You know how much I love Italian provincial towns, right?
If given the chance, I’ll never restrain myself from saying that the real beauty of Italy lies in these often ignored quiet little towns. And even if nobody asks my opinion about that, I’ll always find a way of saying so – you should know that already.
But the thing is that I strongly believe that if you really want to know Italy, you should go and spend some time in a provincial town and I am sure that, if you do so, you’ll fall in love with my country once and for all.
I have already declared my love for provincial towns in every possible way. I have written quite a few blog posts about it and shared all other articles on the topic on my social media channels.
Basically, I am on a mission to spread the love for little, lesser-known Italian towns.
And since I take this mission quite seriously, I never miss the opportunity of visiting one of these towns. This is why, when my husband asked me if I wanted to join him on a business trip to Parma, I said nothing but “sì, certo!“.
people walking down the streets in the city center
I had never been to Parma before, so I was really curious to see what it had to offer. And it was love at first sight. We arrived there on a hot June afternoon, around dinner time, and after leaving our bags at our Airbnb, we immediately went out to look for something to eat. It was a normal weekday and the streets were packed with people chatting, walking, or just enjoying their aperitivo. I immediately felt at home.
If you have never heard about it – which I find quite impossible if you like cheese or cured meats – Parma is a charming little town in the Emilia-Romagna region, in the north of Italy. It is not far from Bologna and it is famous for its amazing food, but there is much more to discover there. I have spent there two days and I came up with a list of reasons why you should visit it. I listed just 10 of them, but there are many more, believe me.
a nice little alley in the city center
But let’s see what are the 10 reasons why you should visit Parma when you come to Italy.
1. Well, I couldn’t start but with one thing: tortelli, the square-shaped stuffed pasta which is typical of the area. As I told you, Parma is renowned for its incredible food and it’s all very great and really tasty, but tortelli are just something else. When I tasted them – I had the three-type dish, with three different fillings: pumpkin, beet tops, and potatoes – I was moved: they are just perfect! Tortelli are also a way to celebrate Saint John’s Eve, on June 23rd. That is a very special night in Parma, when people get together for a tortellata, eating tortelli together outside, in the open air.
2. As I told you before, one of the reasons to visit Parma is that it is a quiet, provincial town. This means that there you can enjoy all the daily habits we Italians have: buying our groceries at the market, taking time to check the products and chat with the vendors; having a coffee with a friend, in the middle of the morning, just because; buying the local newspaper to read it on a bench, basking in the sun; chatting with friends and acquaintances you meet in the street; enjoying your ritual aperitivo while watching people go by; taking slow aimlessly and leisurely walks and basically just enjoying the little things of life.
two men chatting in the city square
3. There is something that struck me more than art or history or the other amazing things in the city: it’s the kindness of its inhabitants. I remember telling my husband, after my first entire day in Parma, “now I understand the true meaning of kindness”. It is difficult to explain, but there is a generally positive attitude towards other that you experience only rarely: people in shops always have a nice smile on their face, clients say “buongiorno“, “buona giornata“, or ask “come sta?“, in a sincere, kind way and this all makes you in a super good mood!
4. Parma is quite a small town and can be visited quite easily. There are quite a few sights to visit or explore, but most everything is within reach and, if you book your hotel or Airbnb near the city center, you just need a map and you can visit the town on foot or by bike. By the way, if you rent a bike to visit the city, you’ll undoubtedly feel like a local, as everybody goes around by bike there!
Palazzo del Governatore, Piazza Garibaldi
5. While you walk around and enjoy all the art and history that this town has to offer, you can take a relaxing pause in the Parco Ducale, a big park right in the center of town. There you can sit in the shade and escape the heat of summer or enjoy the amazing foliage in the autumn months. Moreover, if you spend some time there in the warmer months, you can enjoy a unique sight: kids going around on their grilli. Grillo is a peculiar tricycle, which was invented 60 years ago by Manlio Battilani and can be rented at Parco Ducale only. No matter its age, grillo is still very popular among kids from Parma and it is something very typical of the city. If you are curious about it, you can watch this video.
6. I have already told you about tortelli, I know, but there’s much more to enjoy if you visit Parma, when it comes to food. If you are a lover of cured meat, you’ll probably think you’ve arrived in paradise. The most important cold cut from the area is obviously the famous Parma ham, yet Parma is also the hometown of culatello di zibello, which has been considered the king of cured meat, and of the salame di Felino, just to name two of the best cured meats produced in the city. But there are not just cold cuts here. There’s the Parmigiano Reggiano, of course, and a lot of typical sweets I am sure you’ll love.
a bride entering the Cattedrale in Piazza del Duomo
7. If you are a lover of classical music, I am sure you’ll find a lot of interesting sights in Parma. As a matter of fact, Parma is the birthplace of Arturo Toscanini, the famous conductor, and his house has now been transformed into a museum, where you can see lots of relics and memorabilia. But Parma is famous for another great musician: Giuseppe Verdi, probably the most famous Italian composer in the world, was born in Busseto, just a few miles from the city, and there a Festival Verdi held every year in the city, with shows around town. Actually, there’s another thing you can’t miss if you have a passion for classical music and it’s the Teatro Regio, opened in 1829, one of the most renowned opera houses in the world.
8. Until now, I have told you about food, music, atmosphere, but Parma has its fair share of monuments and art. In Piazza del Duomo, the heart of the city, you’ll find the Cattedrale, with stunning frescoes by Correggio, and the Battistero, a great example of Romanesque. Then you can visit Teatro Farnese, dating back to the 17th century, one of the most renowned wooden theatres that still stands today. The theatre is part of the Palazzo della Pilotta, a huge complex by the banks of the Torrente Parma where you can also find the Galleria Nazionale, with amazing paintings and sculptures – you can admire the works of art of Leonardo Da Vinci, Canaletto, Parmigianino, Guercino, among the others. If you are more into contemporary art, there is the Palazzo del Governatore, where amazing exhibitions are held frequently (when I was there, I visited an exhibition of Patty Smith’s photography).
grocery shopping on a Saturday morning
9. But the beauty of Parma lies in its surroundings as well. As a matter of fact, within a few kilometers from the city, you can visit amazing places like the Certosa di Parma, an old monastery which is famous for Stendhal’s novel, The Charterhouse of Parma – even if it is not sure whether the book is set in this location or in another monastery around town. Not far from Parma, you can also visit the Castello di Felino, an amazing Medieval castle, you can visit the house of Giuseppe Verdi in Busseto and the Labirinto della Masone, the incredible labyrinth made with bamboo plants I told you about a few months ago.
10. Last but absolutely not least, Parma has a super strategic location. It lies in the middle of Emilia-Romagna and it is a perfect place you can use as a base from where you can explore some of the nicest cities in the north of Italy. From there, in less than one hour’s drive, you can visit Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna, but also get to Mantova and Ferrara. In a couple of hours, you can get to Verona or even to Milan.
You see, by choosing Parma as your place to stay, you’ll have a lot of amazing places you can explore and, at the same time, you’ll live the quiet provincial Italian life.