This region is, overwhelmingly, one thing and one thing only: FOOD. No dieting here.
Arrive and get acquainted with your villa and shopping for essentials in the immediate neighbhorhood.
Parma: The Cathedral and Baptistery; the Parco Ducale, and the National Gallery of Art. Plus: Lunch at some wonderful restaurant or trattoria. Finally, a visit to the tourist office to plan visits, for another day, to local Parmigiano Reggiano and prosciutto producers.
Bologna – Look: The only reason Bologna hasn’t become one of the tourist meccas of Italy is that it lacks that one overwhelming monument – like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the towers of San Gimignano – to draw the crowds. It’s a wonderfully appealing city. Get a good guidebook and study it carefully (as well as a restaurant guide) before visiting this overlooked city. One of the greatest works of art we have ever seen in our lives is in Bologna: A late 15th-century Pieta, or “Compianto”, in terracotta by an artist unknown to us before, Nicola dell’Arca, in the church of Santa Maria della Vita. Unbelievably moving and beautiful. Also: the museum dedicated to one of our favorite still-life painters of all time: Giorgio Morandi. They all look “alike”, but ….. they aren’t.
A day touring castles in the immediate neighbhood of Parma. Get a good guidebook and start at Collecchio, and proceeding via the back roads to Felino, Torrechiara, Montechiarugolo, Rossena, and Canossa. There are wonderful restaurants along this route.
Mantova – another gastronomic capital. Take a boat ride on the river to get the full flavor of this delightful city. The Ducal Palace, home of the Gonzagas, is extremely interesting, especially the Apartment of the Dwarves and the fresco cycle by Mantegna. Other must-sees: the Palazzo del Te, with frescoes by Giulio Romano and frequent-first rate exhibitions. But most of all, the little Teatro Scientifico.
Modena for three things: the beautiful Cathedral; the art-nouveau cemetery; and the Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Maserati museum.
Outing to a Parmigiano Reggiano or prosciutto producer, or, if you’re lucky, both.
Relax at home
An all-day outing to Busseto and Sant’Agata, shrines to Verdi. Eat at I Due Foscari, restaurant owned by one of our favorite all-time tenors, Carlo Bergonzi. (Get a copy of the live pirated recording of his Elisir d’Amore with Scotto to see what we mean, from the very first aria.)
A day in Milan – cathedral, art, music, and/or shopping
A day in Ravenna and the mosaics at San Vitale and Sant’Apollinare in Classe. Ravenna is an immensely civilized place.
Smaller cities: Castell’Arquato, Piacenza, and Cremona.
Another day in the countryside eating and visiting castles of the region, this time to the north of Parma. Begin at Soragna and proceed via Fontanellato to Roccabianca, Colorno, Gualtieri, and Guastalla.
Recover from all of the foregoing and wonder why you haven’t done the half of it. (You need not wonder why your clothes no longer fit.)