👣 17 km by foot – Monday 18 October
Believe it or not, but today, after 4 months on the road, we arrived in Santa Maria di Leuca! A big wave of emotions crashed on to me now that I reached this milestone, so I’ll try to be concise and put all these feelings in words. I must say though, it was such a busy day that I didn’t really have the time to realize my journey was coming to an end – I’ve become so used to traveling that as far as I know I could still be half-way through.
More and more people joined us for this last stage – some new faces but also many people that have already walked with us during the last 4 months, from England, France, Switzerland and Italy, bringing back beautiful memories to me all at once. More of our ambassadors came back, such as Frank Damiano and Andrea Alessandrini. I feel absolutely surrounded by friends!
We were a massive group today, but a part of us didn’t walk the entire stage: some took the historical train, made available by the FS Italiane Foundation, departing from Otranto and arriving in Gagliano; from there, some took a shuttle to Leuca, others walked the rest of the stage with us. Keep in mind that not all supporters of our initiative, of slow tourism and of walking journeys are necessarily walkers themselves, and it was fundamental for us to allow all our friends to take part in today’s celebration!
On board the train, in the conference carriage, was the Italian Minister of Tourism, Massimo Garavaglia, as well as EAVF’s President, Massimo Tedeschi, our Director, Luca Bruschi, the Director of FS Italiane, Luigi Cantamessa, Mons. Liberio Andreatta, and many journalists. Meanwhile, we walked from Tricase to Gagliano (approximately 10 km) among olive trees and traditional dry-stone walls: the typical Apulian landscape we have been crossing for the past few weeks. We were all a little worried by the weather, as the sun progressively got covered by clouds: it could have started to rain at any time – an unfortunate situation for our final celebration in Leuca. I live-broadcasted most of today’s journey on EAVF’s social media (Facebook and Instagram), involving as many people as I could: our staff, ambassadors, video makers, local (and not) institutions and associations, etc., asking them to reflect on their experience with Road to Rome.
We had our lunch break in Gagliano under some beautiful, high palm trees while we waited for the arrival of the historical train; in the meantime, some local school’s students joined us to walk from here on. Unfortunately, some rain joined us as well during these last 7 kilometers, and as a result we walked quite quickly for the remaining route.
At the very last kilometer, we were joined by the actors of the Theater School of Versailles (Académie Internationale Des Arts du Spectacle) who we met on our day of departure in Calais! They are here to perform their theater piece “La Légende de Sigéric” in Leuca after the institutional events planned upon arrival, and I’m incredibly glad I finally get to see them perform. They accompanied us in costume while singing some of their songs from the theater piece. And thus, along the last hundreds of meters, our group continued to expand, up to about 120 – 150 people!
I was in the middle of a live broadcast on Instagram when we arrived at the Basilica in Santa Maria di Leuca and was not entirely living the moment yet. I filmed the group holding the Road to Rome banner while climbing up the stairs of the Basilica, joining the Italian Minister Garavaglia and our President Tedeschi. At some point, finally, I ended my livestream and put my phone away.
And suddenly here I was, standing in front of the Basilica de Finnibus Terrae of Santa Maria di Leuca, not believing my eyes at all. The Basilica stands tall together with the second tallest lighthouse in Europe, and behind it is the open Mediterranean Sea: my gaze was looking for a path to take from here, but there is no way to continue walking, just water on all sides in front of me. So, standing in the rain, I looked at the Basilica, at the sea, at the group of people, my friends… and all of a sudden it hit me – the realization that my journey had ended.
We scrambled all together in a rush to take Road to Rome’s biggest group picture in front of the Basilica, and right after that I became overwhelmed by my emotions and needed to cry. But I looked around and noticed I was not alone: many of my friends were as moved as I was, and I felt a wave of empathy and warmth from the new and beautiful friendships I have built along my pilgrimage.
Once I put myself together again, I walked with everyone inside the Basilica, where the first part of our arrival ceremony was planned, getting myself out of the autumn rain. Minister Garavaglia and EAVF’s President Tedeschi opened the celebration, congratulating us, and we queued to get our credentials stamped for the very last time.
When we left the Basilica, I realized that the square was packed with people – I think 200 people were there with us. At the same time, preparations for our final event were ongoing, including preparations for the online broadcasting, and the entire square was very lively. I was about to take part in the event too: I was asked to talk about my whole experience – but in 3 minutes only!
Luckily the sun came out as the final event began, and during my presentation the last rays of sunlight warmed up my face as I tried to summarize 4 months of Via Francigena. In my 3-minutes pitch I could not even try and describe my entire journey, so instead I reflected on my feeling and my self-development. My pilgrimage involved my body 100%: not only my legs were walking, not only my lungs where breathing, but every inch of me was in a full immersion. First of all, my head was wrapped in the big amount of work I had to do every day, managing all of EAVF’s communication and social media activity for the event. I realized this was the most difficult and challenging job I had ever done, but also the most beautiful. Secondly, my heart was wrapped by the huge amount of people I shared my journey with: every person who joined and helped us – let it be for 1 day or for 2 weeks, physically or remotely – everyone contributed to the big success of the event. Thirdly, my belly was always filled along the journey (and everyone laughed when I said this) by amazing food, wine, gastronomy delicacies of every territory I crossed. It was a culinary as well as geographical journey, across traditions! But my belly did not only digest food, to me it also actively took part in the digestion of cultures, history, arts and architecture. I didn’t just see heritage along the route, passing by and forgetting about it; I learned, metabolized, took it all in. There is so much tangible and intangible heritage to digest along the Via Francigena! And the quality of the heritage is extremely various: some is ‘happy’ and some ‘unhappy’, as are, for example, the traces of World War One in Northern France (I’m thinking, for example, about the many enormous war cemeteries). Finally, my legs took me across 3,200 kilometers, crossing regions, territories and landscapes. I’ve seen seas, rivers, lakes, flatlands, mountains, hills, each with a peculiar character, and I’ve experienced polarizing climates and temperatures.
At the end of all pitches, we were finally able to assist to the performance ‘La Légende de Sigéric’ by the International Academy of Versailles, which was absolutely awesome! These actors are extremely talented – if you have a chance to see them, don’t miss it! I highly recommend them!
We concluded our day – and our journey – with one last dinner all together, with lots of music and dancing: a feast to officially finish our Road to Rome adventure! One more time I want to thank all the friends who joined – EAVF’s staff, the ambassadors, the video makers, all local associations, all municipalities and institutions, all passionate pilgrims and walkers, all those who welcomed us and gave us hospitality. And I want to thank you, our follower and supporter – thank you for reading my blogs, thank you for having been with us all this time!
But take note: this was just the beginning. Not the beginning of the Via Francigena, of course, which EAVF has already developed and promoted extensively over the last 20 years; but the beginning of a new form of successful tourism: a new dawn for slow tourism and outdoor activity, a high-quality tourism, the tourism of the future and of today, already proving to be the best response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Road to Rome is a new beginning for the quality of the Via Francigena, for our association and for sustainable tourism – it can only go up from here, with new developments and projects flourishing from our renewed network, our partners and our friends. The next months and years will be important and very positive for the Via Francigena… so I invite you all to continue to support us and read our updates as we proceed! Walk on!!!
– The emotional arrival!!
– The performance ‘La Légende de Sigéric’ by the International Academy of Versailles
– Thinking about the future and the coming projects for the Via Francigena
TODAY’S WALKERS (over 130 people joining!)
…Too many to mention all!