The countryside around Parma is a strange mixture: some of the major roads follow bleak gorges, skirting the edge of blank rock walls for kilometres; others look as if they will lead precisely nowhere before emerging into meadows and orchards with rich farmland stretching into the distance.

Prime targets are any of the twenty medieval castles strung out across the foothills to the south, many built by the powerful Farnese dynasty. The website castellidelducato.it has a useful map locating all the castles and can help you plan a tour. It’s also worth buying a Castelli del Ducato card, available from tourist offices or the castles themselves, that will give you a reduction on admission fees and is valid for a year.

One of the finest castles is at TORRECHIARA (March–Oct Wed–Sat 8.30am–7.30pm, Tues & Sun 10.30am–7.30pm; Nov–Feb Tues–Fri 9am–4.30pm, Sat & Sun 10am–5pm), about 18km south of Parma. It provides a superb vantage point over the surrounding area and also has frescoes by Bembo in its Camera d’Oro.

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