Ancient Via Francigena

 

It takes a hard heart not to be won over by the landscape south of Parma, where the Apennines Mountains are at their most lush and welcoming. Vineyards and rolling fields of wildflowers, dense wooded foothills sheltering prized porcini mushrooms, castles resting on craggy spurs - this is a landscape to explore slowly, savouring the combination of nature's creativity and man-made pearls (the Romanesque abbey of Badia a Isola merits exploration, and Monteriggioni's grand 13th century ramparts make for a wonderfully grandiose end to a day's rambling). Pilgrims have been exploring here on foot for centuries - the Via Francigena forges through the region, a 2,000km trail that links Canterbury and Rome. And in case the scenery isn't sufficiently seductive, the pleasures of the table are ready to woo visitors - this area has a fair claim to be Italy's gastronomic heartland, with Parma ham and Parmesan cheese the twin stars. Whether it's for the beautiful surroundings or the sublime cuisine - or, more likely, both - most visitors leave here promising themselves they will return. 

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