Parma - Art, Architecture and Gastronomy in the Duchy of the Farnese Family

Prices from £1,795


29 Sep 2020 - 3 Oct 2020
Duration: 4 nights
Ref: 20PARM
With: Dr Paula & Dr Geoffrey Nuttall


Prices from £1,795
Single Supplement: £295
Deposit: £200

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From the Romans to the Romantics, the city of Parma has a rich cultural history. It is the setting for Stendhal’s novel The Charterhouse of Parma and the birthplace of Verdi and Toscanini. It is renowned for its gastronomy and for its violets, introduced by Duchess Maria Luigia of Austria, Napoleon’s second wife, for whom Parma Violet perfume was created. Parma is no less rich in artistic treasures. It boasts a magnificent Romanesque cathedral and Baptistery, decorated by the great early mediaeval sculptor Benedetto Antelami. In the early sixteenth century, Parma was home to Correggio and Parmigianino, two of the most original painters of the Renaissance. Until the twentieth century Correggio was arguably more famous than Leonardo da Vinci; a visit to Parma helps to explain why, affording a unique opportunity to experience at first hand his ground breaking ceiling paintings in the city’s convents and churches. From 1545-1731 Parma was ruled by the Farnese, the descendants of Pope Paul III, who created the Duchy of Parma for his illegitimate son. The vast Farnese palace, the Pilotta, now home to the city’s art collection, boasts an impressive late Renaissance theatre, the Teatro Farnese. The surrounding countryside offers further delights. Among these is the fifteenth-century castle of Torrechiara, nestling among pretty vineyards, with its dazzling Camera d’Oro, a rare survival of Early Renaissance secular decoration, glorifying the owner’s love for his mistress; the castle of Fontanellato, wittily frescoed in mannerist style by the young Parmigianino, and the eighteenth-century villa of Colorno, known as the Versailles of Parma, where Duchess Maria Luigia cultivated her violets. And no visit to Parma would be complete without tasting some of the region’s gastronomic delights.


Dr Paula Nuttall is an authority on Italian and Netherlandish Renaissance Art and director of the V&A’s Mediaeval and Renaissance year course. Paula is the author of Flanders to Florence and Face to Face: Florence and Renaissance Painting, and has lectured on many APA tours over the years.

DAY 1:

Mid afternoon flight from London Heathrow to Bologna, arriving in the early evening. Transfer by private coach to Parma and our centrally located four star hotel, arriving in time for dinner.

DAY 2:

This morning we explore the Romanesque centre of Parma on foot: Piazza del Duomo and the exterior of its 1000-year-old cathedral and, across the square, the octagonal Baptistery with its wealth of Romanesque sculpture and late mediaeval murals. We also visit the Diocesan Museum, which houses original sculptures by Antelami from the Baptistery. After lunch we will focus on Correggio’s revolutionary ceiling paintings, starting with the playful illusionism of the Camera di San Paolo (an abbess’s parlour), continuing to the ambitious dome of San Giovanni Evangelista and finishing with the astonishing, proto-Baroque dome of the Cathedral.

DAY 3:

Morning excursion by coach to the hamlet of Torrechiara, nestling in the pretty hills of the Colli di Parma, the area’s prime wine-growing region, to visit the 15th century Castello di Torrechiara, a World Heritage Site, with its splendidly decorated rooms. The highlight is the ravishing Camera d’Oro, depicting scenes of courtly love – a rare survival of early Renaissance secular art by the Milanese painter Benedetto Bembo, celebrating the love of Pier Maria de’ Rossi, Lord of Sanvitale, for his mistress. Nearby, we visit a salumificio followed by lunch with local products. We continue by coach to visit the nearby Fondazione Magnani Rocca, an elegant villa set in a beautiful early 19th century park, home to an impressive private collection, including works by Filippo Lippi, Dürer, Titian, Goya and Monet.

DAY 4:

In the morning we visit on foot the complex of Palazzo Pilotta, the vast palace of the Dukes of Parma, which houses the magnificent early 17th century Teatro Farnese, and the Pinacoteca Nazionale, with masterpieces by Leonardo, Correggio and Parmigianino. We continue to the elegant Renaissance church of Santa Maria della Steccata with a remarkable Mannerist vault by Parmigianino. After lunch we travel by coach to the small town of Fontanellato, to visit another of the region’s jewel-like Renaissance castles, the Rocca di Fontanellato, seat of the Sanvitale lords. Here Parmigianino frescoed a stylish room with the myth of Diana, his earliest masterpiece. We continue to Colorno, where we enter the very different world of the 18th century Duke of Bourbon-Parma, successor to the Farnese. His French consort, Louise Elisabeth, daughter of Louis XV, created monumental Ducal Palace and spectacular formal gardens, known as the ‘Italian Versailles’.

DAY 5:

Leaving Parma by coach, our last visit is to Piacenza, the original capital of the Farnese duchy. Colossal 17th century bronze equestrian statues of Alessandro and Ranuccio Farnese dominate the aptly named Piazza Cavalli outside the splendid late gothic town hall, while in the imposing Romanesque cathedral we shall encounter our final dome, by the Baroque painter Guercino. We continue to Milan Linate airport, for our afternoon flight to London Heathrow.


This tour will take place during the 2020 Verdi Festival in Parma. At the time of publication, dates and performances are not yet available. As soon as these are made public, APA will promptly let you know and help those who wish to go to the Opera to book seats at the Teatro Regio in Parma. Many of the masterpieces that we shall see on this tour are ceiling paintings. Although by no means essential, if you possess binoculars, they will enhance your experience.


Twin/double share: £1795 per person
Double room for sole use supplement: £295
Tour without flights cost: £1595
Deposit: £200 per person


  • Flights with British Airways from London Heathrow to Bologna and return flights from Milan Linate to London Heathrow
  • Private coach transfers and excursions
  • Four nights’ bed and breakfast in the 4* Hotel Stendhal, Parma
  • Two dinners and one lunch
  • Guided visits to sites listed in the programme
  • Services of the Lecturer and Tour Manager
  • Detailed programme and study notes
  • All entrance fees, taxes and gratuities for coach drivers and waiters


The four star Hotel Mercure Stendhal is located in the heart of Parma’s old town, opposite the Palazzo della Pilotta and just a few hundred metres from the cathedral. You can enjoy a drink or tasty snack in the elegant lounge bar and generous breakfasts are served in the restaurant. Rooms are furnished with unique wooden period furniture and feature a TV, complimentary Wi-Fi, minibar, safe and hairdryer.