Every year, deep in the Tuscan countryside, is a travel festival devoted entirely to slowing right down. A gathering together to walk, talk, stretch, raft, cycle, eat. To explore the Tuscan culture and landscape. It’s the Slow Travel Fest held near the beautiful hilltop Monteriggioni in mid September.
You may not know it, but slow travel is part of the lifeblood of Tuscany. Ancient pilgrim route the Via Francigena, starting in Canterbury in the UK and finishing in Rome, runs like an artery through Tuscany from head to toe - stretching almost 400km. So for 1000 years, pilgrims have journeyed through Monteriggioni, stopping for food and rest at ostelli like the one the Slow Travel Festival was housed in: the 12th century fortified abbey of Abbadia Isola.
We should know. We’re the two founders of What if we walked? a slow travel blog all about exploring the world on foot. And last summer we walked all 2,000km of the Via Francigena - including of course right through this part of Tuscany. It was an incredible experience. Almost exactly one year later, we were so pleased to return for the Slow Travel Fest, thanks to Visit Tuscany.
But although we came for the walking, there was a lot more to the Slow Travel Fest. The abbey had been transformed with deckchairs, hay bales, a music stage and stalls offering local food and drink. Sessions on walking, the outdoors, crafts and yoga had already begun.
We decided to first stop by a bushcraft workshop, led by wilderness expert Andrew Price. Bushcraft really means the traditional and practical skills of the outdoors, and we learnt how to make fire out in the wild. It was fascinating and we watched, satisfied, as the smoke we created curled up into the blue sky.
Lunch was soon served out under the Tuscan sun. We found a huge spread, some of which we remembered: a chunky bean soup called ribollita, roasted cinghiale (wild boar). Some others we definitely didn’t: tripe (trippa) in creamy tomato sauce, pretty novel for us two young Brits.
After food, we joined a walk back on the Via Francigena. It was surreal, almost as though we were meeting our past selves on the path. As we hiked, we spent a lot of time reflecting and remembering – walking, we’ve found, always gives us the headspace to do that. We walked with a nature guide who pointed out trees, animal tracks, the history of the land. We listened with one ear in the present, one foot in the past.
Dusk was falling when we got back to the abbey. The stalls were now strung with fairy lights, and musicians had begun to play on the stage. We got ourselves a huge platter of local food: farro, radicchio and pecorino cheese and listened to the lyrical Italian songs long into the night, the music echoing in the 900-year-old stone walls.
The Slow Travel Fest is about travel, yes, but also about reconnecting with nature, local culture and your inner self. When you travel, stop and smell the flowers – and there’s nowhere better to do that than in Tuscany.