Today is the last full day of our pilgrimage. It feels like it has gone at breakneck speed, but – at the same time – it also seems that we have just met each other at the airport, that we have only begun our cammino. And yet we have already said goodbye to both of our mountain leaders now – Maurizio and Luciano, as well as to the people who welcomed us on their paths, shared with us their food and their ways.
All sixty-three of the pilgrims are finally united in the Lazio region, just outside Rome. Including leaders, our group is made up of about one hundred people, so it is a very different kind of cammino compared with all of our previous ones. We start at the natural reserve called Riserva naturale dell’Insugherata and weave our way to the belvedere – a beautiful panorama of the Eternal City. “Our effort everyday is to keep this park like you see it, and for generations to come, so that together we can enjoy sustainable tourism”. These are the words of a representative of RomaNatura, the regional institution which manages the protected areas around Rome. The man describes how there are salamanders in the park and 670 different types of species and vegetation.
The view over Rome is expansive – the Cupola di San Pietro in the distance punctuates where we will be going tomorrow. We stop for a brief espresso and head to the Chiesa di San Lazzaro ai Lebbrosi on the ancient Via Francigena.
This small church was the last stop for pilgrims before entering the city of Rome. It used to be where all of them would be checked to see whether they were healthy enough to precede: if the pilgrims had leprosy, they would be quarantined and refused entry to Rome. But fortunately enough, we are all healthy pilgrims, so we will only be stopping by the church for lunch.
This place has embraced its traditions from the nearby hamlet of Cesano. The people are dressed elegantly in medieval attire, as they parade up and down the road recalling the days of old. Spread out in the middle of the street across a long table, we are served a simple lunch inspired by what the original pilgrims would have eaten: pasta and bean soup (pasta e fagioli), polenta cornmeal mush, bread, salami, grilled vegetables and ricotta cheese. It is exceptionally wonderful to eat lunch together outside in the sunshine – all one hundred of us.
The community puts on a concert featuring medieval music just inside the church of Saint Lazarus. Four musicians play drum, recorder, lyre and sing and send melodious Baroque sounds through the building, which provides a wonderful acoustic setting for this kind of music.
It is time to head to the grand hotel where we will be spending our last night of this trip – Villa Tuscolana in Frascati. We drive through the wide streets of Rome and glimpse some of its spectacular landmarks, such as the Colosseum and the Lateran Palace. Even from the inside of a bus, they look magnificent. I definitely am planning a return trip to see these wonderful sights in full detail and spend more time with them.
The villa is situated high up, a little out of Rome. It is exquisite and I sincerely recommend it to all of you, if you ever get the chance to stay in these parts: it is everything you could ever imagine a Roman villa to be! However, it seems quite ironic to be doing a pilgrimage and yet stay in a luxury villa. But speaking with Gianfranco Nalin and Sylvia – who work for our partner, Italia Slow Tour – I understand that this is just an example of the diverse nature of tourism in central Italy. How amazing that both things can even be combined in the first place – walking, and being at one with nature, as well as staying in second-to-none accommodation! It also shows that Italy is seeing a new side to tourism – one that surpasses preconceptions or conventions, and goes into the realm of the adventurous, the innovative, the exciting.
We arrive at sunset, and the sun lights the courtyard with its central fountain and views over Lazio. Our rooms have vault ceilings and sponged peach walls with cream, gold, blue, and mustard yellow furnishings. With a little time to rest, we all freshen up before meeting once again for our last dinner together. The setting for it is literally jaw dropping. There are chefs with tall hats lined up by the appetizers, which are being served off golden mirrors. Ricotta sprinkled with pistachio, chicken liver mousse covered in nuts, and cheese straws like cigars wrapped in prosciutto ham are just some of the delicacies that I try. Every dish that we are presented with comes from one of the regions of Italian Wonder Ways: Umbria, Marche, Toscana, and Lazio. I particularly love the starter: Tuscan panzanella bread salad.
Gianfranco and Sylvia have come from Milan and Bologna to be with us, so we exchange stories and thank them for this amazing experience. Without a doubt, doing a cammino with Italian Wonder Ways is an amazing way to discover Italy “slowly” – that is, connecting with the land and people of each place, and also connecting relationally with yourself and a team of other people. “I promise you that this experience will change you on the inside” – is what one of the representatives from Umbria Region tells us. Having now completed my Cammino Francescano della Marca, I can’t agree with him more.