A Different Kind of Food & Wine: The Mangialonga Levanto
Levanto is a gateway to the Cinque Terre, Italy’s famed five towns clinging to the cliffs and coastline in the Liguria Region. It’s the first train stop just north of the Cinque Terre, has a larger town center and feels a little less touristy. Like its Cinque Terre neighbors, it’s both a coastal resort town and great base for hiking. It boasts a large beach you can surf at, is surrounded by 16 medieval villages and plenty of trails for exploring.
I found the Mangialonga Levanto while researching festivals and planning a trip with my friends Ann & Robin. When traveling I like activities that are a bit off the beaten track providing a deeper cultural and local food experience. I suggested we participate in this festival, they agreed it was not to be missed and a great way to cap off our 10 days in Italy. We bought our tickets the first day they went on sale and two months later we were in the second group departing Piazza Cavour donning our official blue handkerchiefs while heading for the hills to begin our food & wine odyssey.
The groups were spread 20 minutes apart but by the second and third stops they had blended in a slow-motion trek through the valley above Levanto. The brochure published by Consorzio Occhio Blu listed the official distance of the trek at approximately 15 km. The well-marked path was strung together by a combination of local roads, cobblestone streets and lush wooded paths filled with wildflowers and even wild asparagus. We walked through lemon trees, olive groves and grape vines; past donkeys, gardens and a farmer hard at work. Every turn of the path revealed a different, beautiful vista of the sea, charming villages, and verdant hillsides.
Each May this festival alternates between 2 paths connecting different combinations of 16 medieval village communities. The menu is published several weeks ahead of time, each village offering one part of the 9-courses served by locals. The anchovy soup was the biggest surprise; it was a thick combination of anchovies, tomatoes, olive oil and fresh herbs. As tasty as the soup was, the ravioli with meat sauce and stuffed lettuce leaves tied for my first place vote. We also enjoyed the other offerings of focaccia with sage, bread with minced lard, chickpea fritters (all agreed the best we had during our stay on the Ligurian coast), fava beans with salame and castagnaccio (a very dense and not particularly sweet chestnut desert).
DJ’s and singers accompanied the food at each stop spinning everything from the 70’s hit “Gloria” to current favorites like PitBull and traditional folk tunes. In total, we visited 8 villages working our way back to the Levanto grand finale complete with espresso, cookies, liqueur and a DJ to bring the party full circle into the night. The walk was estimated to take 3.5 hours of actual hiking time; with additional time to eat, drink, enjoy the music and great people watching it took us 5.5 hours start to finish and was well worth the effort.
Sometimes called Mangialunga (Long Eat), sometimes Mangialonga, it’s a bit like “tomayto” or “tomahto”. Both are correct. Levanto isn’t the only town in Italy to host an event like this, or Europe for that matter. Similar Italian events occur in La Morra, Val Graveglia, Recco, Fivizzano, Badia Prataglia and Paspardo each year. Mendrisio, Switzerland hosts both a spring and winter version. Walking wine and food events in the United States include the “Tahoe City Wine Walk” (California), “Food & Wine Walk of Red Bank” (New Jersey) and “Vintage Redlands” (California); each offering a more flat, condensed version.
Though a newcomer to this type of event, it won’t be my last. Food. Wine. Hiking. It’s the Mind Body Spirit ideal of life balance exemplified.
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