The Culatello di Zibello Road, about 90 km long, traverses that part of the Parma Province between Via Emilia, the ancient Roman road, and the Po River, commonly known as la Bassa (the lowland). It is a foggy and evocative area with a rich artistic and historical heritage, wedged between the main bank of the great river and the land where Maestro Giuseppe Verdi was born, lived and composed his unique music. Giovanni Guareschi, the genius who penned the tales of Peppone and Don Camillo, was also a native son of La Bassa. Its is an area circumscribed and insulated within the great plain that, like a precious jewel case, preserves not only its nature, history and culture, but also one of the richest and tastiest traditional cuisines of the entire region. As a result, Culatello di Zibello and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the unchallenged kings of the realms of ham and cheese, share this land with many sumptuous residences.
The visitor may begin his journey along the Culatello di Zibello Road at any one of several different points. The ideal itinerary starts from Parma and runs north on Route 343 to Colorno, the first stop on this tasty voyage. This is the Road's eastern terminal, as well as the heart of the famous sausage's production area, which comprises only eight local Municipalities. Known as the little Versailles - for its past role as summer residence of the Farnese dukes - Colorno is the proud site of the magnificent Farnese "Reggia" (royal palace), with its stuccos, frescoes and precious boiseries.
Heading west from Colorno the Road reaches, after only a few minutes, the town of Sissa, with its small Fifteenth Century castle and an ancient sausage-making tradition whose specialty is the savoury spalla cruda. From here, turning north, past the sinuous course of the Taro river in proximity of its confluence with the Po, one arrives at Roccabianca. According to a local legend the town's name, which means "white rock" and dates back to the fifteenth century, was inspired by the imposing hilltop fortress built by Pier Maria Rossi for his beloved Bianca Pellegrini. Heading south, the Road reaches the hamlet of Fontanelle, where Giovannino Guareschi, the unforgettable storyteller of la Bassa, was born.
Heading north once more, after reaching Ragazzola, the itinerary turns westward towards Zibello, the Road's epicentre, a gourmet's paradise and ground zero of the king of sausages. An ancient medieval village, Zibello preserves memories of the times of the Pallavicino family, the feudal lords of these lands.
The trip from Zibello, keeping to the right of the Po river, to Polesine Parmense is a short one. The very name of this town reveals its centuries-old link to the big river, since the word "polesini" describes the floating islands dragged by the floods that eventually collide with and remain attached to the river banks. The Due Torri (twin towers) palace, also built by the Pallavicino family, is worth a visit, along with the eighteenth century parish church.
The Road then turns south, and enters the land that gave birth to the great composer Giuseppe Verdi. Here, everything speaks to us of him and his artistic genius. Starting with Busseto, where the main square is dominated by an imposing bronze statue of the Maestro. The monument stands in front of the Verdi theatre, a little Nineteenth Century jewel. Other Verdi-related reminders in the town's historic district include the Orlandi palace, the Barezzi house and the oratory of the SS. Trinità (Holy Trinity) in the Collegiate di San Bartolomeo (St. Bartholomew College).
Leaving Verdi's territory, the Road heads towards the ancient courts of the Parma flatland. Not far from Roncole lies Soragna, known as the "Mistress of La Bassa", site of the Meli-Lupi family residence, a magnificent, perfectly preserved castle with sumptuous interior furnishings.
Heading north again, one can visit the Guareschi Museum in the hamlet of Diolo, and then turn eastward to reach San Secondo Parmense. The San Secondo castle, once the residence of the Rossi family of counts and marquises, is now the site of many medieval re-enactments, including the annual horse race palio delle contrade. Nearby, along the southbound road to Fontanellato, where the Culatello Road ends, are the ancient S. Genesio Romanesque country parish church and the Madonna del Serraglio Sanctuary.
Fontanellato is dominated by the majestic Rocca Sanvitale fortress, one of the region's most beautiful castles. Still surrounded by a water-filled moat, the castle houses many art treasures, including paintings, furniture and a cycle of mythological frescoes by Parmigianino in the famous Diana and Atteon Hall. The S. Croce church also deserves a visit along with the Beata Vergine del Rosario Sanctuary, outside the town. A wide choice of antiques is for sale at the market held here on the third Sunday of each month.
Visitors will surely treasure the memory of the emotions and flavours experienced while travelling along the marvellous Parma's Bassa itinerary.