Review of the Official via Francigena App

Once upon a time, I was an app virgin!

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a bit of a Luddite when it comes to technology, but on my recent stroll through Italy I instantly became an app convert.

Via Francigena directionsWhen planning your via Francigena adventure, the go-to information resource is the official via Francigena website. It has really comprehensive information and, as an extra bonus for us mono-lingual types, the information is available in Italian, German, English, French and Spanish.

The website has all the information you may need:

  • Background and history
  • Interactive maps and suggested guidebooks, including for bicycle routes,
  • Accommodation lists, and
  • Links to other sources of information including the via Francigena app.

In the past I have always relied on ye olde hardcopy guidebook which I carry in a clear plastic sleeve attached to my backpack. I did the same for this last walk, however was tempted daily to toss the book into the closest garbage bin as the app was all I really needed.

I downloaded the app to my phone and then went through and downloaded each of the individual stages so that I could access the information offline, saving on data costs and avoiding blackspots when there was no mobile signal. Even in a relatively small but heavily populated country like Italy, there are some remote areas with no mobile coverage.

Official Via Francigena App content

Official Via Francigena App content

Each stage featured in the app contains:

  • An interactive map that connects to the GPS,
  • Basic information including start point, end point, difficulty classification and estimated distance,
  • A brief description of the path during the stage,
  • A selection photos, and
  • An altitude map.

I loved to see the little red dot (me!) scurrying along the path, and on tough days, proving to myself that I really was making progress and slowly getting closer to my destination.

A few comments on using the app:

  • Common Sense: Do not turn off your common sense when using the app. Sometimes the red line/path on the app does not neatly or precisely follow the path you are standing on. This is especially important when the path splits into two or more directions. One morning I followed the app down a path and ended up in a paddock, frightening a herd of deer in the process! Beautiful, but not exactly accurate! Back up the hill I slogged and chose the other path to get back on track. Sure enough the signage confirmed that this path was the correct one and eventually the red line on the app agreed too.
  • GPS: Sometimes the GPS is slow to respond and it takes quite some time for it to register where you are on the map. I found this tended to happen more often at the start of the day, so I would close down the app and start afresh. Not sure if this is an app problem, a phone problem or a GPS problem. Someone with more tech knowledge than me may be able to advise.
  • Signs: via Francigena support groups operate in different regions of Italy and some are more active than others maintaining the path, providing information and updating signage. I noticed in a few places, Ivrea for one, that the physical signs did not necessarily match the app directions. I was confident that I would end up in the same place, but did tend to follow the app rather than the signs.
  • BookScenic Route: the app tends to take you on the higher, scenic route involving more ascents/descents and away from the towns and villages. Check the app for any shortcuts to avoid any ‘unnecessary’ climbs (to see yet another historic church) or to connect with towns if you need food or drink, or wish to shorten a stage by finding accommodation.
  • Altitude Map: the altitude map on the app is a guide only and is not to be relied on. I found it either over-estimated or under-estimated the steepness which always added an element of surprise to the day! It was all doable of course, but I started out each day wondering what I would find. The altitude map also doesn’t include the location of towns (like on the altitude maps in the Terre de Mezzo guidebook). This would be a handy planning tool, especially if you are splitting a stage and you would like to know if you are finishing the day on a climb or starting the day with a lung-buster.
  • Additional Information: if you are connected to the map ‘live’, you can ‘turn on’ additional information such as ‘places of interest’ and ‘accommodation’. It would also be handy to show fountains/water points and public toilets (if they exist).

Overall, it is an excellent tool and I am now an app true believer. I will definitely be looking for similar apps on future walks.

What apps would you recommend?

August/September 2018

Up, up, up into the Apennines, Italy

Up, up, up into the Apennines, Italy

#viafrancigena, #pilgrimage, #longdistancewalking,

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