Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 570: Internet Villas, Casale Luminara
3bed/3.5bath house near Parma, Emilia-Romagna
March 2003, 1 week
We go to Italy principally for the food, and the food of Emilia-Romagna is justly said to be the best in Italy. Emilia-Romagna is off the beaten tourist path, which means that it’s hard to find a house or flat to rent. Casale Luminara was the answer, the perfect place from which to explore Emilia-Romagna and its food. The house is beautiful, comfortable, and well appointed, and its location, 10 minutes from the via Emilia and the A1 Autostrada, made it easy to roll from one fine meal to the next, with visits to food markets and other sightseeing between meals.
Six of us spent a beautiful, too-short, week at Casale Luminara. The three bedrooms and three baths – with showers among the best we’ve experienced in 10 years of travel to Italy – made it easy for all of us be ready first thing in the morning for the day’s foodie expedition. The kitchen was outstanding, with not only a six-burner stove and a dishwasher, but also an electric meat slicer big enough to handle all the salumi, or Italian cured meats, that we could bring home, which in our case, that was saying a lot. An added bonus was a working fireplace that gave the kitchen a very elemental, “hearth and home” feeling.
While the cooks played in the kitchen, the others enjoyed the living room fireplace – nice dry firewood was provided, another bonus – while they waited to taste the results of the day’s market excursions. Once the food was ready, the big decision was whether to eat cozily around the fireplace or “like grownups” at the candlelit dining table, each a wonderful option.
And, oh, those foodie expeditions: Emilia-Romagna is the land of the pig, and prosciutto di Parma, culatello, mortadella, coppa, various local salames, and pancetta are everywhere. The pigs are fed on the whey left over from the making of parmigiano-reggiano cheese, a world famous local specialty. Look for the richer parmigiano-reggiano made from the milk of the red cows, or “vacche rosse,” the traditional breed of cow that has been largely supplanted by the higher-yielding Holsteins. You have doubtless enjoyed imported prosciutto or parmigiano-reggiano in the States, but come to where it’s made, and you’ll realize they keep the good stuff for local consumption. And, of course, many of these products can’t be imported to the States at all, so you’ll enjoy foods that you can’t even get at home.
There are small shops everywhere that stock these and other good things; Parma Menu, conveniently located at the Fidenza exit from the A1, on the way to Casale Luminare, is a good starting place for local products.
After a plate of salumi, enjoy silky handmade pastas filled with ricotta and chard, or with pumpkin, or with chestnut puree, or cut into tagliatelle and tossed with wild boar ragù, or the classic ragù Bolognese. Then move on to braised rabbit or roasted guinea hen or tender veal. Wash it all down with the crisp, fresh local wines.
Where to eat? In Parma, at La Greppia or Osteria del 36; in Modena, check out Giusti, the superlative specialty food shop and, if you can get a reservation, eat in their tiny, four-table restaurant. Closer to Casale Luminara, try the Locanda Nazionale in Fontanellato, or Albergo Ardenga, on the side road behind the church in the tiny town of Diolo. Both of these have excellent local food, and Albergo Ardenga cures its own culatello: you can see it hanging in the wine cellar behind a glass wall.
Between meals, you can go to the places where the salumi comes from: the Emilia-Romagna government has identified driving routes, called Strade dei vini e dei sapori, literally, “the roads of wine and good tasting foods,” through the areas where the products are made. Among others, there are routes for prosciutto, one for culatello, and one for porcini mushrooms; just look for the brown signs. There’s also a route in the Scandiano hills, south of Reggio, where the traditional balsamic vinegar is made, aged for years in attic batteries of barrels.
If you ever get tired of food, visit Parma to see the Baptistery and duomo, as well as the Galerie Nazionale at the Palazzo della Pilotta, or go to Fontanellato to tour the castle, a pocket-sized version of the Este castle in Ferrara. If you’re an opera fan, this is Verdi country; his portrait is everywhere (there’s even a local wine called Nabucco, after the Verdi opera of the same name), and Busseto, his birthplace, is an easy drive from Casale Luminara. For shopping, Fontanellato is also the site of a large flea market on the third Sunday of the month, and there is a truly huge exhibition center outside of Parma that is host to various exhibitions, including an antiques show in the spring and fall.
Emilia-Romagna has it all, without the hordes of tourists you’ll fight in Tuscany, Rome, or Venice, and Casale Luminara is the ideal base from which to see it all.
Note from SlowTrav: As of January 2007, Internet Villas no longer represents properties. They are transferring listings; you may view properties at Villa Escapes.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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