16th November 2020
‘I know the path’s here somewhere’ said Dom, our guide, at the end of a field as he disappeared into thick undergrowth. With Covid having limited tourism this year, what had been a well sign posted, way-marked route had vanished beneath tangled creepers and blackberry bushes. From the outside forest seem impenetrable. Not for Dom. Unfazed, he told us to wait whilst he burrowed his way through the brambles to look for the path. The rest of us happily waited, stuffing our faces on the sweet black fruit growing all around us. Some minutes later, Dom’s voice emerged from a distance, announcing that he had found the trail…phew! We all followed into the dark. Anyone who thought signing up for a walking tour in Italy would be unadventurous, would be proved otherwise.
The holiday started with a very civilised tour of Bologna which claims to have the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088. Simple enjoyment like sitting down at a café table with seven people in the Piazza Maggiore surrounded by medieval and Renaissance structures, just watching the world go by (albeit with a lot less foot traffic than normal), is a luxury in these Covid times. We had quickly formed a bubble as Wild Frontiers had asked everyone to take a swab test before leaving the UK. After a simple but delicious lunch, we drove to Dom’s home, an agritourism close to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Urbino run by him and his wonderful wife, Nargiza. This was to be our home for the next four days. We couldn’t have been made to feel more welcomed by Dom’s family. Their talented teenage children entertained us with songs on the piano whilst Nargiza prepared delicious dishes made from local produce. One of the attractions of Italy is of course the food. Being a foodie, I was delighted with the high quality of the meals and wine throughout the trip.
The next day, we walked along the scenic Adriatic coast, through the beautiful national park of San Bartolo and stopped for a delicious lunch of fresh seafood at a local restaurant in the pretty seaside village of Fiorenzuola di Focara before visiting the fortified medieval town of Gradara. On another day, we walked through the Cesane Forest to the picturesque village of Fossombrone. We stopped for a fun (in more ways than you think) wine tasting at the lovely family run Guerrieri vineyard where we unintentionally stayed for much longer than expected due to a drone needing rescue but that is another story. Fortunately, we were at a vineyard and the owner was incredibly generous with his wines.
It would be difficult to choose what is the highlight of the trip as we saw some amazing sights during our nine days tour including: Urbino with its turreted 15th century Palazzo Ducale where you can see paintings by Titian and Raphael (who was born here); and the little-known medieval town of Gubbio with its Gothic architecture, majestic Roman Theatre and its massive 14th century Palazzo dei Consoli which houses the Eugubine Tablets (a set of bronze tablets that together make up the largest surviving text in ancient Umbrian). For me, the highlight would have to be Slowcanda, a charming family run guesthouse at the small hamlet of Bacciardi which sits on a ridge on the side of Mount Nerone. Here, time stood still with only seven inhabitants. The views from this quiet and remote place are stunning and the family lovely and warm. We had a fun pasta making class and were served exceedingly good food (luckily for us, not from the pasta we made), washed down with really yummy local wine.
On the whole, the trip was very well balanced with visits to some beautiful historical cultural sites along with some good long strenuous walks, sometimes on challengingly steep terrain, working up our appetites for delicious food and wine. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to go on this trip and experienced such warm hospitality and wonderful sights.