The Marathon – Lucca Style

The Marcia delle Ville is our nearest equivalent to the London Marathon. It’s a Marcia Podistica, which means that you can either walk or run or do a little of both. (‘Podismo’ means the discipline of race walking and running).

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Yesterday, while the London Marathon was happening we joined in our version. The only differences were that there was a competitive and non-competitive section (this meant that anyone could join in from the ages of 8 to over 80), that there was a choice of routes depending upon one’s fitness and inclination,

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and that the idyllic rural landscape we were going through was rather different from the built-up landscape of London.

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In fact, the Marcia delle Ville is older than the London Marathon, having started in 1977 while the first London Marathon took place in 1981. It’s organised by the comune di Marlia together with the local club podistico and has grown from strength to strength over the years. It’s truly one of Italy’s largest and most popular family sporting events.

La Marcia delle Ville is a lovely occasion to immerse oneself in a completely Italian social atmosphere. My friend (who invited me for the Marcia, having been enthralled by it on a previous occasion) said that we would probably be the only brits taking part on it and, indeed, we only heard Italian spoken by those taking part.

La Marcia delle Ville is also a wonderful chance to walk through the exquisite gardens of villas of the Luccan nobility which are normally closed to the public, to wander across succulent vineyards and silver olive groves, to pass by isolated Romanesque chapels, to gaze on colourful wild flowers, to witness some of the most stratospheric views of Lucca, to enjoy the social fun of a largely non-competitive event and to witness Italian gregariousness at its very best.

There is, of course, the final point that la Marcia truly gives one even more yearning to do a decent, daily walk of not less than two hours. Most of people’s health troubles arise from lack of proper exercise and there’s nothing better than walking, especially if the countryside is as glorious as the Luccan hills.

Weather-wise, the day started in uncertainty. Cyclone Medusa was threatening us with the worst and there were real doubts whether we would want to take part in it. However, the day cleared and by noon, after a light shower, the sun peeped through. Actually, after the unnaturally hot days we’ve had for April, it was a relief to have a bit of cloud cover. Walking 20 kilometres does take a bit of sweat (and fat!) out of one.

Apart from some very muddy stretches, worthy of a public school rugger field at the start, the rest of our itinerary took us through gravelled paths, some tarmac and, of course, the lovely paths of the Luccan Villa gardens.

I was particularly excited to see the Villa called La Specola, which was an observatory built for the rulers of Lucca. It’s such an attractive building!

La Villa Badiola was another wonder I’d never seen before.

Here are other grand villas we walked through:

At intervals there were ‘punti di ristoro’ (refreshment points) serving tea, water, buns and bruschetta. All free and manned by volunteers. There were even some minstrels.

There was a first aid post with ambulances in case of accidents.

We returned to the starting point at Marlia’s farmers’ market where we’d got our participant numbers and walked triumphantly through the finishing line. We then collected our complementary gifts. Since the Marcia delle Ville is sponsored by a paper mill producing toilet paper, our gift bag included four very fine rolls of … toilet paper. (What else?).

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We then went to be fed and watered with everything from water to wine to bruschetta to pasta. The scene was most jovial and it was lovely to see thousands of Italians of all ages having a really good time. There’s a special word to describe country walks and country enjoyments in Italian. It’s ‘scampagnata’ which means a day’s jaunt into the countryside.

Everyone had a great ‘scampagnata’ it seems! We then started our homeward journey. Just in time. I stopped at Penny to do some shopping and saw some rather dark clouds outside. Then I heard a rattling noise on the roof of the supermarket. I looked outside. It was hailing! Cyclone Medusa definitely wanted herself to be heard but she came too late to spoil the fun, thank goodness!

Despite the threatening weather I read in today’s (it’s a national holiday incidentally – Italy’s liberation day from Nazi-fascist oppression with the historic announcement, now seventy-one years old, that ‘la Guerra è finità’ – the war is ended) Tirreno newspaper that over 12,500 people participated in the Marcia delle Ville this year.

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It’s wonderful how on a local level there’s nothing to beat an event organised by Italians. Why the government can’t learn from its people how to really do things well is something I shall never understand.

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(My number bib)

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