There are many reasons why the civilised traveller should visit the quietly elegant city of Piacenza, 45 miles south of Milan. Here are two of the best: Botticelli’s remarkable painting of Our Lady, the Infant Jesus and St John (which hangs in the Palazzo Farnese), and the astonishing and delightful trompe l’oeil interior of the Church of San Sisto. Both these are within a few steps of the Grand Hotel Rome. But then, everything you will want to see in Piacenza is within a few steps of the Grand Hotel Rome, for it could not have a better location. Just around the corner from the piazza Cavalli, this austere modern building was built in 1958 to the designs of architect Vico Magistretti. But if outwardly it appeals to the modernist, its interior will warm the heart of the most fervent traditionalist. Its 72 rooms and 4 suites are old-fashioned (in the best sense), comfortable and thoroughly welcoming, and provided me with the ideal base from which to sally forth into the city of palaces.
Parma is famous for its ham and for its cheese, both of which are magnificent. But the city has another priceless jewel: an assembly of some of the most impressive ecclesiastical buildings in Italy. Its cathedral and the separate baptistery (pictured) attract visitors from all over the world. Indeed, the 13th and 14th Century frescoes which cover the interior of the latter make it possibly the grandest setting for the sacrament of Baptism in the whole of Christendom. The historical centre is devoid of top-quality hotels, however, so I was forced to go a little further out for my lodgings. But this was no penance, for the five-star Grand Hotel de la Ville – a modern building, opened in 2003, with plenty of parking (an important consideration in Parma) – was only a five minute taxi ride from the main sights. I found it offered me both comfort and convenience.
Close to the historical centre of the beautiful city of Parma, south of Milan, is a restaurant with a talented chef, a female kitchen team, an impressive cellar and an atmosphere of calm contentment. From the outside, it looks quite ordinary, but inside is a dining room which brings considerable pleasure to its guests. There is an element of homely rusticity to the décor of La Greppia: the long rectangular room has a beamed ceiling and tea cosies hang on the white walls. But the food of Chef Paola Cola (pictured) is anything but unsophisticated. All the pastas and puddings are made on-site, and they are of very high quality – indeed, they alone would make any visit to La Greppia memorable. But I liked the rest of my meal, too.
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