Some historians have written that the worst thing that has happened to Italy was that it was united. In the second of Sir Roy Strong's tours with this in mind he will explore the Duchy of Parma which existed until 1859 as an independent state with a civilisation of its own.
Based in a centrally located hotel, this exceptional tour exploring Parma and its surrounds offers a feast for the senses of amazing palaces and churches, stunning works of art, opera and world famous cuisine.
Highlights include works of art by Parmigianino and Correggio in their original settings including the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma and Fontanellato’s moated castle; a private lunch as guests of Franco Maria Ricci, the famous publisher, and visit his new museum and labyrinth; learning how to make Parma ham in its native land; and, listening to opera by Giuseppe Verdi at either the Teatro Farnese or the enchanting small opera house in Busseto, near Verdi’s birthplace.
London / Bologna / Parma
Afternoon departure from London Heathrow on a British Airways flight to Bologna Airport arriving in the early evening. Transfer to Parma and check in to the 4-star Hotel Maria Luigia, a comfortable hotel set in the heart of Parma, where five nights are spent. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Morning introductory talk with Sir Roy Strong on ‘Parma and its Dukes and Duchesses’. Walking tour of Parma including the Cathedral, Church of San Giovanni Evangelista and its associated 16th century library with frescoed walls, as well as the octagonal pink marble Baptistery. Continue for a brief visit to see the famous frescoes by Correggio in the Camera di San Paolo.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Afternoon visit to the picture gallery in the Palazzo della Pilotta. Built around 1583, during the last years of Duke Ottavio Farnese’s reign, it developed around the corridor which connected the keep to the Ducal Palace. The latter, begun in 1622 under Duke Ranuccio I, was never completed. The existing complex includes three courts: the Cortile di San Pietro Martire (now best known as Cortile della Pilotta), Cortile del Guazzatoio (originally della pelota) and the Cortile della Racchetta. The Pilotta was to house a large hall, which later turned into the Teatro Farnese, the stables and the grooms’ residences, the Academy Hall and other rooms. After the end of the Farnese family rule of Parma, much of the movable assets of the palace were removed by then Duke Charles I, later King of Spain, and taken to Naples in the 1730s.
Return to the hotel. Dinner under own arrangements.
Parma, Salsomaggiore & Castell Arquato
Depart for Salsomaggiore and visit the Berzieri Thermal Baths (subject to permission) which were constructed in 1913 following a design by Ugo Giusti and Giulio Bernardini and were mainly decorated by Galileo Chini. If the Baths are closed, we will visit the Romanesque Fidenza Cathedral, a strategic stopover in the Middle Ages for pilgrims bound for Rome.
Building began in the 12th century however was suspended and then restarted nearly 100 years later using plans by the sculptor and architect Benedetto Antelami, who also sculpted the Madonna and Child in the crypt. Continue to the medieval town of Castell Arquato for a walk through the town. Opera librettist, Luigi Illica, (1857–1919) was born in Castell Arquato and is also buried here. He wrote for Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni, Alfredo Catalani, Umberto Giordano, Baron Alberto Franchetti and other important Italian composers. His most famous opera libretti are those for La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Andrea Chénier.
Lunch at a local restaurant with fabulous views. Visit the Romanesque Collegiate Church and cloister. Inside the cloister is the Collegiate Museum, displaying sacred paintings and decor, liturgical vestments, and historical documents. Return to Parma. Early evening departure for Busseto for an early dinner at a local restaurant (subject to confirmation of the opera venue). Enjoy an opera performance of Un giorno di regno by Giuseppe Verdi (venue is subject to confirmation).
Parma, Colorno, Langhirano & Torrechiara
Depart for Colorno for a guided visit of the Reggia di Colorno which was built by Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma in the early 18th century on the remains of a former castle built by Azzo da Correggio in 1337. In 1807, after the annexation of the Duchy of Parma to the French Empire, the palace was declared “imperial property” and new restoration works were started. After the Congress of Vienna, the duchy went to Marie Louise, Napoleon’s wife, who made the Reggia her favourite residence and created a wide English-style garden. After the unification of Italy, it became a state possession, and in 1870 it was acquired by the province of Parma, and is now home to ALMA, a world-renowned Italian culinary school. Continue by coach for Langhirano and visit La Perla, a parma ham producing farm. Continue to Torrechiara.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Visit the castle built by Pier Maria II Rossi (1413-1482), Count of San Secondo, between 1448 and 1460. The building was built not only as a defensive structure, but also as a mansion for the count’s lover, Bianca Pellegrini. Highlights include wonderful frescoed rooms by Cesare Baglione dating back to the end of the 16th century and the famous hall, the Camera d’Oro (“Golden Chamber”) with decorations by Benedetto Bembo, sibling of Bonifacio Bembo. Return to Parma. Dinner under own arrangements. Optional (at a supplementary cost) opera performance of Le Trouvère by Giuseppe Verdi (venue is subject to confirmation).
Parma, Fontanellato & Soragna
Depart for the town of Fontanellato which was built up in the 15th century around the moated and fortified castle of the Sanvitale family, the Rocca Sanvitale, on the borders of the domain of the Dukes of Parma. The castle was occupied by the family until 1951, when it was sold to the town. Visit the castle including the frescoed ceiling of Diana and Actaeon, by Renaissance master, Parmigianino. Continue to the museum, labyrinth and home of Franco Maria Ricci, the famous publisher, and his wife Laura.
The Labirinto della Masone, which adjoins Ricci’s house, has three metre-high bamboo walls, with the buildings cover about eight hectares, making it the world’s biggest permanent hedge maze. Visit their home which includes a vast library, which has a neoclassical, barrel-vaulted ceiling and is lined by a series of marble busts on plinths and houses Ricci’s rare books and artworks.
Private lunch by kind arrangement with Franco Maria and Laura Ricci. Return to Parma and remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Parma / Bologna / London
Morning departure to Bologna airport for a British Airways midday flight to London Heathrow arriving in the early afternoon.