Freshly home from the Italian section of the Via Francigena, I thought it might be timely to share the nuts and bolts of this pilgrimage route with those who may be considering a similar stroll.
It certainly was much harder than I expected, but it was amazing on a daily basis.
So here are the bare bones logistics of this walk. I have already posted brief descriptions of each day ‘live’ from the path and will share more detailed information in future blog posts, but now I will try to restrict myself to the basic data:
Start Day: Wednesday 8 August 2018, from Great Saint Bernard Pass, Switzerland.
Finish Day: Thursday 20 September 2018, at St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
Route: southwards through, and including towns of:
- Valle d’Aosta: Aosta, Chatillion, Verres, Pont St Martin
- Piedmonte: Ivrea, Vercelli
- Emilia Romagna: Piacenza, Fidenza, Berceto
- Tuscany: Pontremoli, Lucca, Siena
- Lazio: Acquapendente, Bolsena, Viterbo, and onwards to Rome.
- Total: 1 046.9km (according to my Garmin watch).
- Daily Average: approx. 26km
- Longest Day: 38.4km
- Shortest Day: 17.1km
- Walking: 40
- Rest: Four (Vercelli, Piacenza, Lucca, Siena)
- Daily Starts: the walking day would usually start around 530am or 600am. It depended on the distance for the day and the expected temperature. Earliest start: 430am, latest start: 700am.
- Walking Hours: again this was driven by the distance and, more often, the terrain. As the walk progressed, I became fitter and could cover more territory in a shorter time, but it was the terrain that really slowed me down. One day it took me about 54mins to walk 1km! It was that steep! Day 1 was over 10 hours of soul-destroying descent, while on other days I was done and dusted in 5.5hours.
- The via Francigena’s terrain is incredibly varied overall and can be incredibly varied on any one day.
- Close to the Alps in the North, it is naturally steep with descents to test the best set of knees.
- Leading into Vercelli there are days and days of dead flat as you walk through areas of intensive agriculture including endless fields of rice and corn/maize. Some people skip this section, but I thought it was a lovely contrast to other parts of the path.
- The Apennines get the heart pumping for a couple of days, and then into
- Tuscany for beautiful paths and lung-busting climbs up to hilltop villages.
- The path is predominantly on hard surfaces eg. back roads and asphalt surfaces. I would estimate 80% on hard, man-made surfaces.
- Incredibly hot and humid. I was expecting the heat, but not the humidity. It was not uncommon for it be 24°C at 530am! Hence the early starts.
- A few showers and one unbelievable thunder/lightening/bucketing rain/hail storm walking into Lucca.
- I did not take a sleeping bag and only wore my warm jacket three times in 44 days.
- Many ostellos provided blankets if required.
Maps & Guides:
- The app from the official via Francigena website (IOS and Apple store) is vital and is really all you need. It is not perfect though and you still need to pay attention to various signs and use a fair dose of common sense.
- This was the first time I walked using an app and I quickly became a convert. I downloaded all the individual maps in the app which meant I didn’t need data to access them.
- I noticed a few people also carried the Terre di Mezzo book and used it as a back-up/reference point to the app. They also reported it was already out-of-date in a couple of places and it is the most recent publication.
- Overall, the amount of signage varied from ‘pretty good’ up to ‘very good’. Some days I barely referred to the app all day.
- As usual, you need to be very careful entering and exiting cities (especially Piacenza and Siena) as the signs get lost in the busyness of the place.
- Ensure you have the app downloaded to your phone if you need clarification and/or confirmation of direction.
- There is a good range of accommodation in most price brackets in most towns and villages.
- Many monasteries and convents operate on a donation basis or request a donation of €10.00 as a minimum.
- Small hotels charge €30-40.00 a single or €50.00 a double with ensuite. Unsurprisingly, the larger towns tend to be more expensive.
- Pack a silk sleep sheet (or similar) at a minimum as some ostellos insist on this and ban sleeping bags.
- The accommodation list on the official via Francigena website is a very useful resource and is updated regularly. Download the list as a pdf onto your phone or tablet for quick reference. Naturally local tourist offices are also happy to book accommodation for you, as well as websites such as booking.com.
- Small shops and supermarkets provide a good range of basic foodstuffs. Check closing times though as often shops will close from 1230pm for the afternoon siesta and won’t reopen until 500pm. Not good when you are relying on them for your lunch.
- Bakeries (forno, panettiere and pasticceria) are everywhere with loads of delicious cakes and bread choices that are perfect for carb-loading.
- Cafes: sometimes you can be really lucky and find a café open as you walk out of town at 530am! €1.00 for coffee and €1.00 for a fresh pastry. Life is good!
- Menus: pilgrim menus are not common, but you can find a fixed menu for lunch with two to three courses for €9-15.00.
- An amazing experience, but much harder than I expected.
- I would not recommend this walk if you are expecting a social, camino-like experience all day and every day.
- I would recommend this walk if you are fit, have good knees and are not afraid of heights.
What have I left out? What else would you like to know?
#pilgrimage #viafrancigena #longdistancewalking