After a few months of staying indoors, I was clearly exhibiting mild symptoms of “cabin fever” and was itching to travel again. I wanted to go out and experience the great outdoors and preferred testing the waters by travelling local. One of the many things that the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted deeply, is the way the world will plan travel! The events of this year, more than ever before, have made travellers sit up and prioritize the impact of their travel – on nature, on the destinations and the locals, on our planet and on themselves. It is less about where you are traveling and more about how you can travel better.
While most travel experts had already predicted that “Slow Travel” will trend in 2020, the after-effects of Covid-19 has ensured that this prediction came true! Now seems like the best time to ditch the hurry and indulge in mindful travelling. And slow travel is exactly what I did in the last week of June, as Italy slowly recovered from the Coronavirus and started going back to normal. Some meaningful conversations with fellow travel experts about post-Covid-19 travel planning inspired me to take the plunge. It also helps that the “slow travel” movement is an offshoot of the “slow food movement”, which began in my Bel Paese, Italy in the 1980s as a protest against the opening of a McDonald's in Rome!
So, for my first post-Covid 19 trip, I planned a journey to a place that is synonymous with slow travel – a 4 day, 86 kms long trek along the slopes of the Amerini mountains in the green heart of Italy – Umbria. This walking trail, known as Cammino dei Borghi Silenti or the Way of the Silent Villages is one of the many beautiful surprises tucked away in the stunning landscape of Italy. When I was back home, I genuinely felt refreshed and rejuvenated instead of experiencing travel burnout. So here are five more reasons why slow travel was the perfect antidote after months of lock-down at home!
5 reasons why the Cammino dei Borghi Silenti is the perfect "slow travel" experience!
1. It’s just a road trip away!
The starting point of this 86 km long trek was Tenaglie, a little village in the Terni province which was barely a two-hour car drive away from home. Since we were travelling by road within Italy, it gave us ample time to savour the actual destination, without having to hurry or worry about sticking to any timelines. This was the perfect way to start a trip where the focus was on ‘taking it slow’.
2. The secret villages of Umbria are hidden from tourists and crowds
Italian Borghi (villages) are famous world-over for their picturesque charm, like the Cinque Terre which are among world’s most Instagrammed villages and see more than 2.5 million tourists every year! So, it was a pleasant surprise to walk through some of the most unspoiled and intact medieval villages that lay on the route of the Cammino dei Borghi Silenti. These “silent villages” were stunning oasis of peace and calm starting right from the village of Tenaglie and then Santa Restituta, Toscolano, Melezzole, Morruzze, Morre, Acqualoreto, and Civitella del Lago. The purpose of slow travel is to be able to have an authentic experience. The trek through these tourist-free villages of Umbria gave us exactly that!
Each village had its own poetic beauty, wrapped in a soothing silence and was like a hidden gem set among the oak trees, chestnut, and hornbeam woods of the Amerini mountains! The entire region is one of the least known and barely frequented by tourists in the whole of Umbria. In fact, most of these villages do not have too many inhabitants. There were some villages which only had 13 permanent residents! As we walked for hours from one quiet village to another, lingering in the paved alleys, admiring the flowered balconies of the stone houses, and drinking in the stunning scenery, we hardly met another living soul. We were ‘socially distancing’ without making any extra efforts!
3. Experience the 3 ‘R’s of slow travel - relax, reflect and reconnect!
The four days I spent covering this scenic trek, I truly understood the meaning of slow travel. I had not just visited a new place or ticked a destination off my bucket-list. Instead, I had truly relaxed as I experienced the rural beauty of the Umbrian villages. I had seen, tasted, inhaled, and felt new sights, flavours and fragrances, instead of hurriedly following an itinerary!
As I walked in a circuitous route from Tenaglie to Tenaglie in 4 days and 86km, I was rejecting conventional tourism. Instead, I allowed myself to be completely immersed in the unique experience of slowly traversing through the verdant hills and medieval villages. Giving myself enough time to reflect and spend time with my thoughts.
I was taking this trip with two lovely ladies, my best friends since ages. The luxury of time that this 4-day trek gave us, truly allowed me to reconnect and bond with them all over again. We were just three happy girls, sharing stories and laughs, witnessing endless horizons and gorgeous sunsets, and cherishing our deep friendship as we criss-crossed the beautiful paths of the Way of the Silent Villages.
4. You get to walk, trek, hike and be one with nature!
After so many weeks of being cooped up at home, we could not wait to get up, close and personal with nature. The best part about the experiencing Cammino dei Borghi Silenti was the fact that we covered the entire way putting one foot in front of another – travel that is literally slow! We rose with the sun every morning and embraced each day full of promises of enriching moments and miraculous sights!
Since we were walking, we had the freedom to set our own pace. Sometimes we were so transfixed and mesmerized by the stark beauty of nature laid out in front of us, that we would just stand and stare! Each of the four days we spent trekking around the ring-like route, Mother Nature gifted us varying panoramic views. One day it would be a stunning view of the Tiber valley, or the Farello gorges by the Tiber river; another day it would be majestic Amerini mountains or a breath-taking view from atop Mount Melezzole, an exuberant view of the Lake Corbara or the olive plantations of the Vallone di San Lorenzo. As we navigated our way through dirt roads, and dense woods, going uphill or downhill, crossing radiant sunflower fields, we were thrilled to see the wild beauty of the place intact and untouched!
5. Connect meaningfully with local culture, community, and cuisine!
The Way of the Silent Villages allowed us to slowly make our way through almost 12 villages, each that were characteristically Umbrian and medieval, brimming with stories and charm. From the 7th century castle of Poggio Vecchio to the charming Hermitage of Pasquarella, the entire route is peppered with places of historic and cultural interest. What made the experience most authentic was our interaction with the beautiful people we met on our way. One of the most memorable moments was on the third day of our trek, when we were passing by the charming little village of Scoppieto, we were graciously invited by a friendly villager, Guido and his daughter Marina into their home for coffee! The endearing friendliness of inviting a bunch of strangers into your home left a deep impression on me, reminding me that in the end, travel is all about these human connections!
Every night of the four day trail, we rested in one of these villages, staying in charming bed & breakfast (BnBs) farmhouses. We ended up making meaningful conversations and forged true friendship with the welcoming locals who ran these home stays like Emanuela and her family at Borgo Morruzze and Adelaide of Agriturismo Le Macchie in Baschi.
And the food! Nothing brings people together better than some soul-satisfying food. Every meal we had was true to the regional cuisine, so simple yet delicious and worth much more than every buck we spent. Like the farm-to-table fare (slow food!) served by Chiara at Ristorante Semiramide in the village of Melezzole!
In retrospect, I truly believe that my sojourn through the Cammino dei Borghi Silenti was an ideal example of a trip that embraced the notion of slow. I got more time to do fewer things, but in a better way. Instead of just “seeing”, I spent time “being” in the place. And this gem of an experience was hidden away so close to home, a pleasant surprise indeed!