Walk of the Week: Via Francigena
The extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy begins on the 8th of December, marking the start of a Holy Year in Rome. The first Holy Year was held in the 14th century, and traditionally, you could have your sins forgiven by walking through the four Holy Doors of the papal basilicas in Rome and the Vatican. These days, the Pope has declared that visiting a local cathedral has equal weighting; however, many still choose to make the pilgrimage to Rome. Regardless of your religious convictions, 2016 will be an exciting year to do the Via Francigena, allowing you to join in on the jubilee events.
In a Nutshell
Distance: 2000 km (but don’t fear, this can be done in week-long stages of about 100 km each).
Grading: Moderate to strenuous, depending on the stage.
Where is it?
Via Francigena, “The Road from France” originally went from Canterbury in England to Rome in Italy. However, most walkers don’t tackle the whole section, but choose one of the stages through France, Switzerland and Italy.
View of Montefiascone and Lake Bolsena
Why Walk It?
Considered one of the classic pilgrim routes, these paths have been walked since the 8th century. Traditionally, it was a means for devoted Christians to visit one of Europe’s most important religious sites, Rome, however, this route has also been used by merchants, the army and civilians wanting to travel across Europe. Rather than connecting cities, the route relied on abbeys, who would help the travellers along the way.
Today, the route is travelled by roughly 1200 people a year, making it a less busy pilgrimage than those to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Via Francigena has something for everyone – snow-capped Alps, the Tuscan countryside, exquisite small towns and the bustling city of Rome. A stage can be chosen to suit your level of fitness, or you can challenge yourself by walking the full Italian Via Francigena, a journey that’ll take you 50 days. It’s not all about the walking though; by trodding through Italy on foot, you get the chance to immerse yourself in the Italian culture, staying in family-owned B&B’s and guesthouses. Your evenings are spent in small towns and villages, where you get to taste local specialties and learn about the Italian way of life. Via Francigena goes through parts of Italy that are less travelled by tourists, meaning it is full of hidden gems and authentic experiences.
Via San Pelegrino, Medievil quarter, Viterbo
Planning Your Walk
If you’re wanting to include a section through the Alps, it is best the walk the route from mid-June onwards, as there can still be snow in the mountains well into the start of the summer. The further south you go, the warmer it’ll get, and August can get very hot. For those preferring cooler walking temperatures, the autumn is a beautiful time of the year to travel this route.
Depending on which sections of the route you would like to do, there are several different travel options. To get to the starting point of the first stage, Bourg St Pierre, you are best off flying to Geneva (served by many airlines from the UK and from further afield). From Rome, the finishing point, you can choose between Fiumicino Airport and Ciampino Airport, both of which will take you to many major airports across Europe and the world. Our destination specialists will be more than happy to advice you on the different stages and how to get there. Just send them an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or look at the range of Via Francigena tours on our website for more inspiration. You can read about the Jubilee of Mercy to coincide you’re your visit with one of the events.