Food in Parma is all about our unique products – parmesan cheese, Parma ham – and the way we prepare them, as antipasti or as fillings for pasta. The best quality is found at the traditional salumerie and cheese shops on Piazza Ghiaia. Cibivari, half a mile away on Strada XXII Luglio, is a bakery and deli recently opened by the dynamic Roberta Boni, using local, seasonal produce in simple home cooking – focaccia, aubergine parmigiana. Take it away for a picnic or eat in at one of the small tables.
In Parma you are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining out. Inkiostro surprises me every time I go – its talented young chef, Salvatore Morello, creates exceptional fine dining menus, including a wonderful vegetarian version. For a complete contrast, try lunch (it doesn’t open in the evening) at Da Antonia, a typical, homely trattoria: eating there is like being in a 1950s Italian movie, with the signora stirring pots from early morning, and daily dishes that include trippa and succulent bollito misto.
I always find myself going back to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Steccata, where my father took me to mass when I was a child. The lavish interiors still take my breath away, and this is where my love for the baroque began. Just behind the basilica is the lesser-known Chiostri di San Giovanni , a magical 10th-century monastery that is the perfect place to listen to a choral concert. And the one thing all visitors must discover is the Teatro Farnese – . If you can’t get a ticket for a concert here, there is a good guided tour. I would happily be the caretaker and live here permanently.
Our city is divided by the Parma River, which we affectionately call the Torrente. On one side is the historical centre, with all the tourist sites, while the other, Oltretorrente, is a city within a city, filled more with working people than nobili. It is typified by Osteria Virgilio, which attracts older residents and teenagers, artists and students.
There is an excellent food market every Saturday in Strada Imbriani, where fresh produce from the province is sold by farmers. Stop off at Piazzale Inzani, where there is a statue of the Franciscan Padre Lino Maupas, known as the “father of the poor”.
While we are blessed with big green spaces right in the centre, including the Parco Ducale, a French-style landscaped park with tree-lined walkways and an ornate lake, my preferred spot is more of a secret garden, the small Orto Botanico, an 18th-century jewel with a special section for medicinal plants and an exquisite 1793 glass house.
Parma is surrounded by lush countryside, and most visitors head off to the Valle di Langhirano to visit artisan producers of cheese and ham. But to really discover our unspoilt countryside, hire a bike and head to the Parco Fluviale del Taro, about six miles out of town: it’s a protected nature zone running along the Taro River, and great for picnics and hiking.
Parma cannot claim to be one of Italy’s nightlife capitals, but some of its backstreet bars and osterie are real gems. Gazebo di Nottingham is an offshoot of Milan’s famed Nottingham Forest, pioneer of molecular cocktails, with an enchanting garden on the banks of the Torrente.
After dark, the city is split into two zones: Oltretorrente for old-fashioned osterie, and the stretch of Via Farini just south of Piazza Garibaldi, which is packed with bars. Tabarro, in the middle, has a terrific selection of wines: owner Diego Sorba tracks down small, quality viticoltori.
For a different slice of local life, stop off for a glass of malvasia wine at OsteMagno, a historic osteria that has recently moved to Piazza Pilotta. Everyone goes there to chat.
There are cheaper places, but I suggest Palazzo dalla Rosa Prati (doubles from €140) to friends so they can experience the palatial style of Parma in days gone by.