January 16, 2009 / 11:25 AM / 9 years ago

Travel Postcard: 48 hours for food and art lovers in Parma

PARMA, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to spend in this northern Italian city famous for its cuisine and noble past? Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most from a short visit.

FRIDAY

8:00 p.m. On arriving in what many consider the capital of Italian food, head straight to a traditional restaurant for a taste of fresh stuffed pasta and an introduction to the local range of cured meats and differently aged Parmesan cheese.

Set where an old inn used to be, Osteria del Gesso (Via Maestri 11, +39 0521 230 505) retains a tastefully simple charm under its red brick barrel vault. Begin with a parmesan mousse.

SATURDAY

9:00 a.m. Start the day the Italian way by stopping at Pasticceria San Biagio (Strada Garibaldi 41, +39 0521 286 057) for a cappuccino, a croissant and freshly squeezed orange juice.

The central cafe is close to the Pilotta palace, a colossal 16th century brick construction built to host stables, an armoury, a theater and other facilities used by the local court.

9:30 a.m. A rich artistic patrimony is the legacy of Parma's past as a thriving duchy. Start your tour from the Pilotta, which now hosts a gallery (Tue-Sun 8:30 a.m.- 2:00 p.m.) and, until January 25, an exhibition on Renaissance painter Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio after his hometown near Parma [ID:nL3317058].

12:45 p.m. From the Pilotta, take a short, straight walk to the Camera di San Paolo frescoes, which marked a turning point in Correggio's career opening the way to his most important work. Access the blue-vaulted room part of a Benedictine monastery through a pleasant small courtyard. 1:15 p.m. Lunch at bustling Enoteca Fontana (Strada Farini 24, 0521 286 037), a historic rustic wine bar serving a few hot dishes as well as panini. Il Principe, a hot sandwich with Culatello di Zibello and melted Parmesan cheese, comes with a recommendation.

2:30 p.m. Across the street from Enoteca Fontana, stop at fancy delicatessen Specialità di Parma (Strada Farini 9/c, +39 0521 233 591) to stock up on the troika of local cured meats: Parma ham, its aristocratic cousin culatello and the delicious Felino salami. Take home some tortelli alle erbette, fresh pasta parcels stuffed with ricotta and beet leaf. For food shopping, consider the down-to-earth, but still very good, Salumeria Garibaldi and Salumeria La Verdi, both on Strada Garibaldi.

3:00 p.m. Pick elegant Pasticceria Torino (Strada Garibaldi 61, +39 0521 235 689) for an espresso while standing up. The decor will let you time-travel to the early 20th century as you taste their inviting pastries and homemade chocolates. They are best known for the traditional zabaglione and chocolate Duchessa di Parma cake, the lemon Torta della Nonna and tortelli dolci, unusual sweets with spinach.

3:30 p.m. Step off Strada Garibaldi onto Piazzale della Steccata to take a look at Santa Maria della Steccata. This Renaissance church, originally in the shape of a Greek cross before an 18th century addition, hosts frescoes by Parmigianino showing the wise and foolish virgins from a Gospel parable with a background of complex decorative motifs.

4:00 p.m. For window shopping, join the locals strolling on Strada Farini, Strada Repubblica and Strada Cavour. Fashion lovers should not miss the hip multi-label store O'Officina (Borgo Giacomo Tommasini 8/a, +39 0521 287 491).

For a quintessential Parma experience, turn to Color Viola (Strada Repubblica 2/g, +39 0521 287 226). The shop's cabinets reveal line after line of white-and-lilac striped boxes of the traditional Violetta di Parma cologne. Aptly named, the shop sells everything violet (viola in Italian), drawing inspiration from the flower loved by Marie Louise of Austria. The second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, she became Duchess of Parma in 1816 and left a lasting mark on the city, not least in the shade of yellow -- known as Parma yellow -- that graces the facades of many buildings.

7:00 p.m. Pepen (Borgo S.Ambrogio 2, +39 0521 282 650), an informal sandwich bar famous for its savoury pies, is the perfect place for a quick, cheap, early dinner (it closes at 8:00 p.m.). Make your way to the counter through a crowd that won't even consider lining up in a queue and order a slice of carciofa, a cheese and artichoke pie.

8:30 p.m. If you have planned your trip to Parma around the calendar of its opera house, possibly buying a ticket online (www.teatroregioparma.org), it is now time to take a seat in the venerable Teatro Regio for an opera or a concert.

The town's love affair with music dates back to the Middle Ages, but the 19th century marked its golden age with conductor Arturo Toscanini and composer Giuseppe Verdi, born respectively in Parma and nearby Busseto. Built in the 1820s, the theater is one of many monumental works Parma gained under Marie Louise.

11:30 p.m. If you fancy a drink after the theater head to Il Tabarro (Strada Farini 5/b, +39 0521 200 223). You'll be served wine by the glass until 2:00 a.m. on the weekends in this cozy wine bar with just a handful of wooden tables in narrow rooms.

SUNDAY

8:30 a.m. An early start will give you the opportunity to visit Parma's cathedral before it becomes crowded for the Sunday masses. A notable example of northern Italian Romanesque art, the cathedral became home to Correggio's revolutionary frescos in the 16th century. Decades later, his use of light and the dramatised movements of the figures witnessing Mary's ascent to heaven would exert a key influence on Baroque artists. Until January 25, stairs and scaffoldings allow a close-up look.

Correggio also painted the dome of the nearby San Giovanni Evangelista church. Next to the cathedral and not to be missed is the octagonal baptistry, clad in pink Verona marble.

10:00 a.m. -- After the cultural start to the day, you can enjoy the lazy atmosphere of a Sunday morning in an Italian town by sitting down for coffee at Gran Caffé Orientale (Piazza Garibaldi, +39 0521 285 819). The historic cafe has been overlooking Parma's main square since 1893.

1:00 p.m. Leave the city center for your last meal at Cocchi (Viale Gramsci 16, +39 0521 981 990), a nearly 100-year-old, family-owned restaurant that has become a local landmark. To get there, cross the river and take Via D'Azeglio in order to explore the Oltretorrente, a historically working class area of Parma that produced Toscanini. Alternatively, cross the Parco Ducale, a park surrounding the ducal residence where the European Food Safety Authority has its headquarters.

As Parma's robust cuisine best suits a winter climate, Cocchi is closed on weekends in June-July (and all of August). This might give you another reason to splash out on your last meal by picking I Parizzi (Strada Repubblica 71, +39 0521 285 952), reputed to be one of the best restaurants in town.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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