Lifestyle & Culture

Jackie Harding: Parma is at the top of my list of food-inspired travel destinations

Time to travel again … let’s eat

One of the things I missed most about not travelling during the pandemic is the chance to experience foods from different countries. With that thought in mind I started to think about how many of our well-known food favorites are named after European locations and how fun it would be to use that criterion for food-inspired travel destinations.

For example, Gouda, Netherlands; Parma, Italy; Porto, Portugal; The Black Forest, Germany and so on to fill my imaginary food-inspired travel “picnic basket”.

My first food-inspired travel destination is:

Parma, Italy

Italy is full of towns and regions that have given names to delicious foods, such as Bologna, Marsala and Gorgonzola, so I was spoiled for choice. Parma is found in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna and – as most Italian towns – began life with the Romans. It is famous for being home to world class theatre, architecture, music ( Verdi and Toscanini both lived here) and of course parmesan cheese, Parma ham and prosciutto are local specialties.

If food and music are not your “thing,” Lamborghini’s headquarters are close by.

Parma’s quaint Old City has the essential cobbled streets and ancient buildings we all expect from an Italian town. The town has many restricted areas for cars, which makes wandering or cycling the photographic streets even more pleasurable. With its pastel- colored buildings, green parks and beautiful countryside, filled with farms and rolling hills, Parma should be on my list.

Things To Do


Of course, shopping in Italy always includes fashion and food. Parma’s shopping streets: Via Garibaldi, Strada della Repubblica, Via Carvour, Via Mazzini, and Via Masimo D’Azeglio are the most important shopping streets if you are looking for fashion. Oddly, if you’re looking for Acqua di Parma, that seductive (and pricey) lemony fragrance, it was created here but is now made in Milan.

If antiques and art are more your interests the neighborhood in the heart of the city covered by Strada Repubblica, Borgo al Collegio Maria Luigia offer antique stores and studios, art dealers and galleries. On Thursday, near the Parco Ducale you will find an antique market.

The selection of groceries and specialty food stores is plentiful, and markets are generally open in the mornings on Wednesday and Saturday. What food to buy is down to you but given that Parma is famous for parmesan cheese, prosciutto di Parma or its expensive brother, Culatello di Zibello, and the nearby town of Modena is the home of balsamic vinegar your shopping list has already been started. Lambrusco wine is locally produced, and Parma is home to the pasta giant Barilla, so it must be a good place to buy your pasta, especially the local specialty, tortelli (a type of ravioli).

Check out Salumeria Silvano Romani, a gourmet local company that offers several stores around Parma that sell cheese and meat with local knowledge. They also have a small restaurant that offers lunch, tasting sessions and takeaway.

Parma has many such local stores, with staff who are happy to advise you on your purchases.

San Pier Damiani ~ This is one of the many local parmesan producers that offers tours. The tour includes the owners vast six generational knowledge of dairy farming, the production of cheese and closes with a tasting.

Salumifico La Perla ~ One of the plethora of family-owned Parma ham producers offering tours and tastings.

• Piazza del Duoma ~ Piazza del Duoma houses the Parma Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Bishop’s Palace. The cathedral is 900 years old and a visit to see the stunning paintings both here and in the Baptistry are worthy of a visit.

• Farnese Theatre ~ One of the largest wooden Baroque theatres in Europe and was almost destroyed during the bombing in 1944. It is now back to its former glory that hosts the occasional performance and is part of a museum complex at the Pilotta Palace.

• Parco Ducale ~ This was once the parkland around the villa of Duke Farnese. In the 1800’s Duchess Maria Luigia, second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, had the park replanted and it now offers a peaceful have from the bustling city. Maria Luigia, Duchess di Parma was Austrian and loved the violet flower, which was planted in all her homes in the area, and had local monks create a perfume for her from her beloved flower. Now the flower is made into perfume in the Parma area and can be bought in the city.

• Borsari Perfume Museum ~ Barber Ludovico Borsari obtained the formula for Maria Luigia’s favorite perfume, Violetta di Parma, in 1870 and launched his own fragrance line. The museum celebrates the Parma violet, its perfume collection and its history.

Orto Botanico di Parma ~ This is Parma’s botanical garden and is managed by Parma University, one of the oldest universities in the world. The small garden is chock full of unusual and interesting plants and makes for a wonderful place to browse and relax. Admission is free and it is open Monday to Saturday.

Teatro Regio ~ This theatre is considered by some to be one of the true homes of opera. With composer Giuseppe Verdi and conductor Toscanini both local boys this 19th century theatre has a powerful history and produces four operas each season.

MUDETEC (Lamborghini museum) ~ For the car lovers amongst you this museum at the factory tells the story of Lamborghini and offers an interactive experience. There is also a tour of the “line” … all together an experience that might give you goosebumps!

My food-inspired travel “picnic basket” has its first contents….some nice prosciutto, parmesan cheese and a bottle of sparkling red Lambrusco. Where to next?

*All activities are dependent on local COVID-19 restrictions.

About the author:

Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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