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City Guide: Parma, Italy

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As every other typical Parmesan, Ricardo Valenti's relationship with the city is very deep and intimate. "Over the centuries Parma has never been really Italian," he says. "That’s probably the reason why we do not feel 100 per cent Italian and we call Parma our 'country'. Just to give you an idea, Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Parma, the Duke of Parma, is the current head of the House of Bourbon-Parma, as well a member of the Dutch Royal Family and the Spanish Royal Family." 

Born and raised in Parma, Italy, Riccardo Valenti is the CEO and head designer of the family-run company, Anderson’s. Valenti took over the company from his father Carlo Valenti, in the early 90s. From the very beginning, the factory has never moved from its location in Parma. Here, Valenti guides us through the city of his birth, from the delectable native cuisine (gnocchi and parmigiano reggiano) to resounding local history. 

Written by Ross Dias

Where to Stay

NH Parma Hotel

 
 

It’s brand new, clean, and right near the Anderson’s factory. The NH Hotel is a great access point to the best things to do in Parma like visiting the Biblioteca Palatina in the Pallazo de la Pillota, a museum dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Marie-Louise of Hamburg or the opera at Teatro Regio. For a traditional take on the city, try Park Hotel Pacchiosi, near the old town.

What to eat

 
(Images: Restaurante Cocchi)

(Images: Restaurante Cocchi)

 

An authentic Parmesan dinner is served at Restaurante Cocchi (please forget spaghetti, pizza, mozzarella … we are in Parma!). Visit Osteria Dei Servi in the old Market square for the old Parmesan food (authentic recipes from the Napoleon age), or Meltemi for a high-profile modern meal. Think: fish and bubbles. To wind down, head to Enoteca Fontana, the best wine happy hour in the old Roman Cardo Maximus of the city.

In general, the city of Parma is known for its superior salumi. Culatello di Zibello (a cured ham made with the most tender of the pork rump), Prosciutto di Parma and Salame di Felino are all made in and around Parma. Try the gnocchi di patate (Sgranfgnòn in the local language) - a top traditional course of potato dumpling with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. 

Parmigiano Reggiano, the “king of cheeses”, is produced in Parma. The quality of Parmigiano Reggiano is based on a happy balance of many factors, including the quality of the milk, the artisanal production methods that have remained unchanged for seven centuries, the natural aging process, and the complete absence of preservatives. Pasta is the “queen” in Parma, thanks to the local cultivation and of course, Barilla, the pasta giant who was born and raised here. 

All my friends work in the food industry, or for it, and we always say that running a belt company is like running a restaurant. It takes the cooks, the recipes, and the ingredients, along with a lot of patience and passion to surprise your customer every time. My wife works for a cheese company and of course thinks I’m nuts. 

what to do

 
(Photos: Casa del suono) 

(Photos: Casa del suono) 

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(Image: Farnese Theatre) 

(Image: Farnese Theatre) 

 

Spend time at Piazza Garibaldi (the main square), it’s the ancient Roman Forum. Nearby it is also worth walking into the Basilica di Santa Maria della Seccata to admire the work of Parmigianino. Relax at Parco Ducale and take a look at Palazzo Ducale. This park dates back to the 16th century and stretches along the west bank of the Parma River. The Casa del Suono is a unique place that was once a church (Chiesa di Santa Elisabetta), but nowadays is a modern music museum. Almost entirely made out of wood, the stunning indoor Farnese theatre was rebuilt to its original 1618 plans after a WWII air raid. 

Outside the city, wine grapes are grown throughout the country mostly on the hills. The protagonists are the Malvasia/Sauvignon DOC, Colli di Parma DOC and our Red sparkling Fortana DOC. Don’t look for them in Canada, they are hard to find (even here) as the production is very limited and protected. While many people would say visiting the Pilgrims path, Francigena Way, is a must-do, I still prefer our mountains.

Where to shop

 
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The old small streets in the south side of the old town, in the east bank of the Parma River is the best neighbourhood to shop. 

Anderson’s, along with Caruso, is one of the very few survivors of what was considered the heart of the Italian leather and menswear industry [in Parma]. It’s a shame because many people when they hear that we are not in Milan, Rome or Florence think it’s a bit weird but for us—but it’s part of the secret. If you are in one of those places you are just one of many doing ordinary things.