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Parma: Italy's Hidden Gem

Tour this charming small city, full of irresistible food and history

Written by Sally Finder Weepie

Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence. Italy is a traveler’s dream. And here’s one destination you might want to add to your list: Parma.

Located in northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, this compact, walkable city is famous for Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, and Lambrusco wine. So be ready to eat—and eat well.

There's no calorie-counting allowed here, of course. The food is so fantastic that it must simply be enjoyed. Plus, you can walk off the amazing cured meats, pasta, and wine while savoring a different kind of treat: art and architecture. Parma is home to beautiful Romanesque and Gothic buildings, including the 11th-century Parma Cathedral and 12th-century Baptistery in the city center.

Construction of the cathedral began in 1074 after fire destroyed a previous early Christian basilica. Two marble lions sculpted by Giambono de Bissono in 1281 guard the entrance. Doors open to reveal an art-lover’s dream: bas-reliefs by Benedetto Antelami and grand frescoes by Antonio Allegri, the artist known as Correggio. A highlight is found in the church cupola, where Correggio painted his grandiose Assumption of the Virgin depicting Mary’s rise to heaven.

Next to the cathedral stands the Baptistery, designed by Benedetto Antelami and built between 1196 and 1216. The octagonal structure, created from pink Verona marble, includes four tiers of open loggias. In the center is the grand baptismal basin, also carved from marble. A second, smaller baptismal font dates to the 14th century.

After all that sight-seeing, take a break for lunch in one of the cafés in the city center or at the Parmisiano, the restaurant at the Grand Hotel de la Ville in Parma, a five-star hotel within walking district of the city center. It’s located in the Barilla Center, a former pasta factory that was reimaged by celebrated architect Renzo Piano.

Once you’re refueled, soak in even more history at the nearby Torrechiara Castle. Set high above the bucolic Parma valley, Torrechiara was built between 1448 and 1460 by the Pier Maria Rossi, not as military outpost but as a grand home for the count’s beloved, Bianca Pellegrini. Inside, you’ll find several 16th-century frescos attributed to Cesare Baglione. The castle’s standout space, however, is the Camera d’oro or Golden Room, named for the gold that once trimmed the terra-cotta medallions set into the wall. Frescos attributed to Benedetto Bembo recount the story of forbidden love between Pier Maria and Bianca.

End the day with dinner at the Taverna del Castello restaurant next to the castle, or enjoy delicious traditional fare at Parma oldest restaurant, La Filoma, which dates to 1915. It’s been a hangout for the rich and famous (think Ingrid Bergman), and the chef, wait-staff, and food are truly incredible.

Want to make some great Italian food at home? The resident chef at Bertazzoni appliance, which also is located near Parma, has some amazing recipes, just check these out