Day 19 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage kept us in Parma (detour) for a short break. (No lodging availability on several sections of the route.) Weather: partly cloudy, low 80s.
I had a great night’s sleep! Perhaps it was that incredible meal we ate yesterday, but I was OUT. It rained heavily in the early morning, and the cooler weather feels great. Here’s hoping the cooler temps stick around a bit.
A Parma Cheese Worth Dreaming About
Initially, we had hoped to visit a cheese factory and observe how Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made. The vast majority of farms and factories are located outside of the city. However, there was one factory within walking distance. Alas, they were fully booked. The tours are so popular that reservations have to be made four days in advance.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese differs from Parmesan cheese in that the cheese can only be called Parmigiano Reggiano if the milk comes from Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, or Matua. The cows must adhere to a specific all-natural diet, and the cheese must meet strict inspection standards. For example, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese has to be aged a MINIMUM of 12 months.
I’ve got to tip my hat to the Benedictine and Cistercian monks. During the Middle Ages, it was the *monks* who first produced the cheese. With no refrigeration, they needed something that didn’t spoil easily.
We spent a delightful morning walking around the city. My favorite part was visiting the churches. The 11th century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is considered to be one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy, and the art covering the ceilings of the is absolutely jaw-dropping. One of things I really like about Parma’s cathedral and churches is that there are actually people inside them.
And I got to watch as an artist in a church began the painstaking process of restoring a painting to its former glory.
Beyond the churches, it was fun just to stroll the streets and peer inside shop windows.
Several shops around the tourist areas sell legs of Prosciutto di Parma, authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, and wonderfully thick aged balsamic vinegar. We saw beautifully presented bottles of balsamic vinegar priced at €140. For a pilgrim staying at church-operated lodging, that’s a full week’s worth of lodging!
I do feel pretty foolish that I lived over six years in Italy, yet know so little about Parma. Yes, it’s a foodie’s paradise. However, Parma has a lot beyond gastronomy going for it. The University of Parma is one of the world’s oldest universities, they’ve got Roman ruins, an opera house, and a soccer team.
Furthermore, there’s a vibrancy and energy in Parma that makes me appreciate how it is relevant now. After a bit of research, I’ve learned that the population growth of Parma far exceeds the Italian national average. The city appears to be thriving.
The Plan to Intercept the Trail
This afternoon I listened as Dad made a half-dozen calls to places along the Via Francigena route. Either they were fully booked, or they stopped accepting reservations after 1 September. Since none of us are equipped to free camp, we’ve decided to jump ahead to the first place that confirmed they had availabilities: Pontremoli.
I had started this pilgrimage thinking we were going to walk every day, and complete every section. I am now very curious as to how many Via Francigena pilgrims do so. It was never our intent to bypass portions of the route. Every single time we’ve jumped ahead, it’s been due to safety or lack of lodging.
I’m still super thankful that we got a chance to explore some of the sights in Parma. It’s a lovely city, and if I’m ever back in the area I’m booking a farm and factory tour.
Next stop, Pontremoli!
Lunch: At apartment
Dinner: At apartment
Lodging: AirBnB (per person) $41