I had never heard of the “Via Francigena” before starting work at Macs. As an Italy enthusiast always looking for the next area to explore I couldn’t believe how little is written about this trail. An 1800 km pilgrim trail from Canterbury to Rome, down through Switzerland, over the Alps via the Great St Bernard Pass and then down through Italy to reach the ‘Eternal City’ I was delighted to head out and experience it, even if it was just to touch the surface.
I thought I would share an insight into my experience with you. Since this route is often compared to other Pilgrim/Camino walks, I think it’s important to know a few things before-hand as it is quite a different experience from the more popular Camino Frances trail. In my opinion, it is a more authentic experience, and as long as you are aware that it’s different, I am sure you will have a great time like I did.
Here are some of the tips I would have liked to know before heading off:
This is the case for most of Europe, however, on the Via Francigena, there isn’t much shade. Most of the walking through countryside farm tracks, paved roads and paths are exposed. Since I was there in July, I soon learnt to have an early breakfast (around 7 am) and headed off around 7.30am so that I wasn’t walking in the mid-afternoon heat. I then had a well-deserved afternoon nap when I finished and enjoyed the early evenings when the temperature had cooled. If you can, I would recommend spring and autumn for this trip.
This is simply because you are passing through small rural towns, where quite often accommodation is limited. Although this route dates back to 1994 and was designated “The Via Francigena a European Cultural Route”, it is still developing in comparison to other Camino trips like the popular Camino Frances. Each year it is becoming more popular which is great, as we can work with more accommodations and source the best that is available.
A real highlight of my trip was the accommodation in Sutri, B&B Etruscan Garden, it was such a special experience. There is only 1 suite in the house, and the owners Sarah and Claudio, make you feel like you are visiting a family friend. As soon as I arrived I was greeted with a glass of Prosecco and Aperitifs which we enjoyed in the garden terrace! (Sarah does this for all of her guests). If you are lucky enough, Sarah will introduce you to her beautiful horse Lola. It’s experiences like this that make the Via Francigena completely unique (I would recommend booking as early as possible so that you can experience this charming accommodation).
There are not as many articles or publications written about the Via Francigena, as you would find on other Caminos. The signposting is also not as consistent, which means you do have to be quite self-sufficient and comfortable navigating. After doing some research before I went about the inconsistent way marking, I was actually quite surprised and impressed with the marking. It’s great to see that the local councils are improving this. You also have your step by step route notes and maps, I felt well equipped (and didn’t get lost at any point– YAY).
The trails are remote and quiet. If you are looking to escape and unwind, you will love this trip. However, if your purpose is to meet and walk with lots of new people this might not be the right pilgrim route for you. Or, you might want to consider one of the more popular sections such as Stage 6 San Miniato to San Quirico which goes through central Tuscany and stops off in larger towns and villages such as San Gimignano and Siena. I really enjoyed walking, and the only sound was the birds chirping, or a local Italian voice in the distance as I approached the next town.
The towns and villages which you pass through and overnight in, are very small and rural. By the time you reach Rome you will be excited to explore! Not that you need an excuse to spend an extra night in Rome anyway, it’s one of the most beautiful and interesting cities I have ever been to (I would add at least a few days to the end of the trip).
By the time I reached the hotel I was exhausted, however, if you have an extra night you can rest your tired legs and enjoy a full day of exploring the following day. The hotel which we use, Papavista Relais, was perfectly located, my bedroom window had a bird’s eye view of the Vatican; which you can see below.
If you are a keen hiker looking for a long-distance Pilgrim walk which is rich in history and culture and takes you off the beaten path, the Via Francigena should be next on your list. If you are lucky enough to have 50 days to spare why not take the on Full Via Francigena. Otherwise, you can check out the itineraries here.
If you would like to discuss the itineraries and find which one works for you give us a call at the office and we will be delighted to help.