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Written by Odelia Barbieri
Thursday, 22 December 2011 12:31
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The road of Prosciutto di Parma and the Colli di Parma wines

A real food valley, the hill and piedmont area close to Parma offers some of the more representative products of the Emilian cuisine such as Parma ham, Parmigiano Reggiano and the Colli di Parma wines, together with a rich basket of excellent products amongst which the Felino salami and Fragno black truffle stand out.
This vast deposit of typical products is contained in an enchanting scenario dotted with castles, charming hill villages and Romanesque parish churches stretched along the antique Franchigena road, the route of pilgrims heading for the capitals of Christianity.
The road of prosciutto di Parma and the Colli di Parma wines follows part of the antique course of the Franchigena road and winds through the Val d'Enza, Val Parma, Val Baganza and Val Taro, inviting the tourist both to make naturalistic excursions as well as to visit small settlements that still today conserve their medieval charm intact.
The trip can start at Collecchio, which, a few kilometres south of Parma, is immersed in the Taro alluvial plain, one of the most pleasing naturalistic oases on the itinerary together with the Carrega Parco dei Boschi. Collecchio still conserves memoirs of the antique pilgrimages in the Romanesque church of San Prospero and the convent complex of San Nicomede.

Heading south, one arrives at Sala Baganza, where one can admire the fourteenth century fortress that, in the years of their dukedom, the Farnese family frescoed and transformed into a magnificent country residence. Worth a visit too are the small church of Talignano, located on a branch of the Francigena road, and the village of San Vitale Baganza closed around the vestiges of the Rossi castle.
Leaving Sala, after a few kilometres one reaches the built-up area of Felino, dominated by an austere square-shaped manor protected by a thirteenth century fortification. The renown of the locality, is linked to the production of the salami of the same name, a delicious product of the traditional local cold meat and salami production, unfortunately victim - power and suggestion of the toponomists - of a false rumour that has it made with cat meat.
From Felino, the Road leads to Calestano, another small town with a characteristic medieval village. A visit of the surroundings offers various sites of interest: from the Ravarano castle to the spectacular naturalistic view offered from the rock pinnacles - the so-called devil's jump (salti del Diavolo) - to the famous black truffle, which can be gathered in particular in abundance in the area of the charming village of Fragno.

From here, having surpassed the ridge, one goes down into Val Parma and, again to the north, Langhirano, one reaches a very famous ageing centre of prosciutto di Parma, which hosts amongst the gentle hills covered with vineyards one of the most beautiful and well preserved castles in Italy: the Torrechiara castle.
The road then runs to the north towards Lesignano de' Bagni, an antique thermal resort to then strictly deviate east towards Traversatolo, another processing centre of pork, and point south through the Val Termina. In this area the municipality of Neviano degli Arduini, full of medieval testimonies, amongst which the antique Romanesque parish church of the village of Sasso and the villages of Nigressano and Scurano should be pointed out. The last stops on the road are Montechiarugolo, on the banks of the Enza, Basilicagoiano, with interesting XVI-XVIIth century villas and Monticelli Terme, a famous thermal resort where the tourist can concede himself his well deserved relax.

A voyage along The Culatello di Zibello Road

The Culatello di Zibello Road, about 90 km long, traverses that part of the Parma Province between Via Emilia, the ancient Roman road, and the Po River, commonly known as la Bassa (the lowland). It is a foggy and evocative area with a rich artistic and historical heritage, wedged between the main bank of the great river and the land where Maestro Giuseppe Verdi was born, lived and composed his unique music. Giovanni Guareschi, the genius who penned the tales of Peppone and Don Camillo, was also a native son of La Bassa. Its is an area circumscribed and insulated within the great plain that, like a precious jewel case, preserves not only its nature, history and culture, but also one of the richest and tastiest traditional cuisines of the entire region. As a result, Culatello di Zibello and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the unchallenged kings of the realms of ham and cheese, share this land with many sumptuous residences.

The visitor may begin his journey along the Culatello di Zibello Road at any one of several different points. The ideal itinerary starts from Parma and runs north on Route 343 to Colorno, the first stop on this tasty voyage. This is the Road's eastern terminal, as well as the heart of the famous sausage's production area, which comprises only eight local Municipalities. Known as the little Versailles - for its past role as summer residence of the Farnese dukes - Colorno is the proud site of the magnificent Farnese "Reggia" (royal palace), with its stuccos, frescoes and precious boiseries.

Heading west from Colorno the Road reaches, after only a few minutes, the town of Sissa, with its small Fifteenth Century castle and an ancient sausage-making tradition whose specialty is the savoury spalla cruda. From here, turning north, past the sinuous course of the Taro river in proximity of its confluence with the Po, one arrives at Roccabianca. According to a local legend the town's name, which means "white rock" and dates back to the fifteenth century, was inspired by the imposing hilltop fortress built by Pier Maria Rossi for his beloved Bianca Pellegrini. Heading south, the Road reaches the hamlet of Fontanelle, where Giovannino Guareschi, the unforgettable storyteller of la Bassa, was born.
Heading north once more, after reaching Ragazzola, the itinerary turns westward towards Zibello, the Road's epicentre, a gourmet's paradise and ground zero of the king of sausages. An ancient medieval village, Zibello preserves memories of the times of the Pallavicino family, the feudal lords of these lands.
The trip from Zibello, keeping to the right of the Po river, to Polesine Parmense is a short one. The very name of this town reveals its centuries-old link to the big river, since the word "polesini" describes the floating islands dragged by the floods that eventually collide with and remain attached to the river banks. The Due Torri (twin towers) palace, also built by the Pallavicino family, is worth a visit, along with the eighteenth century parish church.

The Road then turns south, and enters the land that gave birth to the great composer Giuseppe Verdi. Here, everything speaks to us of him and his artistic genius. Starting with Busseto, where the main square is dominated by an imposing bronze statue of the Maestro. The monument stands in front of the Verdi theatre, a little Nineteenth Century jewel. Other Verdi-related reminders in the town's historic district include the Orlandi palace, the Barezzi house and the oratory of the SS. Trinità (Holy Trinity) in the Collegiate di San Bartolomeo (St. Bartholomew College).
Leaving Verdi's territory, the Road heads towards the ancient courts of the Parma flatland. Not far from Roncole lies Soragna, known as the "Mistress of La Bassa", site of the Meli-Lupi family residence, a magnificent, perfectly preserved castle with sumptuous interior furnishings.

Heading north again, one can visit the Guareschi Museum in the hamlet of Diolo, and then turn eastward to reach San Secondo Parmense. The San Secondo castle, once the residence of the Rossi family of counts and marquises, is now the site of many medieval re-enactments, including the annual horse race palio delle contrade. Nearby, along the southbound road to Fontanellato, where the Culatello Road ends, are the ancient S. Genesio Romanesque country parish church and the Madonna del Serraglio Sanctuary.

Fontanellato is dominated by the majestic Rocca Sanvitale fortress, one of the region's most beautiful castles. Still surrounded by a water-filled moat, the castle houses many art treasures, including paintings, furniture and a cycle of mythological frescoes by Parmigianino in the famous Diana and Atteon Hall. The S. Croce church also deserves a visit along with the Beata Vergine del Rosario Sanctuary, outside the town. A wide choice of antiques is for sale at the market held here on the third Sunday of each month.
Visitors will surely treasure the memory of the emotions and flavours experienced while travelling along the marvellous Parma's Bassa itinerary.

Fortresses And Castles

If you are keen on trekking, horse-riding or mountain biking, you can consult the itineraries suggested in the nature and sports sections  of the portal.
The fortresses, royal palaces, fortifications and manor houses in the province of Parma (distributed over the entire territory) are unanimously considered to be some of the most beautiful and best preserved in Italy. The tourist will simply be spoilt for choice.
In the Apennines: the Fortress in Bardi, the second largest in Europe, rises majestically on a spur of red diaspore, and presents towers and walkways for the rounds along its impressive walls; the interior has a wonderful parade ground as well as a number of frescoed halls;
the Castle of Compiano, found along the road which connects the Via Emilia to the Liguria region and dating back to the year one thousand, dominates the magnificent village as well as the entire valley of Val Taro; the Castle of Corniglio, which is also found in a striking position, offers accommodation in a comfortable Hostel.

In the hills: the Castle of Felino, built in the IX century and subsequently extended, presents a moat and towers at its four corners, which transmit a feeling of power to the visitor;
the Castle of Montechiarugolo, a majestic crenellated structure built in the 12th century in the valley of the Enza river, preserves its fascination as having witnessed hundreds of battles;
the Fortess of Sala Baganza, a residence for the Sanvitale Counts, is found in the lower hills and houses precious 16th century frescoes;
the Castle of Torrechiara, built by Pier Maria Rossi in the 16th century, is one of the largest and best preserved fortresses in Italy; it contains extraordinary masterpieces like the “Golden Chamber” (whose frescoes have been attributed to Benedetto Bembo);
the  Castle of Varano Melegari is a strategically placed fortress to protect the valley of the river Ceno.

In the Po river plain: the Royal Palace of Colorno, the splendid monumental residence of the Farnese family, of the Bourbon family and of Marie Louise of Austria, has beautiful internal courtyards and a wealth of frescoed halls; visitors can admire the waterworks in the magnificent French- style gardens;
the Sanvitale Fortress in Fontanellato, whose oldest section dates back to the 13th century, is found in the middle of the town and houses marvellous works, like the cycle of frescoes by Parmigianino in the room of Diana and Atteone;
the Castle of Roccabianca, built in the mid-15th century by Pier Maria Rossi for his beloved Bianca Pellegrini (the name of the castle contains a reference to her name), is striking and elegant and contains  e number of important paintings;
the Rossi Fortress in San Secondo, a massive noble residence built between 1300 and 1400, to celebrate the power and exploits of the Rossi noble family in the cycle of magnificent frescoes preserved in the halls;
the Meli Lupi Fortress in Soragna, built in 1385 and still the present-day residence of the Meli Lupi family, contains an extraordinary collection of baroque furnishings and furniture, as well as fresco decorations and cycle of paintings by Nicolò dell’Abate, Cesare Baglione, Ferdinando and Francesco Galli Bibiena.
So many jewels, each one extraordinarily beautiful, coordinated by  the Association for the Castles in the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza (www.castellidelducato.it). Unforgettable visits in a fascinating journey to the past, which the visitor can have the pleasure of undertaking.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 December 2011 13:04