On October 31 in Italy, hiking and strolling will take precedence over Halloween and spooking when the 20th edition of the National Day of Urban Trekking hits the streets.
More than 100 municipalities are involved across Italy — a record number for the event, which began in Siena in 2002 with the participation of just a handful of nearby towns.
This year’s theme is “Trekking in Color: Sustainability Practices Through the Centuries,” tying in neatly with project leader Siena’s tourism objectives. Back in February 2023, the Tuscan town became the first “art city” in Italy to earn a Global Sustainable Tourism Council certification in recognition of its slow-travel initiatives.
Organized by the Municipality of Siena in collaboration with the National Tourist Guide Association, the National Day of Urban Trekking program is highly varied and touches nearly all 20 regions of Italy. Most participating cities, towns and geographical areas will offer scheduled group walks led by local tour guides, with many exploring the social aspects of sustainability. Both Bologna and Siena, for example, will host guided walks that focus on each city’s relationship to water sources, stopping off at related points of interest (such as the Fonte Remonda in Bologna and the medieval Fontebranda gate in Siena, which was famously mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy).
Many of the routes can easily be independently replicated by travelers long after October 31 has passed. All participating National Day of Urban Trekking cities, towns and geographical areas were asked by organizers to limit their specially designed routes to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), to prioritize accessibility, and to take “trekkers” past key monuments or panoramic viewpoints, artisan workshops and traditional eateries. Those who can’t participate on October 31 can still view the detailed route information, area by area, and use it to explore at their own pace.
A nationwide passeggiata
Despite the event’s emphasis on trekking or hiking — and the not-always-urban walks on the schedule for National Day of Urban Trekking — organizers are presenting the events as part of a nation-wide passeggiata, or a collective “stroll.”
Strolling down the street isn’t exactly unique to Italy. Yet the image and idea of the passeggiata is so deeply ingrained in the image of Italy abroad that the ritual of Italian walking has been floated for recognition on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
But what actually is la passeggiata conceptually? The term describes a collective ritual during which citizens take a leisurely turn around town. The emphasis is on social interaction, or “seeing and being seen” — a sort of aimless public parade or procession, typically carried out in the evenings during the week or in the afternoons on the weekend.
The Italian Promenade, a project of the Museo del Camminare (Museum of Walking) in Venice, is a comprehensive exploration of this social phenomenon. The study’s author, Gian Paolo Chiari, points out that the passeggiata or, as he puts it, social “promenading,” played a key role in early Western culture, tracing the practice back to the Greeks and Romans.
“The daily life of upper- and middle-class citizens in ancient Rome was often marked by the customary practice of visiting the purpose-built places found throughout the city, either on foot (ambulatio) or by litter (gestatio, or Latin for by horse),” Chiari writes. “The Roman adoption of the Greek custom of walking the arcades flanking main squares led to the construction of covered walkways called portici.”
Today, some of the walks on National Day of Urban Trekking will spotlight these very same structures. View the complete program of events and activities around Italy, including meeting points and departure times, here.