A hillside vie

Travelling with a purpose is the new travel movement. Here, we take you on a trip to Italy where travellers and tour companies are working to preserve cultural treasures for the future.

Her feet move with precision. Her black ankle boots, four-inch heels, laced up like a corset, hint at punk, but do not impede her progress – pumping the pedals like an organist at mass. Her almond-shaped eyes flash intensely. Her blood-red lips give way to a smile even more intense. Her cropped hair severe, yet reveals a honed bone structure. But it's her hands and fingers that contradict this hard-core vision. They fly, gently yet exactly, over, under, in and about, what appears to be hundreds of threads, multi-hued, strung tight across ancient looms that her mother, and her mother, and her mother before her, used to weave their textile magic.

 

We're in Perugia, in the presence of Marta, inside the Church of San Francesco delle Donne, in the Umbrian region of Italy. The church is Marta's workshop, the Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti. The antique wooden loom that she is working has a time-honoured, well-loved patina, worn in the places where her great-grandmother, the founder Giuditta Brozzetti, layed her own deft hands on it. No doubt, Marta can still feel her warmth and energy through the wood. It appears to fuel her, fire her passion as she pushes and pulls and slides the wood slats and pulleys and pedals.

The cloth she is weaving is inspired. Not just by her ancestry, but by her country's history. This is the birthplace of the Perugia tablecloth and Marta's studio is one of the few remaining traditional frame hand weaving workshops in Italy. Medieval and renaissance patterns come to life, based on records from the matriarchs in Marta's family, as well as through art. It's said that the table in Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper was adorned with a Perugia cloth, informed by Da Vinci's Italian roots. The patterns are evident in many paintings from the periods, and Marta has many printouts of examples taped to the sides of the looms for pattern inspiration.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Giuditta was inspired for different reasons. It was the First World War and, with the men at battle, women took up the employment mantle. Giuditta became Perugia's elementary school director, travelling the Umbrian countryside to check in on the rural schools. Along the way, she would hear sounds coming from the homes she passed. Inside, she discovered the looms – and the artisans and, with it, that the art of weaving traditional textiles was dying out. It became her mission to sustain the craft, and to enliven the patterns indigenous to Umbria. Four generations later, mission accomplished.

Click through to find out more on the United Nations Travel World Organization's (UNWTO) initiative for 2017, the international year of sustainable tourism for development, and my interview with TreadRight Foundation's sustainability ambassador, Céline Cousteau. www.treadright.orgwww.trafalgar.com/can

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