The Italian Via Francigena – Scenery and Stages

It’s all systems go as I count down for my next long distance walk. This time stepping out on the Italian leg of the Via Francigena.

If I was really committed (or should that be, “I should be committed”!) I would start at the very beginning of the Via Francigena with my first steps from Canterbury Cathedral in England. But No, I will have to be satisfied with a simple Italian stroll instead.

I have discussed the initial Via Francigena plans in a previous post where I talked about its history and some of the basic logistics of this walk. Here I will describe the stages in a little more detail.

Great St Bernard dog and the hospice Switzerland
A friendly welcome to the Great St Bernard Hospice. Photo:

The plan is to set out from the Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland on Wednesday 8 August and 44 days later, arrive in Rome. That is a distance of around 1 027km or 26km per day. I say ‘around’ because no maps or apps seem to agree on the actual distance and I guess it depends on how many ‘scenic’ detours you take or how many times you get lost!

So, this is what my research is telling me…

Day 1: Great Saint Bernard Pass, Switzerland to Aosta, Italy.

A solo walker in a green field. Italy
Downhill all the way… Photo: Elena Glemba

The night before I will be staying in the Great Saint Bernard Pass hospice that was set up in 1050AD to provide a haven for pilgrims making their way to/from Rome. Apparently the Swiss/Italian border is only about 100m past the hospice, so it is a quick ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to Switzerland. Day 1 is 30km of downhill all the way to Aosta.

Day 2-5: Val D’Aosta – from Aosta to just after Pont St Martin

While I am hoping that that word ‘Val’ translates to ‘valley’ and indicates sweeping downhills and glorious flat surfaces, I know I am kidding myself. The elevation maps show that there is a mix of stiff climbs and a few more gentle downhills. I hope my jetlag is starting to wane by then.

Day 6-19: Piedmonte Region

A gorgeous town in the Piedmonte region. Italy
A gorgeous town in the Piedmonte region. Photo:

Again the elevation maps show a mixed terrain, but this area is famous for its prolific rice growing industry.

Some experienced Via Francigena walkers moan about the boredom of walking through endless rice fields and even recommend that it is skipped by catching a train or bus to more interesting regions. Not me, I am a bit of a purist and always plan to walk every step.

I am heeding the warnings though, about the quantity and aggression of the region’s mosquitos and will be packing plenty of heavy duty bug spray.

Rest days are penciled in for Vercelli and Piacenza, but if I am feeling strong I may walk on.

Days 20-32: Tuscany

Stepping out across Tuscany. Italy
Stepping out across Tuscany. Photo: Sloways

My introduction to Tuscany commences near Pontremoli. A few gentle days quickly change to numerous rolling hills (this is me being optimistic again) and an equal number of damn stiff climbs.

The good news is that I have two rest days scheduled in Tuscany – one at Lucca and another at Siena. Normally I do not schedule rest days so close together, but when I asked the question on the Facebook forum, everyone said that these cities are not to be missed.

Siena, Italy
Siena. Photo:

I suspect that by this stage of the journey I will be more than happy to pull the backpack off and kick back for a bit.

Days 33-40: Latium (how very ancient Rome does that sound?)

This region starts around Acquapendente. I would like to describe it as the ‘home straight’, but the maps indicate something entirely different.

By this stage though I will be well-and-truly road-tested and the distances and routines of each day will have become automatic. There will be some nice, shorter days of 17-18km and that will seem quite odd after having walked multiple +30km days. I will be at my destination before breakfast time!

Roman testimonium
The testimonium that awaits…

Similar to walking a camino, pilgrims only need to walk the last 100km to be eligible to receive a testimonium at St Peter’s Basilica, but where is the challenge in that?

I am not at all religious, but I find that piece of paper so powerful and so important to provide a significant full-stop to the preceding 40 days of hard yakka.

Having walked over 1 000k before, I know exactly how I will feel as I stand in front of the Basilica. I will be:

  • pretty proud of what I have achieved,
  • very tired and more than ready to pull that backpack off for a long, long time, and
  • desperate for a very large and very cold beer!

Care to join me?

The Basics

What: The Via Francigena is a 1 900km pilgrimage route established in 990AD.

Where: The path starts at Canterbury Cathedral at Canterbury in England and ends in the Vatican City, Rome Italy.

Elena Glemba 3
Photo: Elena Glemba

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, (repeat for 40 days), train, plane, train, foot, foot, plane, car, foot. Phew!

Who: Everyone, including you!

Related Posts: For more background on this walk, have a look at my planning post.

Related Blogs: For great photos and quirky writing about the via Francigena, have a look at:

Read About it: Grab your via Francigena guidebook and maps from Book Depository.

St Peters Basilica, Rome. Photo:
St Peters Basilica, Rome. Photo:

17 thoughts on “The Italian Via Francigena – Scenery and Stages

  1. WhenI did my 2011 Camino (prelue) one of the ladies I walked along with did this route from Canterbury. There were three to start, all from Melbourne. After a short while one when home. From the blog postings I could tell some stress remained. The two ladies started sometimes travelling separately, often together, but often separate. They both finished. They could not walk across the Pass, android not find that out until the ‘refuge’ just before. So they had to walk back into the nearest town to get the bus!

    Started April 22. Took just over three months.

    Keep us posted as you travelling Mel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, David I have been following a few forums and blogs and it appears that it is still quite snowy in the Pass. I will be busing up to the Hospice so I should be fine. I aim to blog as I go, so will keep you posted. Are you and Lue finishing the Camino Madrid soon? Take care, Melx


      1. We are spending a week in England. Leave here towards the end of August. Are you coming up to the Hopice from Italy or Switzerland?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I fly into Zurich and then will train/bus up to the Hospice from the Switzerland side, then walk into Italy the next day… Enjoy England!


  2. I wish you warm sunny days with a cooling breeze on your back.
    Can’t wait to walk vicariously through your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been doing the odd spot of training and the other morning I was out walking and my eyelashes frosted over and my water bottle froze. I found out later it was -7C! So I am definitely looking forward to some warm days! Thanks for following! Mel

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How much I would like to do it, too, you made me want to start again ; )
    A beautiful and interesting article, thank you dear Mel


  4. I did the Via Francigena by bicycle in 2016 from Canterbury. My experiences are not directly transferable to walkers as I used mostly B roads, but few of the old walkers path too. I didn’t have time to read your entire article yet, but be certain, the Italian portion of the VF is not that simple of a stroll (makes up for almost 1/2 of the entire VF). As it seems you want to start at the top of the Great San Bernard you’ll miss the climb to it, which is at the same time strenuous, but beautiful. But you will experience beautiful scenery going down and then in the Aosta region. Just before you enter Tuscany, after Fornovo de Taro, you’ll have to cross the Passo della Cisa and although the altimetry is much less intense than the Alps, I found it much tougher because of the gradients or maybe because I was already tired from the previous climbs. Stay in wonderful Pontremolli at the Capuchins Friars convent and if you get there by the middle of August make sure not to miss the medieval festival in town. If you want to exchange experiences, visit my blog and get in touch through the contact form.
    Buon Camino!


    1. Thanks for the Pontremoli recommendation. I have noted it in my book. I won’t be there until late August so will miss the festival, but perhaps next time! 😉


  5. It sounds incredible but absolutely exhausting, you mad woman! 🙂 🙂 I presume at altitude it will be cooler but it strikes me that you’re walking at the hottest time of year? And this has definitely been a hot one, so take care! And give my love to Lucca. 🙂 Good luck!


    1. Yes, I know! A crazy time to be walking, but I had to bring my trip forward three weeks to attend a family wedding back here in Aus. Not ideal, but it had to be done. Needless to say there will be plenty of VERY early morning starts, bucket loads of gelato consumed and the odd cleansing ale! 🙂 Will say ‘hi’ to Lucca for you. I can’t wait to see it as everyone raves about this city. Melx


      1. And I envy you Siena. I never made it there 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I will try to post lots of photos as I walk. Maybe I can tempt you to travel there….although you sound a bit like me…NO temptation required!! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I have heard about Via Francigena but I’ve never encountered such a detailed and practical guide for this path. Sounds like a great hiking destination which I’ll have to add to my bucket list.


    1. There are some great via Francigena resources on the web and a VERY enthusiastic and supportive Facebook forum, so I can only encourage you to check those out. I am at that ‘nervous’ stage before a big trip, but I am sure the excitement will kick in once I am packed! Have a great day, Mel


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