Walking to Heaven: Italy's Via Matilda with Kate Bolton-Porciatti - Context Travel

Walking to Heaven: Italy's Via Matilda with Kate Bolton-Porciatti


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Stretching from Lombardy, across the Apennines to Tuscany, the Via Matilda traverses the ancient feudal lands of the 11th-century countess Matilda of Canossa - a thousand years of history in 400 thousand footsteps. Join a local expert on Italian cultural history to learn more about Italy’s most seraphic hiking trail.

Our journey begins in the Renaissance city of Mantua and ends in the walled medieval town of Lucca. We meander through the Valley of the River Po, past sleepy Renaissance towns and ancient monasteries where Parma ham and balsamic vinegar were first made around a thousand years ago.

The route then rises into the mountainous ridge of the Apennines - through mystical scenery. Bucolic hills drift into dune-like “calanchi” (corroded sandstone slopes) above which rise dramatic hill-top castles, towers and tors. A millennium ago, they formed a chain of fortifications protecting Matilda’s territories. The most famous of them is Canossa Castle – a legendary place, Italy’s Camelot - now romantically ruined. Timeless cultural traditions live on in the higher Apennines, including the recitation of epic poetry in remote mountain villages.

Countless hikers and pilgrims have traversed this territory over the centuries, partisans and prisoners of war have taken refuge here, while artists and poets have been inspired by its celestial views. Today, it is a glorious way to explore a forgotten Italy - far from the madding crowd.

Led by an expert on Italian cultural history, Kate Bolton-Porciatti (who has walked the route in its entirety), this interactive seminar will explore the history, culture, flora and fauna of the Via Matilda. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased appreciation of one of Italy's most hauntingly beautiful pilgrim routes.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti is a professor of Italian cultural history and music at the Istituto Lorenzo de’Medici and at the British Institute in Florence. She has published extensively as an academic, a critic, and a journalist, and is a regular contributor to BBC Music and The Daily Telegraph. From 1989, for 17 years, she was a producer and broadcaster for BBC Arts & Classical Music in London. She did her MPhil thesis in Italy, exploring the musical and cultural landscape of 15th-century Florence.

This conversation is suitable for all ages, though the content is geared towards adults.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.