Top Tips for Walking the Italian Via Francigena

Having packed away the hiking boots and washed all my incredibly grotty hiking clothes that could possibly have walked home on their own, I thought it might be timely to share some key learnings from my latest long distance walk through Italy.

Via Francigena pilgrim logo
Via Francigena pilgrim logo

I set off from Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps and arrived in Rome 44 days later tired and amazed.

Here are a few thoughts that, I hope, will be useful to anyone contemplating this pilgrimage route.

1. Walking Poles: If I could marry my walking poles, I would (apologies, dear husband)! I know walking poles are not everyone’s cuppa, but I would strongly, strongly urge you to consider buying and taking a good quality pair of poles. Frankly, the path can be downright treacherous in places with unbelievably steep climbs, descents and loose rocky surfaces doing their best to trip you up. I found that walking poles provided valuable stability and support, especially when walking over rough ground.

2. Footwear: make sure your footwear is in good condition and there is plenty of tread/grip on the soles. As mentioned above, the path can be seriously steep with loads of loose and dangerous stone underfoot, so you need as much grip as possible. I completely wore away the tread on my ‘new’ boots during this walk. Everyone has their own preference for the style and type of walking shoe, so choose the one that you find most comfortable. I wear a hiking boot and like the solid and stable feel of this shoe with the additional ankle support.

Patting a dog through a fence
A friendly dog at last.

3. Angry Dogs: See point 1. My walking poles saved my bacon on an almost daily basis. Never in my life have I met so many sad, angry and frustrated dogs who would like nothing better than to tear me limb from limb. Most of the dogs were behind fences, but some weren’t and there were a few scary moments when snarling dogs had me cornered before their owners called the dogs away (with no apology offered).

4. Water & Snacks: Always carry plenty of water and snacks. The path tends to take you away from villages and towns, and when you do walk through populated areas, bars and cafés were either non-existent or closed. I walked during late Summer and many café owners were still away on their long Summer break. For water, there are some fountains, but they cannot always be relied on to provide potable water. It was very warm when I walked and I consumed up to five litres of water per day and sweated out 4.5 litres!

The contents of the VF app
The contents of the VF app

5. The via Francigena Map/App: I will write a more thorough review of the app at a later stage, but I will say here that while it is an excellent resource, I found that both the distances and altitude quoted, could be quite conservative. I wore a Garmin sports watch and found that I needed to add 2-3km to the quoted distance for almost every stage. I didn’t get lost (much) or wander aimlessly, so I can’t really explain the discrepancy.

6. WIFI: WIFI is not as widely available as in say, Spain. Most monasteries and convent-style accommodation did not provide WIFI, which is completely understandable. I also found that many times bars advertised WIFI and it was either not working, or I simply couldn’t get my tablet to connect to it. Next time I will take a tablet with capacity to insert a local SIM.

7. Book Ahead: Always try to give your target accommodation advance notice that you are coming. I always booked ahead, often only a day or a couple of days, and I always received a warm welcome. I noticed a bit of tension when other people would just turn up at the door with no notice, expecting a bed would be available. Maybe I am imagining things, but I figure it doesn’t cost anything to be polite.

Walking through the early morning mist
Walking through the early morning mist

8. Accommodation Opening Times: Further, many accommodation places are staffed by volunteers or are not permanently staffed. Some places do not open their doors until 4-5pm, so when you book ahead you can find out all this key information. It is hard yakka when you walk 5-6 hours and then have to wait the same amount of time to get into a room and get a shower.

9. Solitude: Be prepared for solitude and isolation. This is not a Spanish camino with loads of people walking the same stage as you every single day. Sometimes I did not meet anyone at all during the day, and often I was the only person in the ostello at night. That can also be a good thing of course as there is less competition for a bed etc., but I just wanted to give you the heads-up that there is not the same social vibe.

Also, the path sometimes leads you into some pretty remote countryside with lots of open space and few villages. Stunning views of course, but no chance of hailing a taxi or catching the bus should you feel like cutting your day short.

via francigena Signposts
Any which way…

The Italian via Francigena was an amazing experience, but the hardest walk I have done so far and unlike any of the three Spanish and Portuguese caminos I have completed.

Don’t get me wrong, that is a good thing as each walk has its own personality.

Needless to say I can talk underwater with a mouthful of marbles and I am happy to answer any specific questions you may have if you are contemplating this stroll.

What do you think? Is this walk for you?

August/September 2018


#viafrancigena, #pilgrimage, #longdistancewalking,

32 thoughts on “Top Tips for Walking the Italian Via Francigena

  1. Anne-Marie Eliseo November 7, 2018 / 11:48 am

    Hi Mel
    I have loved reading all about this walk in my favourite country. You must be fighting fit with excellent knees! Your blog posts are very professional, congratulations! Anne-Marie


    • Life...One Big Adventure November 7, 2018 / 4:17 pm

      Thanks Anne-Marie. I think the fitness level has dropped dramatically over the past month, but it all still looms large in my memory! Thanks for the very kind feedback – it is much appreciated. Have a great day, Mel


  2. Veronica November 7, 2018 / 4:37 pm

    Good tips my dear Mel ❤
    you have lived a wonderful adventure🌷


    • Life...One Big Adventure November 7, 2018 / 4:44 pm

      I certainly did have a wonderful adventure – made all the more special knowing I had so many people walking with me in spirit! And you are one of them! Thanks a million, Melx

      Liked by 1 person

      • Veronica November 7, 2018 / 4:51 pm

        Oh yes Mel…I was with you every day😍😍😍😍🌷🌷🌷🌷


        • Life...One Big Adventure November 7, 2018 / 5:06 pm

          Now wouldn’t that have been fun if you REALLY were with me on the walk! That would have been amazing! 😉


  3. Berit Stokseth November 7, 2018 / 7:28 pm

    Did you find accomodation at every stage or did you have to bring a tent to sleep in. ?


    • Life...One Big Adventure November 8, 2018 / 6:50 am

      Yes, always. I did plan ahead and book ahead to make sure I knew where I was heading and knew that I always had a bed. There is no need to carry a tent as most accommodation (convents and monasteries) was around Euro10 per night. This is a great website and link for accommodation information – Have good day, Mel


  4. Berit Stokseth November 7, 2018 / 10:05 pm

    Hi again! What guidebook do you recommend. We have a problem because we dont speak Italian. Me and my husband can use books in these languages: Norwegian, English, German and French. Best Regards Berit


    • Life...One Big Adventure November 9, 2018 / 7:38 am

      I read on a forum yesterday that they are releasing a French version of the via Francigena guide too. Maybe that will be better than the English version for you. Have a good day, Mel


  5. My Dream Garden November 10, 2018 / 8:35 am

    Great practical advice, Mel. I’m sure many will benefit greatly from reading this. Sounds like a challenging yet very satisfying experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure November 10, 2018 / 10:14 am

      Thanks for the feedback. I’m a practical kinda gal! And hopefully it saves some fellow walkers some grief in the future! Have a great weekend. Mel

      Liked by 1 person

  6. stacysbrainblog February 9, 2019 / 2:21 pm

    What would you say was the most challenging day and why?
    (I walked the Camino Frances in 2017 and am walking the VF with a friend this summer!)


    • Life...One Big Adventure February 9, 2019 / 10:33 pm

      I think the most challenging day was day three. I was still in the throes of jetlag, I had walked two huge days already, it was really hot and the terrain was incredibly challenging in places. Thank goodness day four was easier!! If you are walking in Summer be very careful to carry plenty of water. You cannot rely on there being potable fountains or cafes/bars at regular intervals. Happy to answer any other questions you may have. Enjoy! Mel


      • stacysbrainblog February 10, 2019 / 1:26 am

        Thank you!


        • Life...One Big Adventure February 10, 2019 / 1:37 am

          My pleasure. It is an amazing experience, but a tough one. Are you going to blog? I would love to follow in your footsteps.


          • stacysbrainblog February 10, 2019 / 1:53 am

            Yes! I leave at the end of May and will most likely be starting in Aosta.


          • Life...One Big Adventure February 10, 2019 / 2:01 am

            Yes, good idea to avoid the ascent from GSBP. I totally underestimated ‘alps’!!


          • stacysbrainblog February 10, 2019 / 2:41 am

            Haha Imy hiking buddy has to leave a week or two before my flight home so I’m thinking of doing some hiking in the Alps after reaching Rome… Once I’m in the best shape!

            Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure March 8, 2019 / 7:23 am

      Have you found the Facebook Group for the VF? It is an excellent resource and everyone is so helpful.


  7. Retirement Reflections March 8, 2019 / 7:26 am

    Thanks, Mel – I greatly appreciate your reply. I found the Facebboik Group but haven’t done any reading there yet. That will be my homework for tonight! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Year I Touched My Toes March 21, 2019 / 9:52 pm

    Hi Mel, I enjoyed reading this. Useful info and I’m with you on the walking sticks – don’t leave home without them I say. Why do you think the VF is harder than the Caminos ? Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure March 22, 2019 / 7:22 am

      Thanks Louise. I think the VF is harder on a number of levels. I found the terrain much more demanding with endless lung-busting climbs. I guess I hadn’t done any serious mountain walking before so this was my first introduction. Yes, there are some steep climbs on all the caminos, but this walk crosses a couple of mountain ranges, plus all the quaint villages/towns located on the top of every %$#@ steep hill in Tuscany!! 🙂 Harder than that was the lack of people to chat to. Sometimes I would walk all day and the only person I would see/speak to was where I was staying at night. As I walked late Summer, many cafes (and whole towns) were closed for holidays, or I happened to walk through during their lunch break etc. I enjoy my own company, but I would have enjoyed sharing the good, bad and ugly of this walk with someone else. I don’t want to sound like a moaner, and it was an amazing experience, but it is a completely different experience to a camino. The other pilgrims I did meet along the way felt the same. Have a good day, Mel

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Cathy Mahoney July 14, 2020 / 7:29 am

    Mel just discovered your blog I am planning to walk Lausanne to Rome in 2022, 50 days and 3 rest days as this is all the leave I can get. Best places to have rest days

    Was in Italy last year to walk Florence to Rome and had 3 weeks holiday in Tuscany 1st so had 3 days each in Siena and Lucca then. Having said that I want a rest day in Siena as LOVED it

    Cathy Akld Aotearoa


    • Life...One Big Adventure July 14, 2020 / 8:28 am

      That is so exciting. Hopefully the world of international travel has settled long before that. Other places that I would recommend for a rest day would be Piacenza, Pavia and Pietrasanta. I only had one night in each of the last two, but they looked like lovely towns with lots of culture. Pavia has the most amazing covered bridge. I guess it all depends on your timing ie how you want to break up the walk. Loved Lucca and Siena and wished I had allowed myself three nights in each, but onwards and upwards! Have a great day, Mel


      • Cathy Mahoney July 14, 2020 / 10:04 am

        Thanks so much Mel

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s