Yes, it’s on again! Or should I say, the walking boots are on again, and I’m excited!
In 8 months’ time I will be stepping out across the Italian countryside, powering over the rolling hills and inhaling gelato.
Where am I off to this time?, I hear you ask.
From late August until mid-October 2018 I will be walking 1000-odd kilometres from Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps, due south to Rome. This journey is the Italian leg of the via Francigena pilgrimage route.
The via Francigena starts at Canterbury Cathedral in England, crosses the English Channel (obviously not on foot), treks south-east through France, through Switzerland and then downhill all the way ( 😉 ) to Rome. It follows the route travelled by Archbishop Sigeric, who strolled this way in 990AD. He enjoyed the walk to Rome so much, he decided to walk BACK to England, but this time he asked his scribe to record the direction, the villages visited, and each and every cathedral and church he worshiped at along the way. Again I marvel at the adventurousness of these people who stepped out without the aid of GPS or high-tech all-weather gear, and were subject to bandits, wild animals and starvation. Necessity I guess, but it makes our modern-day attempt at pilgrimage look pretty cushy.
In the interests of domestic harmony, I have decided not to walk the whole way in Sigeric’s footsteps and be content, this time, with just the Italian section.
I plan to fly into Zurich (Switzerland) and then train and bus up to Great Saint Bernard Pass. Yes, as the name suggests, Great Saint Bernard Pass is the home of the famous Saint Bernard dogs. The area is also home to a hospice which has been offering shelter to pilgrims since 1045AD. On day one I will walk downhill into Italy to start my 40-day journey to Rome.
Similar to the caminos in Spain, walkers carry a ‘credential’ which identifies them as a ‘pilgrim’ and allows the walker to access free, or heavily discounted, accommodation in monasteries, convents, and ‘ostellos’. As you can imagine, this can be pretty simple and Spartan accommodation, but a dry bed, and a safe bed, are the key considerations.
As well as the 40 walking days, I plan to have four rest days in:
- Lucca, and
I suspect I will find a million other gorgeous villages that I wish were also venues for rest days, but they will all have to wait for a return visit.
August will be the tail-end of the European Summer and the season will quickly change to Autumn as I proceed southwards. The weather should be kind with temperatures ranging from around 15°C to 27°C. Naturally it will start to cool down marginally as I head towards Rome and Autumn settles in properly. Fingers crossed it stays dry!
Looking at the maps, I plan to walk on average 25-26km per day. Although in all the online forums I have joined, people reveal that the distances in the guidebooks bear little resemblance to the distances they are actually covering each day! I am guessing there will be quite a few +30km walking days, and I am hoping that I will have my ‘walking legs’ by the time I need to be clocking up multiple long days.
While the Via Francigena has many similarities to a camino, the Via is far less well-known which means far fewer people, and much less camino-like infrastructure. In 2016, only around 11 000 pilgrims walked to Rome to claim their Testimonium at St Peter’s Basilica. Compare that with 277 995 people who walked a camino to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. I understand it is well-waymarked in most places, but far less ‘pilgrim’ accommodation and catering arrangements. This doesn’t bother me too much as I tend to eat and sleep very simply when I walk.
At this stage, I am walking solo. Can I tempt you to join me? Are your feet itching for a good walk? Perhaps you don’t want to walk the whole 1 000km, however consider joining me for a stage or two, or seven.
So, this is my big highlight for 2018. I am so excited about my next long distance walk, even though it is over eight months away. It will be my very own ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ adventure, but a lot less romantic or glamorous! Yes, I know I am a wee bit strange, but I have been called much worse.
Wishing you and yours a relaxing and happy festive season and I look forward to hearing your plans for 2018.
What are you looking forward to in 2018?
What: The via Francigena is a 1900km pilgrimage route established in 990AD.
Where: The path starts at Canterbury Cathedral in England and ends at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, Rome Italy.
When: The path can be attempted at any time of year, although snow closes the Great Saint Bernard Pass from mid-Autumn to mid-Spring. You must schedule your walk accordingly or use public transport to cover this stage.
Why: Because these boots were made for walking.
How: By foot, car, plane, train, plane, train, bus, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, etc, train, plane, train, plane, car, foot.
Who: Everyone, including you!
Related Posts: To understand what it takes to walk 1000km, have a look at my post about walking the camino via de la plata in Spain.
Related Blogs: For great photos and quirky writing about the via Francigena, have a look at: https://caminoist.org/
Read About it: Grab your via Francigena guidebook and maps from Book Depository