Its geographical position, history and gastronomic tradition render the Province of Parma one of Italy's most emblematic provinces.
Located in northern Italy, this Province extends from the Po River in the north (representing Emilia Romagna's boundary with Lombardy), down to the Apennines crest separating it from Tuscany.
It is mainly made up of plains, and with its Bassa Parmense (lower province) following the course of the Po. The terrain is nothing if not evocative and suggestive, it inspires with its villages, castles and ancient churches... even when shrouded in fog.
The country is dotted with several lakes, including Lake Santo Parmense, the largest natural lake in the Romagna Region.
The Parma Apennines offer visitors pristine nature framed within a magical landscape; an ideal path network was created exactly for its discovery.
Parma is synonymous with nature, history and art. Indeed, names such as Antelami, Correggio, Parmigianino, Verdi and Toscanini made their mark in a city in this sophisticated and graceful jewel of a city.
Parma's historic center develops around what can be considered its religious centerpiece, costituted by the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Bishop's Palace.
The Cathedral on Piazza del Duomo is one of the most important expressions of the Po Valley Romanesque style, albeit having undergone various interventions in time. It boasts a bell tower dating back to the 13th Century, while tucked inside are famous masterpieces, including the dome, frescoed by Correggio.
The Baptistery is an octagonal structure utilizing blocks of pink marble. Together with the 11th-Century Bishop's Palace, it is a picture harking back to Medieval times. Frescoes attributed to Parmigianino in the chapels and the dome frescoed by Correggio are the distinguishing elements of the Church of Saint John the Evangelist.
It is possible to admire other Parmigianino works in the Church of the Madonna della Steccata, as well as works by Correggio in the Chamber of Saint Paul in the Benedictines’ Monastery.
Not far from the latter is the Palazzo della Pilotta. Commissioned by the Farnese family, this is an impressive complex hosting the Farnese Library and Theatre, the National Archaeological Museum, the Bodoni Museum and the National Gallery that exhibits works by Correggio, Parmigianino, Beato Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Tiepolo, and Canova.
And not far away is the Teatro Regio (Royal Theatre), a temple of music and one of the most renowned theatres in Italy.
Crossing the G. Verdi Bridge over the Parma torrent, one arrives at the Ducal Palace, surrounded by a wide green knoll, a magnificent example of a princely park. The Palace still bears its 16th-Century central core, and contains frescoes of admirable beauty.
Outside the city, the entirety of Parma Province is scattered with a great number of castles and fortresses, from the slopes of the Apennines northward to the Po lowlands. They make for an itinerary through an enchanted world of lords and ladies of ancient manors considered to be some of the most beautiful and best-preserved in Italy.
A starting point could be the Bardi Fortress, standing out from the red, rocky Apennines in all its splendor; moving down toward the valley, one obligatory stop is the Castle of Compiano and its village; to then pass on to the Castle of Felino, and concluding with the Reggia (Royal Palace) of Colorno in the “Bassa Parmense” (the Parma plains), residence of the Houses of Farnese, Bourbon and Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma.
In this place, the visitor is captivated by the monumental beauty of the Reggia, as well as by the wonderful landscapes where the River Po meets the plain.
Among all the towns of the plain spanning from Parma to Piacenza, Fontevivo is well-worth a visit, with its imposing Cistercian Abbey dating back to the 12th Century; as is Fontanellato, with its Sanvitale Fortress and a series of frescoes by Parmigianino; and Fidenza, with the invaluable Cathedral of San Donnino, one of the most important exemplars of Emilia's Romanesque art. Also obligatory is the 15th-Century Castle of Torrechiara.
The austere and bucolic landscape of the Apennines and its parks is a definite contrast to that of the Po River and its magical charm.
The National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines offers corners of pristine nature and opportunities for excursions both historical and cultural, discoveries of Medieval villages and fortresses, and trekking - on the Sillara mountain, through its network of paths and along Lake Santo Parmense.
Nature lovers should visit the Regional Park of the Carrega Woods and the Regional Park of the Cedra and Parma Valleys, better known as the One Hundred Lakes Park. The territory holds a number of parks and natural reserves, wonders that visitors can explore mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking.
Another inspiring tour through Parma lies along the Via Francigena, a Middle Ages-pilgrimage route that ran from Canterbury to Rome. The stretch that passes through the Province is winds along rivers and up to the Cisa Apennine pass, with easily walkable paths in this fascinating setting.
Since Roman times, the Province of Parma has been a source of thermal waters.
The choice of thermal spas here is ample, thanks to the abundance of these mineral-rich waters. The most famous spa resorts are, without a doubt, those of Salsomaggiore, boasting Art Nouveau-style buildings and high-quality treatments. Those of Tabiano, Sant’Andrea Bagni and Monticelli are also well-reputed, and all surrounded by nature and peace and silence.
The festivals and events to attend are the Carnival of Busseto, established in the 19th Century, with masks, dances and music.
Meanwhile, the Tenzone Medievale (Dispute), held in the Bardi Castle, is a medieval tournament with archers, knights, dancers, nobles and minstrels.
Parma's connection to gastronomy is so strong that it has become the seat of the European Food Safety Authority and of ALMA, the International School of Italian Cuisine, with another seat in Colorno.
Three taste itineraries have by now become a solid tradition for travelers to these parts.
The first is the route of the culatello of Zibello, in the plains of Parma, the land of origin of the culatello ham and the cooked shoulder ham of San Secondo. The second is that of Ham and Wines, in the Province's hilly zone, offering the possibility of tasting Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Felino salami, Parma ham and the wines of the hills. Finally, the third is dedicated to the porcini mushroom!
Cuisine is the fortè of the entire Province of Parma.
Its enogastronomy is highly diverse, and it is enough to know the mushrooms of Albereto and Borgotaro, the pane di montagna (lit. "mountain bread"), the potato and herb quiches, or the dishes based on chestnuts and berries to comprehend the range of products the Province offers is wide.
The best products not only in the provincial zone but in all of Italy are, nonetheless, Parma ham (prosciutto) and salames, the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the culatello of Zibello and the cooked shoulder ham of San Secondo.
Among the typical first courses are the cappelletti or anolini in beef broth, tortelli di erbette, and the bomba di riso ("rice bomb”).
Among typical second courses are beef stew (stracotto) with polenta, boiled meats with tasty sauces, tripe and stuffed breast of veal (picàja).
Rice tort, almond cake, the spongata, pastries stuffed with honey, walnuts and candied fruits, and candy violets are the most typical desserts.
Meanwile, standing out among the wines meeting DOC standards are the white Malvasia and Sauvignon and the red Colli di Parma.