“Every day I walk out into the world
To be dazzled, then to be reflective.”
~ Mary Oliver, from Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond)
Between May 10-21, 2020, I invite you to join me in Italy; on a unique, 12-day walking odyssey through nature & experiential creativity. From Lucca to Siena, we will explore the Tuscan countryside – while tapping into our inner resources & landscapes.
A pilgrimage is about finding your voice in the world…and listening closely to the inner muse that guides you to more fully express the essence of your being. You’re ready for the walk. But you don’t want to leave your creative juices behind, because your heart has longings as potent as your legs. Why not pack them in along with your hat, socks and hikers? I invite you to discover the beauty of your own story and the gifts of your creative spirit, amidst the gorgeous Tuscan landscape. Join us on a journey of contemplation & courage. Shake up your sense of adventure & playfulness… and free up your creativity!
Feeling called to exert your body and expand your soul at the same time?
Retreat On Your Feet leaves Lucca on May 10th, 2020!
Today’s pilgrims are walking for reasons that transcend religion; many are looking to slow down and really set off on paths – Italy’s via Francigena among them – at the “speed of life.” After walking this route (and beyond) this past September, I decided to conjure up something different. Which is why I’m so excited to share what I’ve dreamed up with all of you: Retreat On Your Feet is designed to allow a small group of pilgrims to experience a portion of the via Francigena in a slower, meditative and experiential way.
Exactly what will happen will depend upon the group, and our daily sights, insights and sensations. There might be slow movement, drawing, gently plucking leaves and fruit, journal writing… or silence and solitude. We may perform a ritual based on healing and wellness; perhaps guided or heightened by essential oils. Spirits and trees and earth and air may guide our bodies – when to pick up the pace, when to slow down, when to rest… We will listen to our inner knowing as much as to whispers from the air.
“When you use the SLOW gear, everything falls into place. You connect more, create more, focus more and achieve more. You become more.”
Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slow
Over the course of 12 days, we will take regular breaks; not only to give our legs relief, but to explore what arises while we walk. There will be writing exercises (free-writing or with prompts), poetry-scribing, art-making (using materials carried and plucked – gently – from nature); opportunities to stretch our calves and bodies – in dance and meditation – to ease any tightness and discomfort. Prepare to push yourself in all directions; physically, spiritually, emotionally, and creatively!
We don’t quite know what will unfold… because each day we will arrive at a new location, with that day’s backdrop (and your pain level) as a starting point of inspiration. But this too is part of the magic and mystery that will reveal itself as we take our souls – and soles – out for a walk, on this mighty courageous & creative adventure.
A Rare Opportunity
When we walk, far and slow, we are presented with an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about ourselves. Imagine the possibility of leaning into transformation, using the simplest of tools: your legs; for it is rare that a journey on foot doesn’t result in deeper understanding, revelation, gratitude, or acceptance.
Join Retreat On Your Feet, for this unique journey through Tuscany, when two ancient forms merge: walking and the creative process. By virtue of our shared expressive experiences – whether in writing, meditative movement, joyful dance, visualization and art process – we will forge a new path for pilgrims. Imagine being part of a shared travel experience, a community of wandering creatives!
We will enjoy gatherings throughout the day, convene for communal dinners, and experience the awe of magnificent landscapes in Italy.
*May 10 – 21, 2020*
May is the ideal time for walking in Tuscany, along the via Francigena; the weather co-operates, the valleys and forests transform into green lushness, and the crowds are less numerous! The route from Lucca to Siena mirrors the joyful and unpredictable undulations of life; the path weaves between the greys of concrete jungle and industrial clutter, to the serenity and solace of rolling hills, blue skies, bell towers, forts and pastoral landscapes.
The Itinerary: Lucca to Siena
Day 1 (May 10) – Arrive in Lucca
After settling in, we will gather in the late afternoon – to watch a show and visit the museum located at the entry point to the via Francigena, and to collect our pilgrim credenziale (pilgrim’s passport). We will regroup in the evening for a pre-pilgrimage dinner. We’ll aim for an early night, so we get plenty of rest before setting out *early* the following morning!
Day 2 (May 11) – Lucca to Altopascio (18.5 km)
We may start off our day with a stop at a bar – for a morning coffee and cornito (croissant)! As we meander along the route, between industrial landscapes and country roads, we will see churches and bell towers; a cemetery and an abbey under archaeological study. Along the way, we will stop periodically; to stretch our bodies; to write and read; and to record, in colour, our initial reflections. By day’s end, we will reach our “resting place” (ad Teupascio, the original name of Altopascio), where we’ll seek out a stamp that reproduces the medieval pilgrim’s “pistacchia” (metal pass)! Hopefully, after sunset and an early dinner, we will all get a good night’s rest.
Day 3 (May 12) – Altopascio to Fucecchio / Ponte a Cappiano (approx 15 km)
Today, the Via Francigena heads into the woods. You will pass through the medieval hamlets of Casa Greppi and Galleni, before stepping into the Bosco delle Cerbaie… where you might spot a herd of horses. We will stop in a shaded space of field along the way, where we will listen closely to the sounds of nature, read, write and conjure creative pieces out of the day’s sights and scents. We will wrap up in Fucecchio (or nearby Ponte a Cappiano), where we will marvel at the Medici Bridge… and dine before bed.
Day 4 (May 13) – Fucecchio to San Miniato (approx 14 km)
Fucecchio is home to Italy’s largest inland marsh; a paradise for birdwatchers and plant-lovers. Today’s walk will lead you by a fortress, a view over the Valdarno and into San Pierino – where we will rest and recharge… over haiku, art and wine. The steep ascent towards San Miniato will be your stimulus for a writing practice, focusing on altitude, challenge and aspiration. We’ll eat, sleep and dream (in technicolor, I hope!)
Day 5 (May 14) – Day Trip to Leonardo da Vinci’s birthplace & museum
If your creative juices haven’t been squeezed out by now, a visit – by pre-arranged minivan – to the birthplace region of one of history’s greatest artists and geniuses is sure to kickstart any hidden dreams and whisperings. A day that will fill us with wonder and inspiration… with some walking thrown in as well. Certo!
Day 6 (May 15) – San Miniato to Coiano (approx 12 km)
A ridge walk leading out of town, will be followed by a stop in Calenzano for the day’s digestibles. At Coiano, we will gather by the fountain for stretches, gentle movement and writing… before washing up (laundry anyone?!) and watching the sun set behind the cypress groves.
Day 7 (May 16) – Coiano to Gambassi di Terme (10-15 km)
We will wander through olive groves, wheat fields, and vineyards – until our ascent into Gambassi di Terme, home of the historic thermal baths. After a rest and warm soak, maybe even a massage (!), we may dip into some art-making, while reflecting upon our spiritual and physical wellbeing. After snacks & drinks in the village center, our affable hospitalera, Giuseppina, will regale us with stories of the via Francigena, pilgrim lore and local life.
Day 8 (May 17) – Gambassi di Terme to San Gimignano (13.4 km)
On this breathtakingly picturesque section, you will delight in the lush landscape of trees, churches and forts. We will rest at the Santuario di Pancole, where legend says the Madonna appeared to a mute shepherdess, healing her condition. We will reflect upon, and write about, our own (definition of) miracles. Arriving at San Gimignano, we will gather inside Rocca di Montestaffoli (fort), for a reflection and creative experience centered on walls; both natural and manmade.
Day 9 (May 18) – San Gimignano to Colle val d’Elsa (12 km)
Today’s portion of the Via Francigena takes you through woodland, wheat fields and olive groves… picturesque Tuscany at its best! Our route will diverge off the main – and much more demanding – path, just past Molino di Azano. In the hamlet of Prodeggia, you will delve into a writing practice, reflecting on the life path you have forged, and continue to envision, for yourself; with all its diversions and detours. At Colle val d’Elsa, we will seek out the legendary glassworks; after which you will have the opportunity to create a transparency-themed piece of art.
Day 10 (May 19) – Colle val d’Elsa to Abbadia Isola (8-10 km)
Our last night before reaching the spellbinding medieval city of Siena. Although we will stay over in Abbadia Isola, you are welcome to hike up into the minuscule but quaint village of Monteriggioni.
Day 11 (May 20) – Abbadia Isola to Siena (17 km)
On this, your last full day on the Via Francigena, winding up with a steady uphill climb, you will (be encouraged to) walk in silence. Whenever we voluntarily step inwards, our experiences are markedly different than when conversation fills our ears. In that quiet space, you may find yourself paying closer attention to colours, sounds, scents… even changing cloud patterns! We may gather around a 200-year old oak – to move our bodies in the shadow of an ancient tree, write, draw and express gratitude for nature’s timeless welcome and embrace. On arrival in Siena, marking the end of this momentous journey, we will have a special celebratory stop for pizza slices in the historic center. After checking in, relaxing or meandering through the picturesque village, we will gather for dinner in the city’s renowned Piazza del Campo… followed by the compulsory gelato!
Day 12 (May 21) – Departure from Siena
After this immersion of walking in nature + creative process, you might need a long rest (or to catch a flight home)! But if you’d like to spend a day or more in Siena (or luxuriate at an agriturismo/villa nearby) please let me know. I’ll be happy to offer suggestions!
12-Day Retreat On Your Feet (Tuscany): May 10-21, 2020.
Maximum group capacity: 7 persons + organizer. So please book or register your interest at the email address below… asap!
> Deposit of $500.00 (by December 31)
> Balance of $900.00 due by March 31, 2020.
>Included: *Accommodations (including taxes and service charges); 11 nights in a variety of lodgings (hostels, convents, monasteries, agriturismo – bathrooms also vary, from private to shared). *Admission to Via Francigena Entry Point – Museum & show (Lucca). *Welcome dinner in Lucca. *Day trip to the birthplace and hometown of Leonardo da Vinci. *Celebratory lunch on arrival in Siena: scrumptious pizza indulgence! *Credenziale (pilgrim’s passport). *Packing list. *Lightly-guided walk along the via Francigena pilgrimage route. *Luggage transport by van, from Lucca to Siena. (In order for you to derive maximum benefit and enjoyment from this journey, pre-arranged transport services will pick up and drop off our gear each day.) *Writing and/or art materials.
>Excluded: Airfare. Tips & gratuities. Personal expenses, such as drinks, snacks & entrance fees not mentioned. Travel / health insurance (*compulsory*). Food – except as noted above. Any extra transport fees that may be required on an individual basis. (But, have no fear: we will walk – loosely – as a group, so nobody will be left behind!)
TRAVEL INSURANCE: It is strongly recommended that all workshop participants purchase trip cancellation, emergency medical evacuation, baggage, accident and medical insurance from a reputable insurance company. Please
PASSPORTS: Please make sure you have a valid passport (approx. 6 months beyond your return date) and check your country’s visa requirement.
FINAL ITINERARY AND TRAVEL DETAILS: Final travel and itinerary details will be completed and distributed approximately 14 days before departure. Due to possible changes in weather or other unforeseen circumstances (such as fatigue), some arrangements may be modified wherever necessary.
It would be a JOY to share this distinctive experience of walking + creativity with you. Please take a moment to browse previous creative expression sessions and workshops right here: Heartshops. Then, if your heart feels tugged in the direction of this innovative hike through contemplation and creativity, please contact me asap to reserve your spot!
- Early To Rise! In order for us to greet the sun each day, walk in some of the cooler hours of the day (i.e. avoid the high heat of noon – or rain, as the case may be), we will aim to depart our lodgings each morning between 6-6:30 a.m. So, yes, wake-up will be around 5:30 a.m. If you haven’t tried it, you can’t imagine how refreshing and energizing it is… with the promise of a coffee-stop, on the way.
- Making Art: No art experience required! This is about exploration and self-expression, from within. Some art supplies will be provided, but… feel free to pack any favoured, lightweight items of your own:
- Pencil, pen, Sharpie, a few choice coloured pencils.
- Sketchbook and/or notebook, to take notes and record ideas.
YOUR PILGRIM GUIDE
A lawyer by training, Amit Janco is a writer, artist, yoga teacher and seasoned hiker. She also designs all-natural labyrinths and practices Narrative Therapy and Reiki (Level II). With a wide and eclectic background, in fine and graphic arts, energy healing, Iyengar yoga and travel, Amit offers an unorthodox approach to her individual and group HEARTshops– which she has facilitated in Canada, Nepal, Cambodia, and Bali. What might begin with a stroll along the beach or in a forest, might expand into a multi-dimensional practice incorporating the arts, music, movement, writing, visualization, essential oils and energy healing. Amit’s passion for long-distance, mindful walking, resurfaced as a result of a devastating and near-fatal accident; during a prolonged period of physical recovery and rehabilitation, she rediscovered the healing powers of art, walking, stillness and nature.
In 2013, Amit walked nearly 1000 kms along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. Her newly released memoir, (Un)Bound, Together: A Journey to the End of the Earth (and Beyond), weaves together the disparate threads of physical impairment, emotional acrobatics and a search for spiritual grounding on the Camino.
In September 2019, Amit set out on a 3-week pilgrimage walk, from Lucca to Rome, along Italy’s Via Francigena. She fell in love.. with the towering cypresses and maritime pine trees; and hopes that you will too!
Amit will guide you in accessing your creative flow, with an open heart and mindful soul.
Web: amitjanco.com ~ Blog: Healing Pilgrim ~ IG / Twitter: @amitjanco ~ FB: Amit Janco