Festa del Nodo d’Amore: A Spectacular 1,300 Meter Long Dinner Table on the 14th Century Bridge of Borghetto sul Mincio in Italy

It all started with a 14th century legend about two lovers from different worlds who vowed eternal love for each other. Malco, a captain of the Viscount Giangaleazzo’s army and Silvia, a beautiful water nymph who lives in the Mincio river fell in love with each other one night but because she had to return to the depths of the river, she left Malco a token of her love, a tenderly knotted gold silk handkerchief. Impeded to stay together on land, Malco went with Silvia to the depths of the river leaving the handkerchief floating on the bank of the river. 

This knotted handkerchief is symbolized by the nodo d’amore that has become the specialty of the town of Valeggio sul Mincio and every year, it is celebrated with a large festival called Festa del Nodo d’Amore. Nodo d’amore, called agnolin in the local dialect, is a type of fresh filled tortellino pasta with a veil-like thin dough and filled with particularly delicate meat.

The Festa del Nodo d’Amore which started in 1993 and happens every third Tuesday of June, is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating traditions ever organized in Italy. Borghetto sul Mincio hosts an annual event that dedicates a dinner of traditional plates, with of course the nodo d’amore as the protagonist, on Ponte Visconteo, a bridge built in 1393 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan that has a length of 650 meters and 25 meters wide.

This year’s edition of the Festa del Nodo d’Amore was held on the 20th of June with a splendid summer weather with an attendance of 2,300 local and international guests. The open-air dinner had two incredibly long tables parallel to each other totaling to 1,300 meters long that were set on the whole stretch of Ponte Visconteo. Nine hundred thousand nodo d’amore were made weighing 13 quintals along with other courses for dinner paired with wine, including those of the Consorzio Tutela Vino Custoza DOC that was one of the sponsors.

Being a guest of the Consorzio Tutela Vino Custoza DOC as part of the discovery of Custoza DOC, I attended the Festa del Nodo d’Amore. Needless to say, it was one of the most fascinating well-organized events of this grand scale that I ever attended. The festival started at the historic Piazza Carlo Alberto in Valeggio sul Mincio where local cheeses Grana Padano Riserva and Monte Veronese DOP were served along with glasses of Generale sparkling wine from the Predomo winery during which the artisanal preparation of the Nodo d’Amore was also in demonstration.

A kilometer away, which can be a 10-minute walk or by free transfer, took us towards the main festivity at Ponte Visconteo. The two 650-meter long tables were set beautifully with cutlery and glasses and designated with numbers that should correspond with each guest’s ticket number. During dinner, there was also the walk of the protagonists of the legend of the Nodo d’Amore such as: Silvia, the beautiful nymph; Captain Malco; Viscount Giangaleazzo; the buffoon Gonnella; and the jealous Isabella.

The three-hour dinner, that started at 20:30 and promptly finished at 23:30 as indicated in the program, consisted of five courses that epitomized traditional dishes of Mantova and Verona: for appetizer, Gonzaga-style chicken salad; two dishes of tortelli, the Nodo d’Amore and La Follia of Gonnella; Millefoglie of Scotona Beef; and Cheesecake with Raspberries and Lime. These were all accompanied by wines: Cantina Valdo sparkling wine; Cantina Farina Rosso Nodo d’Amore; and Custoza DOC wines. The dinner ended with an extravagant display of fireworks up on the castle overlooking Borgetto sul Mincio. Before leaving the bridge, each guest received a celebratory gift (can be retrieved with the detachable stub of the ticket) of bottles of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar from one of the sponsors, Frantoi Redoro. The price of the dinner? €140 per person and very much worth it.

The Organization

Evidently, the organization behind the event is herculean among the framework workforce which was conceived and managed by the Association of Restaurateurs of Valeggio sul Mincio. In fact, the preparations start three days before the designated date which involves the trade associations, municipal administration, the townspeople and over forty restaurateurs of the area. Hundreds of waiters, cooks and sommeliers are deployed, with every portion of the two double tables that measure 1,300 meters long assigned to the participating restaurants, each equipped with a makeshift kitchen in a tent. The presence of the police and traffic authorities kept the flow of people and cars in perfectly peaceful order.

The Legend of the Nodo d’Amore

At the end of the 1300s, during the numerous wars that marked northern Italy, the lord of Milan, Giangaleazzo Visconti, known as the Count of Virtue, reached the banks of the Mincio with his troops and established a bridgehead there for developing a military plan against his enemies. Meanwhile, inside the camp of the Visconti troops, the buffoon Gonnella entertains the soldiers by the light of a bonfire, narrating an ancient legend. The legend goes that the waters of the Mincio are populated by beautiful nymphs, who sometimes come out of the river to dance near the banks, but an old curse forces them to take on the appearance of horrid witches. While the whole camp falls asleep, some of the nymphs appear from the river and begin to dance among the sleeping soldiers. But only Malco, their valiant captain, wakes up and faces the mysterious creatures who, realizing that they were discovered, flee towards the Mincio river. One of them is reached and, in a desperate attempt to escape, loses the cloak that was wrapping her, revealing herself unexpectedly as a splendid nymph. In the short course of the night, love is born between the two and dawn surprises them in promising each other eternal fidelity.

Before sunrise, Silvia, the beautiful nymph, must return to the depths of the river and she leaves Malco, as a pledge of her love, a tenderly knotted handkerchief. The following day, three splendid embassies arrive in the presence of the Count of Virtue. During the reception some beautiful girls perform a dance in honor of the guests. Captain Malco recognizes Silvia in one of them, whose love has driven her to face the tumultuous world of men.

However, the loving looks between Silvia and Malco arouse the jealousy of Isabella, a noble lady, cousin of the Count of Virtue, who has long aspired to conquer the captain’s love. Driven by jealousy, Isabella denounces the beautiful nymph to the Count as a witch. The party is immediately interrupted and the order is given to arrest Silvia. Malco impetuously stands between the beloved girl and the guards, allowing her to flee towards the river, then gives up and delivers the sword to the angry Count. At nightfall, Isabella presents herself to Malco, who is languishing in a cell: tormented by her gesture, she desperately pleads for the prisoner’s forgiveness and understanding.

While the two are talking, Silvia reappears, once again emerging from the river, to save her beloved, forcing Isabella to retreat in defeat. Silvia offers Malco the only way out: not on earth, where by now there can be no happiness between the two lovers, but in the waters, where the nymphs live. Malco accepts without hesitation and heads with Silvia towards the Mincio river. The Count of Virtue, alerted by the guards, sets off in pursuit, but is momentarily stopped by Isabella, who, repentant, asks for respect and understanding for a love that knows no bounds.

Arriving at the river, shortly after Silvia and Malco have thrown themselves into the water, the Count of Virtue finds the golden silk handkerchief abandoned on the bank, symbolically knotted by the two lovers, to remember their eternal love. Even today it is told how the women and girls of that time, during the holidays, wanted to tell the story of the two lovers, pulling a paste as thin as silk, cut and knotted like a golden handkerchief and enriched with a delicate filling. The legend of Tortellino di Valeggio was born.

Festa del Nodo d’Amore

Address: Ufficio Turistico Valeggio – Piazza Carlo Alberto 44, 37067 Valeggio sul Mincio (VR), Italy
Tel.: +39 3505887626
Website: https://www.festanododamore.it/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nododamorevaleggio