A day around Parma between ham, culatello and castles

Parma is a town in the north west of Italy, not far from Milan and the Cinque Terre. Parma is well connected via train links, motorway and recently even by air with the newly opened Verdi airport which connects the town with London Stansted. Thanking to this new possibility it is now possible to spend a long weekend to explore the best food in Italy, medieval castles and aristocratic palazzoes.

culatello in Parma
Culatello hanging from the humid cellars

The Castle of Torrechiara and Parma ham.

Heading  south just   30 minutes by car from central Parma, we will find the Castle of Torrechiara. An important manor overlooking the Parma river valley. Once belonging to the Rossi family is now a museum open to everyone interested in visiting this splendid example of medieval architecture.  The highlight of the visit is the magnificent “bedroom” once dedicated to Pier Maria Rossi’s lover: Bianca. But this is not all. The Torrechiara castle is only part of the fun. The castle’s adjacent town is the centre of the Parma ham production. In Langhirano you can sample the best prosciutto that you can find around, and directly from the producers too. The best of all comes when you can stay at the castle b&b and have your dinner right at Locanda del Castello a restuarant providing excellent and  typical Parma style dishes.

Farm stay with Parmesan production.

To make things more interesting you could stay a selected farm and wake up in the morning with an amazing breakfast followed with a tour of parmesan cheese production. This is possible in Lesignano Bagni not far from the Parma ham production area and it also close to a balsamic vinegar producer. In fact you can visit all 3 products in just one one day with a 2 night stay.

Colorno, little Paris, and culatello ham.

The Parma province has a lot to offer and maybe you need to start to make choices in your long weekend. The area once under the French control was named the little Paris, due to the charming resemblance of the river side of the two cities. But another important guest was living in the small town of Colorno. Marie Luise duchess of Parma and wife of Napolon. She made Colorno her home and she had a whole palazzo for herself. The ducal palace of Colorno is a splendid example of renaissance architecture. Not to be missed is the hourly tour inside the palace. Do not forget to walk in the English style palace garden that is always accessible during daylight.
But Colorno is home of another delicacy: Culatello ham. Probably it is the first location making the ham heading north from Parma. Remember that many producers are happy to do guided visits inside their cellars, so just follow the culatello road sign and ask.

Polesine Parmense and the Antica Corte Pallavicina.

Heading north from Parma towards the great Po’ river we will encounter an unpretentious village called  Polesine. The highlight here is the building named after the noble parmense family: the Pallavicini. While the village has been moved from the shores for the river, remarkably the Antica Corte still sits next to to the banks of Po’. The Antica Corte Pallavicina has been completely restored by Massimo Spigaroli, who is the keeper of the secrets of culatello. He will oblige to show you the massive brick cellars of the palace literally filled with the precious ham. Massimo also organises cooking lessons, and ham making sessions. Cycling and boat tours of the Po’ river. Of course you can also stay at the palace by renting one of the modern and comfortable room.

Roccabianca.

Roccabianca literally the white castles lies in the flat of the Parma province just few kilometres from the Po’ River. Pier Maria Rossi not satisfied with Torrechiara castle builds another palace for Bianca (his lover) here in the foggy and marshy lands north of Parma. Roccabianca is simply spectacular, the external walls of the inner courts are completely covered in ivy. Here it is easy to imagine tales of knights and dames. But Roccabianca is also the home of the Italian author Giovannino Guareschi, maybe known more familiar to the Italians than the foreign visitors. It is still worth to mention that you can visit his house and discover this stories of Don Camillo and Peppone. Of course Roccabianca is one of the homes of Culatello, so enjoy it while you are there.

Zibello.

The home of the famous culatello and also the headquarters of the consortium. In November there is the culatello festival called Novemberpork. The local fiesta is totally dedicated to swine delicacies. Their tagline is: speriamo che ci sia la nebbia, it translates as we hope that it is going to be foggy. For many might sound strange but the producers claim that they need to open the windows of their cellars to let the fog. Apparently you will need that sort of humidity to cure the ham correctly.

Soragna.

Needless to say that here in Soragna you will find 2 things: a castle and culatello ham. It is a tiny comune with a characteristic porticoed town centre. While you are here you should visit the Rocca di Soragna, another magnificent castle with the advantage of still being inhabited by its prince descending from the Lupi family. English guided visits can be organised and culatello producers are in range.

San Secondo Parmense.

San Secondo is the home of spalla di San Secondo. A pork speciality made with the front shoulders of the animal. The cooked version is served warm with torta fritta (a earthy fried bread) coupled together it is a mind blowing experience  The flat land around Parma do not produce great wines but if you come across the Fortana wine, or Fortanina you should not miss the chance to try it, light and fruity is heart-warming in those foggy nights.

 Cycling Activities from Parma – Discover the great river from Polesine Parmense.

The Po’ river offers plenty of opportunities for those wanting to cycle or walk. In fact it is possible to rent bicycles locally and go on cycling tour of the area. The activities require some sort of fitness but they are considered easy trails as they are in the flat. The day can be also combined with the navigation of the Po’ river and a stop in Cremona. Of course we will include a gourmet visit to a culatello producer.

Top 5 hotels in Parma Italy

Parma’s best hotels for the luxury traveller.

Written by Marcelo Pinto  June 10th 2012

battistero a Parma

Written by Marcelo Pinto  June 4th 2012

Whether it’s business, pleasure or both that bring you to Parma, there’s a hotel for you among the top 5 hotels rated by your fellow travellers at TripAdvisor.

There’s a lot history in Parma, no better reminisced than at Teatro Farnese, an ancient wooden theatre with a fantastic historic atmosphere. The Magnani-Rocca foundation offers a permanent exposition of paintings and sculptures, and everybody loves Castello di Torrechiara: a classic example of Italian castle architecture and frescoes, with incredible views of the Langhirano countryside.

If you’re a business traveller, you won’t need to see the sights. You’ll appreciate affordable and reliable internet access. The breakfast on the way out doesn’t have to be fancy either, just good enough to get you started on your busy day. The Best Western Hotel Farnese, Grand Hotel de la Ville and Hotel Stendhal provide free wireless internet access. The breakfasts are crowd-pleasers at any of these hotels, probably because they all serve wonderful Parma ham, but the favourite when it comes to mornings is Hotel Stendhal: Strong flavourful coffee, lots of fresh bread and fruit choices. If your overall satisfaction from a hotel stay is in the breakfast, stay at the Stendhal.

If you’re in Parma to see the sights, you’ll want fast access to as many of them as possible. Starhotels Du Parc gives you a fifteen minute walk into the centre of Parma using the rear entrance, a bridge and pathway through a beautiful city park. The Hotel Stendhal is a winner again for the sight-seers with close proximity to the city center, fine restaurants like La Greppia, and the archaeological museum across the road.

Not mentioned yet among the top five is the Ora Hotel. It’s three kilometers from the center of Parma so it’s not ideal for sightseeing on foot; you’ll need a car for that and pay for parking when you go to town. The rooms aren’t big compared to the other hotels and the charges for wireless internet will have you firing up your smart phone’s internet tethering right away. You might miss the in-room coffee and the breakfast area is small so if the hotel is busy, you’ll need to get down there early. Despite all this, there’s one real value in a stay at the Ora: it’s quiet.

For business or pleasure, it’s easy to find your favourite hotel in Parma.

Images from wikipedia