Walking the Via Francigena
This is a post about our Via Francigena; why and how we did it.
Of course, everyone has different reasons for embarking on such an endeavour, different timescales, budgets, abilities etc, etc (never mind, hopes and aspirations!)
We, in no way purport to be experts, just keen walkers (with limited time and a mid range budget) looking for an authentic experience connecting with local people, along the way.
We got the walking bug last year after deciding to walk the Portuguese Camino (central route). We had mused on and off about walking a Camino for years, but it wasn’t something we thought we would ever really do…until we did it (with about 6 weeks to organise it). We’re not much into forward planning – our wedding also had a 6 week lead time….
We enjoyed the experience so much and were eager for more. So we returned to Portugal late last Summer to walk from Porto to Vigo on the coastal route, as we were experiencing a serious case of FOMO! As with the previous trip, we were not disappointed by all the sights, sounds and tastes on this trip, leaving us hungry for more…
Since then, thoughts about where to walk next had been rumbling around. Some time after Christmas, some cursory research lead us to the Via Francigena, an historic pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome.
The section Lucca to Siena particularly appealed as we could combine walking through stunning scenery, visiting some seriously beautiful places whilst devoting ourselves to some top notch eating; all of our favourite pastimes rolled into one!
So, a couple of months ago we started our planning. This comprised of buying a Cicerone guide to this section of the route, watching a few YouTube videos and getting out our trusty whiteboard out.
We planned our stages, opting to miss out the Lucca to Altopascio stage as, (at that time) it seemed there was little positive information about it. (An alternative route has recently been devised). We joined a Facebook page, Via Francigena which proved to be a great source of information sharing and top tips and recommendations.
Using Booking.com to book our mid range B&Bs allowed some flexibility with free cancellation, etc. Aware that Easter time would probably mean a price hike, we were willing to swallow this, as our holidays are fairly prescriptive due to work commitments.
Having got our credentials stamped at the Duomo office (very straightforward), we headed out for our final VF evening to the magnificent Piazza del Campo where we had some drinks with our buddies Todd and Stefano, followed by an excellent homestyle meal at Trattoria del Papei in Piazza del Mercato (a great recommendation from Stefano’s foodie friend).
1. A little local info about where to eat is invaluable as the choice is overwhelming
2. Prosecco tastes much nicer in the sunshine on Piazza del Campo (than back home in drizzly blighty)
The VF paths/routes are clean and well maintained.
Official VF signs (the brown ones) are plentiful, but make sure you’re following the right ones for your mode of transport (as mentioned above)
Signage for water can be patchy (tho very good on some sections)
The VF app is very useful for staying on track (literally), but doesn’t provide context.
The guidebook was useful in planning the stages and gives good historical information about each place. It is important to have the newest edition to ensure information about routes/services is up to date.
The route was pretty quiet, but very friendly. There is quite a low key vibe (tho we cant speak for the albergues).
We met people from Ireland, US, Croatia, Spain, Norway, Denmark and of course many Italians on the route, so there is a great international feel.
Bag carriage was super reliable, though we will try to do without in future (later in our trip we discover the benefits of left luggage service which we may consider on future trips).
Layers are essential. A merino wool base layer would have been useful on several mornings, as would have some light gloves.
We didnt use poles, but these might have been useful in wet conditions.
Merino wool socks, hats, sunglasses and snoods (is that the right word?) are also essential.
Footcare pre and post walking and worn in shoes (we believe) saved us from a single blister between us.
Try and learn some Italian, it is so well appreciated and gives you a little “in” to people’s everyday lives.
We hope we have broken our trip down to make it accessible. We would recommend this walk to anyone of a reasonable fitness level, particularly culture vultures with an interest in history, religious art, architecture, food and wine.
However, we would seriously recommend splitting the stage to Monteriggioni at Vall d’Elsa – an interesting and charming town where we could have spent more time.
As always happy to answer any questions/hear your thoughts!
If you would like to learn more about where we stayed, what we ate, as well as more photos from our route, please check out our Facebook & Instagram pages. (A Taste of a Place blogs; Tuscany and Bologna to come….)