by Doriano Pela
Every September there is a biking event held on the vie della transumanza – the vie of the Biozzi family– to commemorate an historic event that began long ago, when mountain dwellers used to travel from the Apennine range to spend the winter in Maremma.
The itinerary is a fascinating one indeed. It stretches from Badia Tedalda to the La Valentina estate in the Parco dell’Uccellina Regional Park – a path that, for centuries, was travelled by the Biozzi family’s herds of livestock, a family whose holdings of land stretched vastly across parts of Alta Valtiberina and Valmarecchia.
However, we won’t go on to tell you about the whole journey here, maybe in another article. Rather, we will focus on the departure itself which takes place in the exact same spot where the migrating livestock was sent off, from the Middle Ages every year until the 1950s. This, is in the hamlet of Viamaggio in Badia Tedalda, just a stone’s throw away from the famous town of Passo.
We find ourselves, as explained, in Alta Valtiberina and Valmarecchia, in the Alpe della Luna Regional Park. Here among the Turkey oak and beech tree forest, nestled in lush untouched nature lies an old farm that today, has been transformed into the elegant residences of the last member of the Biozzi family, Paola. It was traditionally here that the shepherds and farmers and their flocks and herds would gather as they prepared to depart for the transumanza or migratory herding.
Today, the cyclists who take part in this commemorative event all gather in the late morning hours on the Viamaggio farm– obviously less numerous than the sheep of yesteryear considering the herds were made up of thousands of animals, whereas the cyclists are only about ten. Here, Paola welcomes them to her home, hosting them in the elegant living room on the ground floor, offering a feast of sliced meats, cheeses and bread topped with olive oil and tomato, not to mention homemade sweets and red wine. These are simple yet authentic foods, rich in aromas and flavours and simply delicious.
The bikers feast on this lunchtime snack along with a couple elders from the village who still recall the days of migratory herding that are long gone. Traditionally this is done standing, chit-chatting and with the common small-town exchange of banter about the weather. And so, it is here within the four walls of Miss Paola’s home that for a brief moment, people seem to go back to a simpler time. In her elegant abode it would seem as if the outside world no longer exists. All the cyclists are extremely focused on their imminent journey, as were the shepherds of yesteryear as they prepared the last minute necessities for the long trip that would surely come with its own set of risks and perils.
Once everyone finishes eating and toasts one last time, the “bastone del vergaio” ceremony begins a ceremony during which the owner of the farmstead gives the vergaio, or chief shepherd a brand new hazelnut-wood staff on which the latter indicates all of the noteworthy events that happen along the journey, such as the quantity, births, deaths and the sale of his livestock, and so on, by marking little incisions into the wood. And so, like tradition would have it, Miss Paola gives the leader of the group a “bastone”, a staff, for him to write down all of the journey’s main events.