Do you have a step counter on your phone or smartwatch? How often does the number of steps exceed ten thousand, fifteen thousand, or even twenty thousand steps? For me, living in Rome, it’s rare that I don’t exceed 10,000 steps each day, and if I deliberately set-out on an afternoon exploration, that number might top 15 to 20,000 steps (about 16 kilometers)… easily. For Italians – and those of us lucky enough to live in Italy – walking extremely long distances over the course of a day isn’t uncommon; here, walking is a way of life.
Somewhere along the line, walking was phased out of many countries and cultures. Who doesn’t have a story from a parent or grandparent about how they used to walk several kilometers to school each day (and always under dramatic weather circumstances, of course). We walk less and we drive more. We’re less active and we’re more sedentary. A common recommendation for those who are suffering from both physical and mental ailments is to go on more walks. So why did it take me moving halfway around the world to actually use my two legs?
“Vuoi fare un passeggiata?” is a phrase I didn’t think I would utter so frequently when I learned it back in my first Italian class. Asking someone if they want to go for a walk isn’t all that common in the United States. Sure, it does happen, but in my experience it’s less of a routine occurrence. “Do you want to grab a coffee, a drink, or a meal?” are typically the ways Americans ask friends and family for an impromptu social meet-up. We then jump into our cars or a rideshare to arrive at our destination. While in Italy we certainly meet for drinks and dinner (and coffee because…Italy), we’ll also meet up just for a walk. Not to mention, there are many different types of Italian walks, each with a unique and meaningful purpose:
These walks are centered around the various meals, beverages and snacks we enjoy throughout the day, and will keep you moving and stepping from morning to night.
- The morning walk: You meet up with a friend to walk through a park or on a path near your house to get in some morning exercise and chat before stopping at a bar to grab a caffe e cornetto.
- The post-lunch walk: After your meal, you walk (oftentimes to a bar for a coffee) to digest your meal and enjoy the mid-day sun before returning to work.
- The aperitivo walk: You finish your day of work and walk to meet up with friends to grab an aperitivo, or perhaps catch the sunset at a local lookout point.
- The post-dinner walk: After finishing your dinner—which lasted no less than 2 hours —you and your group stroll around the streets gabbing and laughing until you part ways and head home.
- The gelato walk: After indulging in some delicious gelato, you go for a short walk to facilitate your digestion (if you haven’t noticed, Italians are big on post-meal digestion).
These walks take place solely for the joy walking brings. An added plus is the beautiful landscape, time spent with friends, family, or da solo, as well as entertainment and exercise.
- The shopping stroll: You head to one of the main shopping streets, in Rome that would be Via del Corso or Via Cola di Rienzo, and stroll along the streets popping in and out of shops.
- The weekend stroll: Pick any beautiful quartiere or park, grab some friends for company and get to stepping. A personal favorite of mine is wandering the cobblestone streets of the centro storico, finding new hidden alleyways that wind through the maze that is the center of Rome and slipping into a wine bar for un bel riposo (a nice rest), before setting off again for another few hours of walking.
- The workout walk: You meet up with an exercise buddy, in sportive attire, to walk at a brisk pace but not too fast so that you can still keep up a lively conversation. This is a favorite amongst Italians of all ages.
While this is far from an exhaustive list, it’s abundantly clear that walking is central to the way of life in Italy. It’s woven into everyday activities, but is also frequently an intentional pastime with a special significance as something to relish and savor. This was one of the biggest and most positive changes to my life as a result of moving to Italy: no exaggeration, walking has become one of my favorite habits.
Carving time out of my day to get outside and go for a walk is something I cherish and look forward to. As someone who has worked from home for over four years, it’s afforded me a way to break up my day and experience the simple beauty outside of my apartment. Walking gives me clarity and fills my heart and body with immense joy and solace. Nowadays, I have a four-legged friend to accompany me on walks. As we know Italy is the most dog-friendly country in the world, so Spritz and I have our daily walks through the neighborhood stopping to greet and chat with all our neighbors as we go along.
Outside of walking for leisure, Italians walk out of necessity and purpose. Roman public transportation, particularly it’s bus system, is notoriously unreliable so after countless frustrating instances of waiting for a bus for over twenty minutes to no avail – I rely more on my own two feet to get me to the places I need to go. My American friends have repeatedly balked when I tell them I consider any destination within a 30 minute walk – about 3 kilometers – to be ‘short walk away.’ I guess I’ve become more Italian than I thought.
If you can’t be in Italy right now, but you’re yearning for that feeling of the Italian way of life—outside of making yourself a plate of pasta or an Aperol spritz— incorporate this Italian cultural practice into your daily life. Even if you can make a habit of walking outside for twenty minutes a day, I think you’ll quickly understand why Italians never stopped walking when the rest of the world did.
So, vuoi fare una passeggiata?