Having gone to the Mercanteinfiera last year at the Parma Fiera, I had to attend again. It is probably one of the most important Vintage and Antique fairs in Europe. Need a 16th century fountain? The coveralls Michael Schumacher was wearing when he won? Signatures from Napoleon? Art from seemingly any point in time or even literal relics, as in the purported pieces of a deceased medieval Saints flesh? Then Mercanteinfiera is the place to go.
It is like going to a 100 museums in a day. Literally these are the people that hat museums buy their collections from! Also if you are in the market for a Lapislazuli Rolex, you are covered as well.
After attending the event and with some time to spare I told the GF that we had to head into the center of Parma. I had been bugging her to go on lazy Sundays, but I think she started to think I was just creating a meme to quote whenever we had slept in. But I really like Parma. It has the most appellation products of anywhere in Europe. Consequently many of the European Union offices for things like that are based in Parma. It is a major center for industrialized production of canning tomatoes, but also streamlining artisanal products such as Prosciutto di Parma and of course Parmigiano-Reggiano!
In addition to this there are countless uber-artisanal producers making preserved meat products such as the famed Culatello di Zibello.
The city that gave birth to Giuseppe Verdi has a rich history that takes the best cosmopolitan influences one would expect from Milan or former Austro-Hungarian cities, while still remaining in the bread basket that is Emilia-Romagna. While places like Bologna are obsessed with their food excellence, they only recently have made it commercially available in trendy restaurants or paired it with a high end wine cellar. Parma, which had access to the cultural affinities of fine dining, was able to serve this while still enjoying the Parmesan and fresh egg pastas that are lacking in Lombardy.
Parma being smack dab in the center between Piemonte, Tuscany, and Liguria, they have had a ton of influences but maintained their independence and the city’s wealth had not been drained out. Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise, was actually gifted the Duchy of Parma to keep her occupied. Even though part of the Austrian Aristocracy, Parma was her true love and she purportedly spent her time making sure marble and urban planning were integral to the city. Parma was able to remain independent due to familial connections to the Austrians basically until the reunification.
Old School Dining
The culinary scene in Parma is a mix of high-end cafes, fancy restaurants serving the traditional cuisines, heritage Cheese and Prosciutto stores as well as a mix of International and street food outlets. Finding a place to try the Local Tortelli on the pedestrian-friendly Strada Farini can become a window shopping stroll. The last time I was in Parma alone I skipped the outdoor patios and went into this dungeon location of an alleyway. Trattoria del Tribunale is an Old School Parma Institution that encompasses everything I have been saying. You can get Torta Fritta, a pillow looking fried dough appetizer or maybe straight up Parmigiano-Reggiano sounds better. The Massive Tortelli di Zucca (Pumpkin) or if you are adventurous try the potato filling. A simplicity that upholds the quality of the produce first and foremost. The menu, like the decor, has probably not changed in over a decade. Better for it. The Colterenzio Muller-Thurgau is perfect for getting through the heavy dishes. The High altitude vines do wonders with all manners of cuisine but are perfect for cutting through butter. If there for dinner, I would have probably got one of the Gaja bottlings that is pegged around or below retail pricing. However do not be afraid to try the local frizzante wines. These lightly fizzy wines, White, Rose and Red have a symbiotic relationship with the fat driven dishes of Emilia-Romagna. In addition Roman style Artichokes, Tuscan Rabbit dishes and even Horse show the variety of influences that have synthesised into the traditional cuisines of Parma.
The food shops invariably continue into clothing boutiques down the skinny Strada XXII Luglio. High end designer shops criss-cross knife and hat stores. Make it past Piazza Garibaldi and one must end up by the Cattedrale di Parma and very wide tower looking Battistero. The Battistero requires tickets, but the Cathedral, covered by colourful frescoes from wall to ceiling displaying the Parma style of Renaissance paintings, is the crown jewel and requires only silence.
Heading back towards the river is the imposing Palazzo della Pilotta. From this floating fortress the Government was run and high society was entertained. Now it’s post apocalyptic remains still stand but with chipped paint and tall ceilings. It has this eerie feeling that actually makes me feel very warm. The cold air in drafty archways where echoes of stamp holding government officials once trudged around, recalls memories of what I originally fell in love with Italy. The Films of Federico Fellini and Vittorio di Sicca.
It is still very much an elevated complex, hosting a full Museum and Theatre. The Theatre was on the brink of destruction from WW2. Though the specific artistic details have been lost, the theatre has been renovated with wood frames. It is one of the odd times where the beauty is in the seating side, with the exuberance being hoisted behind the audience. Access to the halls of the Palazzo are obtained with one ticket that can be bought for just 5€ in the afternoon.
With that you can rush past the Torrente Parma (Parma RIver) and make it to the station in time for dinner in Milan, Florence, La Spezia or Bologna.
Museo Lombardi – Marie Louise and Napoleon
+39 0521 233727
Palazzo di Riserva | Strada Garibaldi, 15, 43121, Parma
Sun 9:30 am – 7:00 pm
Tue – Sat 9:30 am – 4:00 pm
Trattoria del Tribunale
Vicolo Politi, 5, 43100 Parma PR
Every Day 12–3PM, 7–11PM
Palazzo della Pilotta
Piazza della Pilotta, 5, 43121 Parma PR
Tue-Wen, Fri-Sat 8:30–6:30 Thu 8:30–6:30, 7–10 Sun 8:30–1:30 Mon Closed