Tales of ill-fated destinies and obstacle-strewn romances are no strangers to Italy — you need only look at A. Manzoni’s historical masterpiece I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) as proof. And while Romeo and Juliet are undeniably the most famous of star-crossed lovers, less than 16 miles southwest of Verona lies the tragic setting of another unfortunate pair. As seen on the map, Valeggio sul Mincio is a prime spot to base a vacation if you want to be near Verona and Lake Garda but without all the crowds. This area straddles the boundary lines between Lombardy and Veneto, and makes a perfect location for exploring a little bit of both regions. It is also an area that boasts 2 of the most beautiful villages in Italy according to the Borghi più belli d’Italia website, but really, what interested me was il Nodo d’Amore or the Knot of Love.
Nestled within verdant vegetation next to the Mincio river, remnant ruins of Scaligero castle jut out from the landscape and takes you to another era. No skyscrapers, no McD’s, just a piece of history for the eyes. Driving into Valeggio sul Mincio from the western entrance is something to see as you cross the river on Visconteo Bridge, but the experience doubles in volumes after you take the footpath to the castle’s towers.
The view from the top. In the left-hand corner is Borghetto, listed among the most beautiful villages in Italy. To the right is Visconteo bridge where the Feast of the Love Knot comes to life each year in June. Imagine that bridge crawling with more than 3000+ people enjoying tons of food, wine and song (and fireworks!) and you’ve got an epic dinner party.
Legend has it that the Mincio river was once populated by nymphs that would come out to dance along the water’s edge, but an ancient curse forced them to be disguised as ugly witches. On one such occasion when they came out to play, an army was encamped on the river banks and the nymphs began to dance among the slumbering soldiers. Captain Malco, the troop’s leader, awoke to see the nymph-witches which naturally forced them to flee to the river. Malco was able to capture one of the creatures, and in her attempt to escape, the witch-disguise was lost, revealing a beautiful nymph named Silvia. That night the two fell in love, but before returning to her watery home at dawn, Silvia left a knotted handkerchief as a pledge of her love.
The rest of the story continues with the jealous reaction of a noblewoman named Isabella and the inevitable end where Malco and Silvia dive into the Mincio in order to be together forever. A golden silk handkerchief was left on the shore, a symbolic token tied by the couple to remember their eternal love. This is how the legend of the nodo d’amore/love knot was born. The meat-based tortellini, resembling little knots, is Valeggio sul Mincio’s famous dish and comes served in melted butter and sage or in plain broth.
When I bought some to bring home, I asked the salesclerk if they were the tortellini famosi, the famous tortellini, and she replied that yes, they were the nodo d’amore! Take a minute to watch the youtube clip below. The tortellini are made all by hand. Pastificio al Re del Tortellino is where I bought the pasta and also a local specialty called torta delle rose. This rose cake is a sweet egg-rich yeast dough that is rolled, cut and baked in a round pan to resemble roses. It has nothing to do with rose flavoring or petals. Pastificio Remelli on via Sala 24 is also a fine place to stop for fresh tortellini, assorted pasta and a selection of gourmet food products which includes local cheese and cured meats.