I walk to eat. Sure, I know you can emerge occasionally from your sedentary lifestyle to sit down in a restaurant where you’ll pay good money to have plates and plates of good food set before you—but after a very short while you’ll feel too full to take pleasure in what you’re eating. Your body somehow manages to convey the message, “stop right now!” There is nothing worse than a good, old fashioned nagging by your very own body.
The Passeggiata del Gusto solves this dilemma by making you walk for your food. Tastefully, of course.
So yesterday we drove to Villafranca in the Lunigiana to start our first Passeggiata del Gusto experience. We found a big tent where they took my 18 Euros and gave me a backpack, a bright orange cap with “Io Bevo” (I drink) written upon it, and a tee shirt.
Then 140 of us hopped on buses and were whisked off to the highest point in the itinerary, Malgrate (see the picture above; click to make it bigger). We toured the borgo, then stormed the entrance to the castle and puttered around a bit before our guide gave a small talk and sent us to the starting line for our first foray into the field. Prosecco and a variety of other less interesting beverages were there to greet us. Surprisingly, bowls of what one could call Italian junk food accompanied all the liquids. Hmmm.
But that’s all grease under the white-flour bridge. We were off.
Our guide was from Massa. His first act in the field was to tell us to wait a moment while he looked around the corner to see if he was actually taking us in the right direction. He did not seem sure of himself.
No worry, we eventually made it to the village of Mocrone where, under a tent set up in the shadow of the church, a spread of local delicacies awaited us: salumi, bread, and various torte d’erbe.
Thus fortified, we were off to Filetto for the main course. We wandered along a nice pathway, fairly flat, and well-covered by vegetation. Not that there was sun to hide from, but it had begun to sprinkle.
Lunch was to be consumed under medieval arcades adjacent to a grassy courtyard—which was a very good thing, as it had begun to rain as young folks started serving up the testaroli al pesto. By the time the secondo piatto arrived—pork ribs and sausage—the sprinkle had turned into a deluge that had begun to turn the inner courtyard into a small lake.
But by the time our merry and nattily dressed band of intrepid walkers had stripped the last bits of meat from the ribs, the rain had stopped and there was time to head for the bar for a coffee before we headed out to ford the Bagnone river, whose flow had been increased by the recent deluge.
A fine village. Right along the Via Francigena, and possessing a community fountain with famed waters to moisten the parched throats and calm the seething souls of the passing faithful. They even have a web site.
In fact, we were there specifically to take the waters. And have some dolce and a drop more wine.
Italians have an interesting relationship with water. Perhaps it extends from the healing spring waters discovered by Romans and the civilizations that preceded them. Water keeps you healthy; in restaurants you are willing to pay for waters that erupt from springs, but not nearly as much as other cultures will pay for them. And you can water your insides all you want and it’s all good, but don’t get wet within three hours of eating or that water will kill you.
In any case, we exited the ridge-top village and shuffled along the Via Francigena to the fountain, drank, took a group photo, and retraced our steps back to the river, led by the Mayor of Villafranca, who intrepidly took us down an overgrown path brimming with berries.
Luckily, the mayor knew another way to his city via a road wider than any I’ve seen in the Lunigiana (blocked off to cars) where we passed a man who beat his dog mercilessly, causing all manner of consternation among our gathered and well-fed throng; I hesitated a while to see if they’d rip the man to shreds but they didn’t. Lots of pointed stares though.
Then Villafranca came into view. We said our goodbys to our new friends and made our way home.
By the time we got there, I was hungry. Getting lost, retracing steps, and fording rivers does that to a guy. It was a great day. I recommend Passeggiata del Gusto to anyone with an interest in local food, local villages, castles, and walking.
Now get lost. And eat well.