Each evening, all over Italy, people come out for the “passeggiata,” or stroll. Everyone takes part; young, old, rich, poor, they all take time to promenade before dinner. But, in one town in Emilia-Romagna, the tradition is quite different.
Passeggiata origin story
Back in the day, when an Italian girl came of age, her family would look to marry her off. To do this, the woman would dress up in her best outfit and flirt with the eligible men in town. This was the socially accepted way for young couples to meet while the parents (and likely the grandparents as well) kept a watchful eye.
Over time, this method of courtship became hopelessly outdated, but the traditional of an evening stroll lives on.
In each village, town, and city in Italy, folks come out of their homes in the evening. Some sit on benches and watch the parade while others do “laps” around the piazza or on the main street. They’ll stop and chat with friends and share the latest gossip. Perhaps, they’ll spontaneously decide to head off, linked arm in arm, for dinner together.
In summer, you can be sure the the passeggiata will include a gelato.
Halfway between Florence and Venice, in Emilia-Romagna, lies the small city of Ferrara.
Ferrara is one of my favorite places in Italy for three reasons. It is a beautiful city with several Renaissance palaces from the House of Este. Second, most Americans have never heard of Ferrara, so it is relatively untouristed. Lastly, and most importantly, Ferrara has the most charming and unique passeggiata in all of Italy.
Instead of going out for a stroll each evening, the residents of Ferrara hop on their bicycles. They pedal a bit, stop, put their foot on the curb, chat a bit, then pedal a little more.
Of course, not everyone is on a bike, but enough people are on two wheels rather than to two feet, making this a beautiful and fun tradition.