Winding over the Apennine mountains between Bologna and Florence, the 80-mile Via degli Dei footpath can be seen as a pilgrimage route of sorts – a way to celebrate “the secular religions of Italian life: food and beauty”, says James Stewart in The Times. It hardly matters which way you walk it. Known as La Grassa, “The Fat One”, Bologna is Italy’s culinary capital, and Florence’s artistic heritage needs no introduction – but neither city is lacking in either respect, and nor is the countryside between them. To make the most of it, proceed at a leisurely pace, stopping for picnics in sunny glades, and use a tour operator such as Inntravel, which provides detailed route notes, reservations at the best village inns, and daily luggage transfers.
Starting from Bologna on a ten-night trip in the early summer, you climb for two days through the Apennine foothills, across wildflower meadows like “swaying carpets of wildflowers”, and past copses alive with birdsong. At the Albergo Poli in the village of Madonna dei Fornelli, the beer tastes “like the tears of angels”, and even a dish as simple as tortellini with butter and sage is superb. Higher in the mountains, you ramble through cool forests of beech and chestnut, where the canopy ripples in the breeze “like water”. Crossing from Emiglia- Romagna into Tuscany, you enter a landscape of rolling fields and farmhouses ringed by orchards and cypress trees. This is the Mugello region, a Tuscany of “tatty Fiat Pandas and tractors”, far from the tourist trail, but with plenty of treasures, such as the Donatello crucifix at the convent in San Piero a Sieve.
From a distance, Florence appears like a vision, spread out under pale luminous skies familiar from Renaissance paintings. If its “splendour and swagger” leave you dazed after such a peaceful week, seek out the Ristorante Cafaggi: there’s nothing a big dish of its slow-cooked beef, or peposo, can’t fix. Ten nights cost from £1,495pp (inntravel.co.uk).
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