Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart.
~ Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust
Do you feel ready to peel off the layers of closures and confinement, and return to (your state of) nature?
After the past year of extended global lockdowns and travel shutdowns… clean, fresh air, gelato and the pleasures of Slow Travel await!
In the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022, I invite you to join me in Italy; on a unique, 12-day walking odyssey through nature & creative expression.
Following the ancient Via Francigena pilgrimage route, we will explore the Tuscan countryside from Lucca to Siena – as we tap into our bravest, most meaningful & adventurous selves.
Choose from these dates:
September 19-30, 2021
October 10-21, 2021
May 8-19, 2022
June 5-16, 2022
** UPDATE (June 2021): In light of the devastating fallout from COVID-19’s continued spread – and the impact on Italy and businesses along the Via Francigena, we are determined to help the country and its citizens get Back On Their Feet. To help support their return to normalcy, boost the economy, and offer all of us a rejuvenating experience in nature, THREE editions of Retreat On Your Feet are planned for 2021 & 2022 (more may be in the pipeline, depending on the easing of restrictions). Please email email@example.com to sign up or register your interest. Deposits due by July 15, 2021 for fall departures. More details below.**
Waiting to safely resurrect Retreat On Your Feet, our focus turned to trekking closer to home – through the jungles, forests, deep gorges, bamboo groves, mountain ridges, rice paddies, and villages of Bali – while being of service to the island’s residents, whose lives and livelihoods have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. Please read more about the inaugural BaliCore Expedition 2021, and about the experiences of those who walked:
It was a pleasure to have met Amit Janco, who organized a 10-day coast-to-coast hiking experience in just three months! We had a wonderful time connecting with nature along with professional guides and with the help of the local Balinese community. I cannot applaud more for what Amit has done to organize this effort as a fundraising opportunity to help alleviate the growing hunger and malnutrition in Bali, due to the pandemic. I am forever grateful to have been invited to be part of this unforgettable expedition! ~Vanessa B., Bali, Indonesia
Amit organized a lovely hike through the mountains and across the rice paddies in Bali. Routes are unique and the views were breathtaking. It was also such a treat to have a local guide with so much passion for what he does. The hike was challenging but the rewards are well worth it. Thank you for organizing this activity, Amit. I enjoyed it very much and the best part is that we did it for a good cause! ~ Ian B., Philippines / Bali
Walking: Uncork your creativity
A pilgrimage through Italy is, well yes, about tasting some of the finest wines on a sommelier’s drink-list. But it’s also 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?
In 2021 & 2022, Retreat On Your Feet departs from Lucca!
Today’s pilgrims are walking for reasons that transcend religion; many are looking to decelerate from a fast-paced urban life, by walking Italy’s via Francigena at the “speed of life.” After walking this route in 2019 (and the Camino Frances, as a precursor, in 2013), I decided to conjure up something different. Which is how Retreat On Your Feet was birthed. This bespoke gathering 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.
Walking, I realized long ago in another desert, is how the body measures itself against the earth. ~Rebecca Solnit
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.
2021 Dates: September 19-30 / October 10-21
2022 Dates: May 8-19 / June 5-16
The climate of Tuscany, in spring or fall, is perfect for walking; in the spring, the fields and valleys are lush and full of freshness and growth; in early fall, the weather (mostly) co-operates, the valleys and forests take on a certain crispness and clarity – 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.
In going on pilgrimage, one has left behind the complications of one’s place in the world – family, attachments, rank, duties – and become a walker among walkers. ~Rebecca Solnit
The Itinerary: Via Francigena
Lucca to Siena
Day 1 Sunday – Arrive in Lucca
After settling in, we will gather in the late afternoon – to watch a screening of the Via Francigena at the “entrypoint” museum, and to collect our credenziale (pilgrim’s passport). Regrouping in the evening, we’ll enjoy a proper pre-pilgrimage Tuscan feast – with vino of course! After a brief stroll back to our lodgings, plan to tuck in soon after, so you get plenty of rest before setting out *early* the following morning.
Day 2 (Monday) – 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 numerous examples of vernacular architecture. 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 (Tuesday) – Altopascio to 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 Ponte a Cappiano (or nearby Fucecchio), where we’ll dine, then marvel at the Medici Bridge and a section of Italy’s largest inland marsh – a paradise for bird-watchers and plant-lovers!
Day 4 (Wednesday) – Day Trip to Leonardo da Vinci’s birthplace & museum
For something slightly different, today’s day trip (by pre-arranged minivan) to the village of Vinci, the birthplace of one of history’s greatest artists and geniuses, just might jumpstart your latent dreams and whisperings. With a local guide to highlight the best of Leonardo’s early years, at the Museo Leonardiano (Counts of Guidi Castle and Palazzina Uzielli), this day will fill us with wonder and inspiration. After a day of watching, walking and creative enlightenment, we’ll wrap it up with a stop at an artisanal gelateria – Certo! We return to Ponte a Cappiano.
Day 5 (Thursday) – Ponte a Cappiano to San Miniato (approx 14 km)
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 6 (Friday) – San Miniato to Castelfiorentino (approx 12 km)
A ridge walk leading out of town, will be followed by a stop in Calenzano for the day’s digestibles. Before reaching Castelfiorentino, we will gather by the fountain in Coiano for stretches, gentle movement and writing. Upon reaching our accommodations, we’ll carve out time for rest, washing up (laundry anyone?!) and watching the sun set behind the cypress groves.
Day 7 (Saturday) – Castelfiorentino 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 well-being. 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 (Sunday) – 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 man-made.
Day 9 (Monday) – San Gimignano to Colle val d’Elsa (12 km)
Today’s portion of the Via Francigena leads us 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. Stopping along the way, you’ll delve into a writing practice, reflecting on your life’s journey; and continue to envision, for yourself, an adventurous path ahead.
Day 10 (Tuesday) – Colle val d’Elsa to Abbadia Isola (8-10 km)
Our last stop before reaching the spellbinding medieval city of Siena. Although we will spend the night in Abbadia Isola, we will reach the village early enough to allow you to spend the rest of the afternoon writing, walking, art-making, or resting for the final day’s climb. But if your energy isn’t yet spent, you’re welcome to hike up into the tiny but quaint, walled-in fort of Monteriggioni. (Transport may be available, TBD)
Day 11 (Wednesday) – 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 (Thursday) – Departure from Siena
After this immersion of walking in nature + creative process, you might crave a long rest and drawn-out coffee session…or you might need to dash off to catch a flight home! But if you’d like to spend a day or more in Siena, you’ll have plenty of options; from shopping to meandering among the picturesque alleys and piazzas. Oh, have I mentioned the gelato?!
12-Day Retreat On Your Feet (Tuscany)
September 19-30, 2021 & October 10-21, 2021
May 8-19, 2022 & June 5-16, 2022
Maximum group capacity: 7 persons + organizer. Please book or register your interest at the email address below… asap!
Cost: 1,150 € (increase due to protocol upgrades & higher rates)
Non-refundable deposit of 250 € – payable by July 15, 2021 (for fall departures)**
Balance of 900 € – due 60 days prior to trip departure
INCLUDED: *Accommodations (including taxes and service charges); 11 nights in a variety of lodgings (hotels & agriturismo; convents, monasteries and shared room accommodations – all with hygiene protocols). *Credenziale (pilgrim’s passport). *Admission to Via Francigena Entry Point – Museum & screening (Lucca). *Welcome plein-air dinner in Lucca. *Day trip to the birthplace and hometown of Leonardo da Vinci. *Celebratory lunch on arrival in Siena: scrumptious pizza indulgence! *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. All transfer & surcharge fees. (Transfer details will be provided after registration & payment). Tips & gratuities. Personal expenses, such as masks, hand sanitizer, drinks, snacks & entrance fees not mentioned. Travel / health insurance (*compulsory*). Individual, coronavirus-related medical and transport expenses. Food and meals – 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!)
ACTIVITY LEVEL: Moderate – mostly flat or hilly, with a few steep climbs (and descents). Travelers should be reasonably fit and feel comfortable walking between 10-18 kilometers each day. Our last day includes a scenic, uphill hike into Siena.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: All Retreat On Your Feet participants are required to obtain the following: emergency medical evacuation insurance, accident and medical insurance. Trip cancellation and baggage insurance are optional. If you have particular health issues or concerns, you may want to consider purchasing additional emergency assistance through Global Rescue.
COVID-19: This section will be updated regularly as rules and regulations change for travel to/in Italy. As of June 8, 2021, a 10-day quarantine upon arrival is still in effect. Other criteria that would help you determine your eligibility to travel to Italy includes: COVID-tested flights (from Canada, US, Japan, UAE); Three (3) tests – before departure, at airport, and on arrival; Proof of vaccination (certificate) OR proof of 6-month recovery from COVID; “Green Pass” a.k.a. the EUDCC, a free digital certificate / COVID-19 passport, launching across the EU on July 1st, facilitating quarantine-free travel throughout the EU. More details here, here and here. Please watch this space for updates.
**CANCELLATIONS: Up to 30 days before departure, refunds will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In case of cancellation by Retreat organizers, where such cancellation is deemed necessary in the event of unforeseen circumstances – such as natural disasters/force majeure (including any COVID-19-related restrictions), political or civil unrest that may pose risks to members of the group, the organizers waive all liability and obligation to reimburse deposits and any payments made in advance of the Retreat. FOR FURTHER DETAILS, PLEASE CONTACT ME AT THE EMAIL ADDRESS BELOW!
PASSPORTS: Please make sure you have a valid passport (approx. 6 months beyond your return date) and check your country’s visa requirement for Italy. Passport-holders from certain countries may (or may not) be permitted entry; please determine your eligibility for entry prior to registering.
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 (inter alia COVID19-related, or fatigue), the itinerary is subject to change IF and 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 a tug – to explore the path of contemplation and creativity, please send an email message asap to reserve your spot!
I understood at a very early age that in nature, I felt everything I should feel in church but never did. Walking in the woods, I felt in touch with the universe and with the spirit of the universe. ~ Alice Walker
- 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. Of course, early to bed too 😉
- 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
Trained as a lawyer, Amit Janco is a writer, artist, yoga teacher and seasoned hiker. She also designs all-natural labyrinths and is certified in Narrative Therapy, Usui Reiki (Level II) and Aromatherapy Basics (NAHA). With a wide and eclectic background, in fine and graphic arts, energy healing, Iyengar yoga and traveling, 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 km 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!
In April 2021, Amit spearheaded and led a small group of hikers on a 10-day, 200 km walking expedition across the tropical island of Bali, Indonesia. The core mission of this inaugural (and experimental) cross-island trek – *BaliCore 2021* – was to raise funds for a number of prominent, local NGOs, who have distributed food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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