In most Italian towns and neighborhoods around 6PM, there is a natural gravitation towards the piazza, or town square. Summoned by an invisible force, well-dressed couples and families slowly amble towards park benches and stop to greet friends and neighbors.
The daily passeggiata is a tradition that is hard to resist and exerts its pull on people of all ages. From the verb passeggiare, “to stroll,” a passeggiata is a “little walk” – less workout and more a chance to socialize after a day’s work.
Rather than heading home to shrug into sweatpants, or strapping on running shoes for jog before dinner, the goal is to dress to impress. The need to fare la bella figura, or make a good impression, means that a well-executed passeggiata is a true art form.
Originally, the evening stroll was a time for marriageable young ladies to catch the eye of potential suitor. Now, the passeggiata fills a range of other social needs- from nonnas (grandmothers) catching up on gossip, to a cheap and pressure-free first date idea.
The walk can end with a small glass of wine at a local bar, or a cheeky gelato before dinner. However, a passeggiata is not about getting anywhere in particular. The main aim is to reconnect over a few laps around the piazza. It allows friends and couples stroll arm-in-arm outside of the private space of the home, and nurture that true sense of community.
When traveling in Italy, if you are out at about at sunset, you will likely find yourself even unintentionally a part of the custom. However, it is easy to recreate tradition wherever you are in a few simple steps:
- Take a few minutes to recover from the day. Freshen up and dress up a bit. In the winter, the moda (fashion) of choice is furs and hats, while in summer, pressed white linen should do the trick.
- Head for the main street or center of town.
- Greet everyone, and stop to share a few details about your day and your plans for the evening.
- Enjoy the most social time of day before heading home to a delicious meal.
Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.