The Parmesan Plain – the fertile plain that follows the Po River is a place of magical qualities.
The river itself is magical and has always been a reference point for this land and its inhabitants; calm yet also unpredictably ferocious, gentle but also rough, the Po brings together these different qualities often quite contradictory: the same contradictions that permeate the Verdian operas as well as the generous and sanguine people of this area.
It consists predominantly of agricultural areas in which the main activities concentrate on land cultivation, pig farms and their products: the pig is the main feature on the table here (ranging from cotechini (sausage-like product) to spalla cotta (cooked ham shoulder), salumi, and “her majesty” the Culatello of Zibello, an exquisite cured ham), which joins a nutritious series of other delicious wines and foodstuffs.
Enshrouded in the autumnal fog or immobile under the scorching sun during the summer months, the plain has its greatest charm in an apparent stillness. It is punctuated with many small but wealthy towns that offer precious historical-artistic testimony: fortresses that have once hosted various feudal lords in the past (the Sanseverino clan in Colorno, the Sanvitale clan in Fontanellato, the Meli Lupi clan in Soragna, the Rossi clan in Roccabianca and in San Secondo, and so on), ancient churches, museums, and different collections.
Colorno, with its marvelous royal palace where Parma dukes passed their free-time (today it is the site of the International School of Italian Cuisine-ALMA); Soragna, with the Meli Lupi Fortress; Fontanellato, with the castle preserving the extraordinary Parmigianino frescoes in the hall of Diana and Acteon; Fontevivo, with its imposing cistern abbey; San Secondo, with its Rossi castle; and then Roccabianca, Sissa, Copermio and many others.
Not distant from the long-ago past there is the near past: the plain is the homeland of Giovannino Guareschi (native to Fontanelle), the creator of Don Camillo e Peppone that based its “small world” right here (the anthological exhibit “Giovannino Guareschi”, desired and carried out by his children, is in Roncole Verdi), and has been the backdrop to many Italian cinematic productions; all would be familiar with the name of Bernardo Bertolucci, who directed Novecento (1900) right here in one of the characteristic agricultural courts of this area.
There are so many reasons and ways for visiting (ranging from the wine-food culture to art and nature), just by discovering these lands and the Po river: by the organized tour on occasion of particular initiatives (especially concerning the gastronomy) to the coupling of bike-boat (a proposal recently gaining in popularity) or only by bicycle with which one can truly enter into harmony with the “great river” especially taking advantage of the completely new, well-designed and well-marked 50 km bike path along the river banks.
During the wintertime the fog in particular creates an evocative setting.