The How, What, When, and Why of Walking the Italian Via Francigena

A large bronze sculpture of a horse in Piacenza
Sculpture, Italian-style…

I was tempted to call this post “All You Need to Know About Walking the Italian Via Francigena”. However as we are all individuals, no doubt we all have quite different experiences of walking 1000km through Italy. Instead, this post has a more modest title.

Modesty aside, what I hope this post does achieve is a comprehensive summary of the planning, the actual experience on a day-to-day basis, and then the obligatory post-walk reflections. I also hope it saves you a bit of legwork as you tackle you own planning.

Ciao…

The Background

A sign pointing the way on the Italian Via FrancigenaAfter walking three caminos in Spain and Portugal, I decided to spread my walking wings, if such a thing exists, and consider some different pilgrim paths. The Via Francigena in Italy immediately grabbed my attention as it:

  • is chockful of history
  • has similar hostel/pilgrim infrastructure, and
  • is Italy after all, with limitless coffee, pizza and gelato.

What is not to love?

With some rejigging of dates, I set off from Great Saint Bernard Pass on the Switzerland/Italy border on 8 August 2018. Yes, it was very hot, but early starts meant that I could finish my walking day before the heat became too unbearable.

But, before I get carried away with too much reminiscing, here is a whole stack of how-to-walk-the-Italian-Via-Francigena links in some sort of chronological order.

The Planning & The Dreaming
  • A poster advertising the Italian Via FrancigenaUnder the Tuscan Sun In Hiking Boots: A general overview of the Via Francigena, when I will be walking, a background on the walk and a bit of history about the walk. READ 
  • Via Francigena – Top 5 Information Sources and Resources: A summary of the different information sources I used to plan the walk including websites, apps, books and forums. READ 
  • The Italian Via Francigena – Scenery & Stages: A more detailed discussion about the different regions of Italy that the Via Francigena passes through. READ 
  • Ciao, Pronto, Prego – Learning Basic Italian: The resources I used to pick up enough Italian to allow me to order a meal, a beer and find a bed each night. READ 
 The Walking & Reality Hits
A sunrise on the Italian Via Francigena
Now, that’s a sunrise!

I apologise in advance if these posts are not the World’s best writing. They were very much written on the road, at the end of a long day and some days I hardly had energy to spit let alone energy to construct a grammatically correct sentence. What I hope it does do is convey a little of each day’s journey and magic, including endless breathtaking sunrises.

On each day I have included the kilometres walked (according to my Garmin watch), a description of the terrain and the weather. Also included is where I stayed and the cost in 2018-money.

Some days were fabulous, others were incredibly hard when I truly doubted my sanity, but all were amazing.

Walk with me:

  • Day 1, Great Saint Bernard Pass to Aosta, 31km: OMG! Who knew Alps could be so bloody big?? READ 
  • Day 2, Aosta to Chatillon, 32.2km: With every muscle aching, I pull up my big-girl panties and keep walking. READ 
  • A small wayside shrine on the Italian Via Francigena
    A small wayside shrine

    Day 3, Chatillon to Verres, 21.9km: I thought this was supposed to be fun. I am not sure I can take another step let alone walk to Rome. READ 

  • Day 4, Verres to Pont Saint Martin, 19km: Sun shining, birds singing and all is right with the World. READ 
  • Day 5, Pont Saint Martin to Ivrea, 23.5km: Mixing it with thunderstorms and kayakers. READ 
  • Day 6, Ivrea to Santhia, 38.4km: A bigger day than I expected as I run away from lightning. READ 
  • Day 7, Santhia to Vercelli, 28.9km: Corn, corn, rice, rice, corn. READ 
  • Day 8, Vercelli to Nicorvo, 25.5km: Rice, rice, rice and lost in translation. READ 
  • Day 9, Nicorvo to Garlasco, 30km: Wall-to-wall men with tattoos! READ 
  • The covered bridge in Pavia, Italy
    Perfect Pavia

    Day 10, Garlasco to Pavia, 23.4km: Pavia is fantastic with a gobsmacking bridge. READ 

  • Day 11, Pavia to Santa Christina e Bissone, 29.2km: How to eat a pizza bigger than your head! READ 
  • Day 12, Santa Christina e Bissone to Orio Litta, 17.1km: Easy peasy. READ
  • Day 13, Orio Litta to Piacenza, 18.3km: Paying the Ferryman to cross the River Po. READ 
  • Day 14, Piacenza to Fiorenzuola Darda, 33.3km: Gloriously flat, but not so nice through industrial estates. READ 
  • Day 15, Fiorenzuola Darda to Fidenza, 23.2km: Zipping along the flat before tomorrow’s hills. READ 
  • Grapes covered in dew in ItalyDay 16, Fidenza to Fornovo di Taro, 32.4km: Lung busting climbs and ice cream for breakfast. READ 
  • Day 17, Fornovo di Taro to Cassio, 21km: Up, up, bloody up. READ 
  • Day 18, Cassio to Passo della Cisa, 18.8km: Finished before breakfast, but no food. READ 
  • Day 19, Passo della Cisa to Pontremoli, 23.9km: Down, down, down and more down. READ 
  • Day 20, Pontremoli to Aulla, 33.1km: Running on empty and little sleep. READ 
  • Day 21, Aulla to Avenza, 35.9km: Going with the flow and adjusting to flexible.  READ 
  • A hilltop Tuscan village, Italy
    My first hilltop village

    Day 22, Avenza to Pietrasanta, 31km: Marble wonder and falling in love with Pietrasanta. READ 

  • Day 23, Pietrasanta to Lucca, 30.5km: Thunder, lightning and horizontal rain. READ 
  • Day 24, Lucca to Altopascio, 19.4km: Not the nicest of walking, but blessedly short. READ 
  • Day 25, Altopascio to San Miniato Alto, 31.1km: Getting high in Tuscany. READ 
  • Day 26, San Miniato Alto to Gambassi Terme, 24.2km: Rolling hills and Tuscan views. READ 
  • Day 27, Gambassi Terme to Colle di Val d’Elsa, 27.8km: Gorgeous valleys and more lung-busting climbs. READ 
  • A hilltop in Tuscany, ItalyDay 28, Colle di Val d’Elsa to Siena, 37km: Same, same as Day 27. Thank goodness for stunning Siena. READ 
  • Day 29, Siena to Ponte Darbia, 27.2km: Tuscan strolls with new friends. READ 
  • Day 30, Ponte Darbia to San Quirico Dorcia, 27.1km: Dazzling sunrises and delicious coffee and donuts. READ 
  • Day 31, San Quirico Dorcia to Radicofani, 32km: What a ^%$#@ day! READ 
  • Day 32, Radicofani to Acquapendente, 25.7km: Marvelling at farmers and farming. READ 
  • A sign pointing towards RomeDay 33, Acquapendente to Bolsena, 23.8km: Meeting up with old friends for cold beer. READ 
  • Day 34, Bolsena to Montefiascone, 18.5km: The husband drops in! READ 
  • Day 35, Montefiascone to Viterbo, 18km: Our walking family has grown. READ 
  • Day 36, Viterbo to Vetralla, 19.4km: Making new friends around the dinner table. READ 
  • Day 37, Vetralla to Sutri, 23.1km: Enjoying the local festivities. READ 
  • Day 38, Sutri to Campagnano di Roma, 26.2km: Almost there. READ 
  • Day 39, Campagnano di Roma to La Storta, 24.7km: Trying to cope with city life again. READ 
  • Day 40, La Storta to Rome, 21.1km: Ta da!!! READ
The Completion & Rich in Hindsight
Three hikers walk through Tuscany, Italy
Happy days in Tuscany

We can never complete something like this and not be altered by the experience. I will say right here that this was one of the hardest physical challenges I have ever completed (and here I was thinking I would simply amble through Italy eating gelati and drinking chianti). It was a truly awesome experience, perhaps enjoyable is the wrong word. It was simply awesome.

Here are a few post-walk thoughts:

  • The Italian Via Francigena – The Nuts and Bolts: A summary of distances, weather, terrain, maps, accommodation and stages. READ 
  • Great Saint Bernard Pass, Switzerland
    The gobsmacking Great Saint Bernard Pass, Switzerland

    Going to the Dogs in Switzerland: More detailed information about Great Saint Bernard Pass. READ 

  • Top Tips for Walking the Italian Via Francigena: Learn from my mistakes. READ 
  • Review of the Official Via Francigena App: Don’t leave home without it. READ 
  • Spanish Camino or Italian Via Francigena – which one is for you?: Comparing the Via Francigena to walking Caminos in Spain. They are two very different strolls. READ 
  • The Power of Hindsight – Via Francigena Reflections: The mistakes I made and how you can avoid them. READ 
A whole Italian pizza
Pizza anyone?

When the time comes, I will look back on my life and know that walking the Italian Via Francigena was one of life’s highlights. And who knows? One day, I may forget the really tough days and continue the journey from Rome on the Via Francigena del Sud, all the way to the Adriatic Sea at Brindisi.

Ah, the temptation…

If you have specific questions about the Via Francigena, pop them in the COMMENTS box below. I am more than happy to chat and help where I can.

Ciao Ciao

 

The Basics

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

Pilgrims walking to the River Po, Italy
Pilgrims walking to the River Po.

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: Not for the faint-hearted, but doable by anyone with a bit of fitness and a tonne of determination.

Sunrise in ItalyRelated 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 what Sandy has to say.

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

#viafrancigena #travelinspo #walkinginitaly #mustdo  #caminodesantiago #longdistancewalking #walkingholiday

32 thoughts on “The How, What, When, and Why of Walking the Italian Via Francigena

  1. Jen July 8, 2020 / 11:43 pm

    Based on your post about walking one of the caminos in Spain, I just finished reading “The Year We Seized the Day.” Now I’m looking forward to settling in and reading through your blog posts about this journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure July 10, 2020 / 6:59 am

      I hope you enjoyed that Book. Certainly easier than walking yourself! So many wonderful experience adventures to dream about and plan for. Happy reading. Mel

      Like

  2. Monkey's Tale July 9, 2020 / 12:09 am

    What a journey! I’ve never though about doing any of these caminos, but maybe I should reconsider. Looks interesting, Maggie

    Like

    • Life...One Big Adventure July 10, 2020 / 6:54 am

      Definitely a different experience to a Camino, but still very worthwhile and exceptionally beautiful. So many wonderful walking experiences out there waiting for us. Take care over there. Mel

      Like

  3. Susan July 9, 2020 / 6:22 pm

    40 days of walking? Wow! Are your legs made of steel? 😁

    Liked by 1 person

      • Susan July 10, 2020 / 11:32 am

        I can imagine. I feel tired just talking about walking. 😂

        Like

        • Life...One Big Adventure July 11, 2020 / 3:34 pm

          I think you would be fine once you got out there and started walking. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other. 😃

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Frances Antonia July 13, 2020 / 8:07 pm

    I love this! I do need to get back on my walk (from home) towards the beginning of this walk. Gosh it was a long one. It this the most amount of days you’ve been on a long walk?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure July 14, 2020 / 8:32 am

      Yes, it was a long walk, but like most long walks after the first week of doing it hard and settling in, the days just fly by and before you know it, Rome is on the horizon! Yes, this is the longest walk I have done. I did walk the Camino Via de la Plata from Seville, but that one was only a short 38 days! 😉 What a privilege to be able to walk for so long….One day soon again I hope. Melx

      Liked by 1 person

      • Frances Antonia July 14, 2020 / 6:10 pm

        It’s so fantastic you can get away for such long walks. And that you do!! It’s such great sustainable travel on so many levels and it supports small communities. I feel for the families on the camino who rely on the walkers. Fx

        Liked by 1 person

        • Life...One Big Adventure July 15, 2020 / 7:16 am

          As I am self-employed I can be a bit flexible with what leave I take. The only downside is that when I am not working, I am not earning, so I am quite budget conscious. Yes, I feel for all the people/hospitaleros on the Camino. They must be doing it very hard.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Frances Antonia July 15, 2020 / 6:36 pm

            Oh this is nice and I always love hearing stories of how people make things happen. There’s always pros and cons eh. We are not self employed but have chosen to work in a way that has allowed us more freedom. Downsizing and living modestly has been a game changer for us. And of course prioritising adventures. I believe there’s foot traffic on the Camino now. Not as much as before but I certainly know of people walking this summer. Although there is a region near Lugo closed due to an outbreak so I wonder If this is affecting the trail.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Life...One Big Adventure July 16, 2020 / 7:39 am

            Yes, I am looking longingly at all the people walking the camino at the moment. It seems it is not 100% safe as you say with Lugo affected which is on the Camino Primitivo – one I was going to walk back in early June. Oh well, it is not going anywhere and I just have to be patient.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Frances Antonia July 16, 2020 / 6:32 pm

            Borders closed and not being able to consider safe, easy travel is truly the weirdest sensation. I was at the airport on the weekend, lol not because I hang out there. We had to get a watch resized (it’s on the train line and a place to get stuff done, odd hey). Anyway, there were people flying in and out. It was weird. I wondered when the time comes how many people will get back on the horse or how many will be nervous. Would I book to Asia as easily as I would in the past? Would people be prepared to pay for big trips in advance? No need to answer just thinking aloud. Maybe I’ll write about this today. 😉

            Liked by 1 person

          • Life...One Big Adventure July 17, 2020 / 9:35 am

            Happy to be your muse! 😉 There was an article on the radio this morning (Tokyo I think) saying how well Asia has performed with this whole Covid-kerfuffle because in many Asian countries they habitually wear masks. Maybe Japan is a travel option?? I could do the 88-Temples walk! 😉

            Like

  5. anneharrison July 13, 2020 / 8:50 pm

    Simply amazing! I am so impressed by anyone who does this – looking forward to reading all of the links in your blog! (maybe a cruise for your next holiday?) xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Girl in Niagara July 21, 2020 / 8:01 am

    Wow what a journey. You make me want to do a Camino. Great detailed info here Mel!👌🏼

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure July 21, 2020 / 8:23 am

      Yes, it was quite the journey! 😉 So glad you are thinking about a camino. I would recommend you walk in either Spain or Portugal before you tackle this one! A camino would be a good introduction to the Via Francigena in Italy. Happy walking, Mel

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Suzanne July 22, 2020 / 12:10 pm

    You’re a machine Mel, in a good way. Excellent. I have bookmarked this post and will devour bits of it when I have “bad days”and I want to run away 😉 My father now has dementia, so fun and games are being had of late!! He was also into tramping and climbing mountains until he was 80.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Life...One Big Adventure July 24, 2020 / 3:09 pm

      Yes, there were some big days in there and some days it was very much about putting one foot in front of the other and getting the kilometres done. Other days it was pure joy. A bit like life I guess. So sorry to hear about your Dad. It is a mongrel of a disease. Take care and keep dreaming of future adventures, Melx

      Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure August 2, 2020 / 12:19 pm

      Yep! Who would have thought that I could eat a whole one and then be hungry again an hour or so later. That’s what a good stroll does for you… Ciao, Mel

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Cindy Gelpi August 3, 2020 / 3:17 pm

    Wow, I can’t imagine walking for 40 days, much less in August. It sounds like an incredible journey (although exhausting one.) Can’t wait to read more in the other posts! I have thought about doing a camino, but haven’t had the courage. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure August 4, 2020 / 8:24 am

      It is not really about walking 40 days. It is more about walking one day and then doing it all over again the next day, and the next, and the next! 😉 In the beginning it feels like the days are going very slowly and then in a blink of an eye there is only a week left! It is quite meditative. So many adventures out there waiting for us when the World rights itself again… Take care, Mel

      Like

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