This Underrated City Is A Great Destination For A Crowd-Free Italy Vacation

When visiting Italy, people usually hit the major cities like Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice, or Naples. They are incredible places full of history and culture, and of course, you want to see them. However, having visited this summer, we can say that lines were out of control and tourists swarmed every inch of the major cities. Parking was impossible, and it was hard to spend time at any attractions.

Italy has so much more to offer than just the usual suspects. One incredible hidden gem of this beautiful country is the city of Piacenza in the Emilia-Romagna region in the north. Just southeast of Milan, this city was founded during Roman times in 218 BCE, and was called Placentia back then. The city sits on the Po River, and has so much to offer, from stunning medieval churches and museums to the Palazzo Farnese, and local dishes that are to die for.

What to see in Piacenza

Also known as La Città delle Cento Chiese or "the city of 100 churches," Piacenza has no shortage of lovely ones to visit. Some are gone or deconsecrated now, but the ones that are still here are stunning. Santa Maria di Compagna, built between 1522 and 1528, is a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture. This church, where the powerful Farnese family worshiped, is covered in frescos inside, with a full cycle of them by Giovanni Antonio de' Sacchis, aka Pordenone, and a gorgeous dome. 

Stop by the Duomo di Piacenza, the Romanesque church, built in the 12th century. Check out the rose window, as well as its impressive archways. Inside you'll find frescos from the 14th and 16th centuries. The Basilica di Sant' Antonino is a Gothic church with dramatic arches and a huge bell tower. There are mind-blowing frescos here from Robert de Longe and Gavasetti, as well as 15th century goblets and reliquaries, and an 840 CE manuscript by King Lotario of Lorraine. 

In the San Savino church, right near the public gardens, you'll see 11th-century black and white floor mosaics, one of which looks like something out of a fairytale, with columns and carvings throughout the room. The Palazzo Farnese began construction in the early 16th century but was never finished. Now it houses several attractions like the Civic Museum and the Carriage Museum. It's got a beautiful 17th-century wrought iron gate with Farnese lilies, and a ducal chapel by Bernardino Panizzari aka Caramosino.

What to do in Piacenza

Visiting Piacenza isn't just about sightseeing. This is Italy, after all, and food is a huge deal. After seeing churches and walking through the Piazza Cavalli —with two statues of Ranuccio and Alessandro Farnese (who hated each other and are facing in opposite directions) — it's time for something to eat.

Piacenza is known for collo al forno, or roasted pork neck. It's usually served with torta fritta, a type of fried dough, or some pisarei e fasò, bread gnocchi in tomato and borlotti bean sauce. They do make a good horse meat stew in this region as well, though that might not fit your sensibilities. Pasta types popular in Piacenza include tagliatelle, anolini, tortelli, and panzerotti. For dessert, try ciambella, which has a similar consistency to donuts, or ciambellone, which is more like a bundt cake.

The wines here are different than you'll find in other Italian cities, like the sparkling red wines Bonarda, Barbera, and Gutturnio,a blend of the other two. You can also sample Malvasia di Candia, which is a traditional white wine that has been a staple of the region for hundreds of years.