Levanto’s Twentieth Mangialonga has come and gone but its emotions and flavours are still very present.

This was the second time I had taken part in a Mangialonga but the route and the menu change every year so setting off  with friends to do it again was actually a whole new experience.

You explore new villages, discover beautiful new viewpoints, taste the wonderful local dishes that you haven’t the patience to cook for yourself, sample the wines, join in raucous choruses and dance in the village squares to enthusiastic live bands. You hike along the winding country  paths amongst the colours and scents of the flowers and herbs which are almost overpowering at this time of year to enjoy this ever original event.

This year’s itinerary took in the eastern side of the Levanto valley, with stops in eight of the quiet little old villages which for a day are invaded and overrun by hundreds of walkers who in return are offered the best of the stunning views which the villages enjoy in addition to an original taste of the best of traditional village life – food and fun.

Right  in the heart of Levanto is Piazza Cavour, surrounded on three sides by the cloisters of what was once a convent of Clarissan nuns, and our starting point. We are given our meal tickets, a bright blue bandana and a little rucksack of the same colour. This was a welcome surprise for many of the less organised walkers.

We set out on the 10km hike:

The walk as far as Ridarolo was fairly easy and flat and allowed us time and leisure to have a look at the craft stalls in via Garibaldi before passing through the archway which marks the edge of the old town. I had never walked through  this part of the outskirts of town  and was pleasantly surprised by the number of well-tended vegetable gardens along the way and also by  the tasty sage focaccia everyone enjoyed on arrival.

The path to Fontona is a bit harder going but walking in a group means someone is always cracking a joke and the contagious laughter turns the uphill climb into a bonding social event. Slices of lardy ham from Castiglione Chiavarese with red wine and live music made our arrival in the village even more convivial.

My friends and I already knew the path to  Chiesanuova and on to Legnaro having participated in the SenSuoSa event in the past, but the views from this part of the path over the valley and out to sea are so beautiful that you never tire of them. Just as you never tire of eating fried’ panissa’ or the delicious ravioli ‘al tocco’ ( the Ligurian take on meat sauce). Or of joining in with a samba after lunch to help the digestion!

It took us a while to tear ourselves away from the music and dancing in Legnaro and head up the path to San Bartolomeo but our effort was rewarded with more stunning views and a sing song with some other hikers, whose friendship we then consolidated over a tasty anchovy ’bagnun’ and to the sound of Genovese folk songs on arrival. The little church of San Bartolomeo has something quite poetic and magical about it as it stands in a little clearing in the woods. It would be a fine place for meditation or yoga.

The fifth stage took us to Pastine where I learned that I  like stuffed lettuce. Stuffed vegetables are a typical Ligurian speciality but up until now I had only ever come across stuffed courgettes, onions, tomatoes or peppers. It goes to show: you live and learn…

It took only a few minutes to walk from Pastine to Vignana but it also took us on a journey back in time! On arriving in this very particular little village which enjoys a great sea view, we were greeted with a plate of fava beans and salami and by a fantastic live band playing sixties music which meant that this was going to be a long stop! We sang and laughed and danced so much that it will be a long time before we forget what a special time we had there.

The last stage of the walk was sweet: not just because of the chestnut and raisin cake which was served but because it was downhill! It might seem a small detail, but after many kilometres of walking,  a bit of downhill is always welcome. I had never been to Lerici (yes, same name as the more famous Lerici in the Spezia ‘Poet’s Gulf’) and now I know that it is worth a visit, perhaps in a quieter moment. I was particularly impressed by the stone arch at the village entrance, and by the flowery pergola and pretty village square. I will definitely be back.

When we eventually arrived back in Levanto in Piazza Staglieno we had some more to eat! The city of Orvieto is another ‘slow city’ and had set up a ‘slow food’ stand offering sweet biscuits cooked in a wood oven with some Svinnere liqueur. Well ‘Mangialonga’ does translate literally as ‘the long eat’!

It was late afternoon by the time we got back, tired and happy and already looking forward to next year’s event which we will definitely take part in, probably with even more friends. In the meantime we are swapping snapshot photos and lively videos and still smiling at the thought of the laughs we had and the people we met on this fun packed day.

Before the 2016 Mangialonga is announced, most likely on the third Sunday in May, and booking starts, I would advise you to follow Visit Levanto on Facebook so you won’t miss out on any other events and you can see the photos from this year’s walk.

No need to add that I highly recommend it!

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