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One of Italy's most affluent cities, Parma is renowned for its fine food, classical music and wealth of art. Cobblestone streets lead visitors to grandiose squares with fountains and striking Romanesque and Renaissance buildings which give this calm city an air of refined elegance.

You'll also find Parma has excellent shopping and a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest places to eat in the whole country. As the source of both prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) and Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese), food is taken very seriously here. Browsing the numerous delis and lingering over a long lunch are just some of the many pleasures of a visit.

Parma Cathedral, ParmaParma was founded by the Etruscans but, like many Italian cities, has seen waves of prosperity and decline over the years. Today, it is a genteel kind of place, home to one of the oldest universities in the world and one of Italy's finest opera houses. The heart of the city is the handsome Piazza Duomo, an open space dominated by a trio of Romanesque buildings: the cathedral, bell tower and baptistery. The 12th-century cathedral is most famous for its frescoed dome, which depicts the Assumption of the Virgin by Correggio, a master of the High Renaissance. Beside it is an unusual, octagonal baptistery, built from pink Verona marble and also adorned with impressive frescoes inside its dome.

More masterpieces can be seen in the Palazzo della Pilotta, a residence of the Farnese family, now home to the Galleria Nazionale di Parma (National Gallery of Parma), as well as the Palazzo Farnese library and the Teatro Farnese. The gallery exhibits works by Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco, Holbein and Brueghel as well as home-grown artists Correggio and Parmigianino.

For music, Parma's Teatro Regio (Royal Theater) is hard to beat. Known as one of Italy's most eminent opera houses, its lavish interior with its frescoed ceiling, gilt balconies and enormous chandeliers matches the quality of the performances. Verdi was born quite close to Parma and his operas are regularly performed here, alongside works by other local composers such as Paganini and Toscanini.

Across the river is the leafy Parco Ducale with its manicured gardens and quiet paths. At its heart is the 16th-century Ducal Palace, expanded in the 18th century and adorned with vivid frescoes by leading artists of the day. 

The park makes a good spot to sample some of the delicacies from one of Parma's many fine delicatessens. For something more formal, just stroll back across the river to the old town and take your pick of the many fine trattorias which line the streets.

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Audley Travel Country Specialist Kerry-Ann

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