Better than the cheese or ham, I promise you

We decided to spend a night in Parma last week, on our drive from London down to Umbria. (Yup! It’s holiday time again, lucky us, and we’re back on the same little organic farm: our third visit, and loving it as much as ever.)

We’d never been to Parma before but we love the cheese and we love the ham, so honouring those with a visit seemed absolutely right. I even like Parma violets, despite their slightly sickly taste, although I know those haven’t been made in Parma for centuries. Anyway, what’s not to like?

And as it turned out we were spot-on about that – but only because of something we didn’t know about: the Baptistery of the Duomo in the old town. It took my breath away it’s so beautiful – and this in a country filled with astounding beauty of every kind.  The city had the good sense to commission an architect called Benedetti Antelami to build it in 1196, and the octagonal building is covered in pale pink marble from Verona. There’s a lovely statue of Solomon and Sheba outside, which you can just see in the photo above (I took it with my iPhone which doesn’t seem to be as good at focal length as it is at closeups.)

And inside there are 16 alcoves and an astonishing domed ceiling, all decorated with paintings and sculptures. Like this one.

The Michelin guides don’t rate the Baptistery worth the journey (which would give it three stars): it gets only two stars, which means it’s worth a look if you happen to be passing. I think the Tyre Man is mistaken.

Parmigiano is a truly great cheese with complex flavours, and that slightly salty, slightly granular texture has a lot going for it.  And Prosciutto di Parma is the king of hams – a silky, tender, melting jewel in the crown of Italian cuisine.

But the Baptistery! I promise you, seeing the Baptistery will make you forget about food. And in Italy that’s a tough call.

2 Responses to “Better than the cheese or ham, I promise you”

  1. Frances Thomas Says:

    We ended up in Parma more or less by mistake once and fell in love with it. A city with a kind of dignity to it. And we also noticed how beautiful all the young people were – like living Florentine frescoes. I’m seriously envious.

  2. admin Says:

    Those young faces from Florentine frescoes are all over Tuscany and Umbria too – it takes your breath away sometimes to see them wearing jeans and tshirts, walking along the street.

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