Parma Day Trip from Florence

Guest writer: Thom George, my awesome husband

When Melinda and I were planning our trip to Florence, Italy, my college buddy, Sam K., told me that he would be there during the same time. He was combining a little bit of work with the wedding of his son. We discussed getting together during our time in Florence. Shortly after arriving from Paris, Sam called and asked if we’d like to take a drive with him to visit a prosciutto di parma producer in Parma, Italy. Sam works in the food industry and this supplier was one of his customers. Melinda had work to do (and is a vegetarian) so she stayed back at the apartment in the Oltrarno and I went off to Parma with Sam, his son and his friend, the New York Cheese Chick (she does private cheese tastings in Florence!)

A pleasant two and a half hour drive through the Tuscan countryside brought us to the Tanara Giancarlo SPA production facility where we were met by the owner. Before giving us a tour of the production facility, he took us to a local restaurant and treated us to a delicious lunch that started off with a board of cheeses and yes, prosciutto. The main course was a selection of handmade ravioli stuffed with ricotta, pumpkin, and bitter greens (my favorite); homemade fruit pie and espresso finished off the meal.

Upon returning to the facility, we all donned lab jackets, hair nets and shoe covers before entering the production area. The next 45 minutes was a tour, complete from the receiving and approving of the hog legs through the multiple stages of salting the meat, washing it, aging it, deboning the leg, and finally packaging and shipping the product around the world. In total, we covered 4 floors on the production facility where they process 108,000 hog legs per year.

Finding a tour: Thom went on a private tour that isn’t available to the public-it’s all about who you know! However, you can find similar experiences on Viator depending on where you are staying. These type of immersive food experiences will make for a lasting memory of your trip to Italy. Enjoy the journey!

Lucca, Italy

I’ve always wanted to ride a bike around the ancient wall that surrounds Lucca, Italy and, in 2022, it finally happened. Visiting Lucca for us was a day trip from Florence, which was our base in September for a few weeks. I highly recommend checking out Lucca-it’s a very special place!

Upon arrival, we headed toward the city wall that is directly opposite the train station. You can veer left and go through the city gates or go straight forward and climb some steps to get up to the top of the wall. There is a smooth concrete path for walking and bike riding that loops around the city atop the wall. We walked for awhile and then found a cafe on the trail to get water and use the toliets. Then down a ramp to the M bike rental where you could get bike carts or single bikes, both electric and manual. The carts were cute but the dream was to pedal a bike so we got them for $4 euros for an hour and off we went with the map they provided. If you don’t stop at all, you can pedal around the wall one time in about 30 minutes. But, of course, along the way there are so many beautiful buildings and countryside vistas that you’ll want to stop and take pictures. They do send you off with a bike lock if you want to secure the bike and leave it for awhile.

Equipped with my handy bell to warn walkers as I passed them, we safely maneuvered all the way around the city enjoying every minute of this special experience. After turning in our bikes and getting back Thom’s drivers license that they kept as security to guarantee you would return the bikes, we wandered off down Lucca’s quaint streets. Every building was beautifully preserved and picture worthy. In addition to the usually tourist stores, there were high end shops and vintage stores. Be prepared to shop!

Finally stopping for a bite to eat and rest our feet, I saw an unusual pizza shaped item which turned out to be chickpea flatbread, which is vegan and glutenfree. My version was onion but they had onion and zucchini too. Paired with the always good and cheap house wine, it was delicious and I can’t wait to recreate it when we return home.

If you are thinking of going to Lucca and are a lover of music, they have a summer music festival featuring a wide variety of global and local artists. I’m sure Lucca gets really crowded and all housing sells out during this festival but, if you book in advance, it could be magical. More info here: Summer Festival (luccasummerfestival.it)

GETTING THERE

It’s a quick two-hour trip by train from Florence to Lucca. I would never rent a car in Italy (cost, crazy drivers, narrow roads-so many reasons why!). Travelling by train is so easy and fun. Bring a snack and let the conductor do all the driving while you relax and gaze at the beautiful Italian scenery. More train details here.