.

Parma Palazzo Pilotta

Some claim this was the first permanent proscenium theater (that is, a theater in which the audience views the action through a single frame, which is known as the "proscenium arch").

On the second floor of Palazzo Pilotta we visited the Galleria Nazionale (National Gallery)

We saw rows and rows of hand painted tiles each exquisite in its uniqueness. Many religious Icons, some painted , some guilded, all worthy of more than a passing glance. The highlight for me was a small drawing by great artist Leonardo Da Vinci, his portrait of a young girl Testa di fanciulla (known as La Scapigliata). The collection includes the works of other amazing painters: Beato Angelico, Canaletto, Correggio, Sebastiano del Piombo, Guercino, Parmigianino, Tintoretto, and many others.

The opening and closing times of the museum and gallery also vary depending on the season so it is wise to check first.

...delighting the heart!

My favourite experience was the exquisite and fascinating visit to the Castello dei Burattini. This puppet museum, which I came across unexpectedly, charmed with his fantastic display of puppets from as far back as 1600, right up to today’s Sesame street.

Marionettes, hand puppets masks and posters from shows gone by kept me enthralled for at least three hours. Many of them are from the Giordano Ferrari Foundation, the Ferrari family having been puppeteers for three generations. What a wonderful way to entertain the child hidden in our heart!

So, food for the mind , heart and soul, what about what Parma is most famous for: food for the body?

Some specialities like Parmiggiano Reggiano (and a visit to the cheese dairies), Parma ham, porcini mushrooms from Borgotaro where villagers risked their lives selling these precious mushrooms on high mountain passes, are all part of the gastronomical delight.

Parmigiano Reggiano

Lasagne, olives, thin crust pizza with anchovies, asparagus and gorgonzola are mouthwatering. Wonderful wines for a song, or to create one! All this to be experienced and sampled down any street in the city. The shops with rows of cheeses and hams with their strange musty smell entice one in.

Let us not forget that Italy is famous for ‘gelato’. My friend absolutely loves ice cream so it was not possible to walk past a vendor without stopping to indulge in paradise covered with sweet things of your choice.

Prosciutto Parma DOP

For a grand tour there is a route which takes one through the food valley of Parma where you will find wines, cheeses and historical architecture, buildings and churches.

We only had four days. Imagine if we had two weeks! There is no end of trips, tours, food, music and history in Parma.

If you happen to be a sports enthusiast head to the Apennines, skiing, cycling, horse riding and mountain biking is all on offer. There are also Thermal centres, the Monticelli Spa, the Salsomaggiore Spa, where mineral waters heal and relax, and massages are on the menu.

My appetite was appeased, all my senses fulfilled and when I am hungry for culture, history, good food and romance, I shall be heading to Italy again.


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