Embrace the Medieval spirit and walk the Via Francigena, retracing the steps of ancient pilgrims and knights. It’s a way to experience Tuscany at a slower pace, and arrive at a better understanding of the territory.
Via Francigena, what is it?
The ‘Francigena Way’ is an ancient road, or better said, a system of paths that run from Rome to Canterbury, crossing Switzerland and France. This route was originally built by the Romans, who needed to connect with their territories in Britannia. Later it was used by the Lombards and then the Franks to link their dominions, eventually becoming the main connecting route between southern and northern Europe. Merchants, armies, and pilgrims on the way to Rome have travelled along it throughout the centuries.
The historic source for the route is the diary kept by the Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric the Serious during his journey back from Rome, where he was ordained. It was the year 990 AD. The manuscript, a sort of travel journal with a list of 80 ‘mansions’ where he stopped along the way, is at the British Library. Its discovery generated a great deal of research and in some cases, as in Tuscany, the original route has been restored and draws walkers and enthusiasts from all over the world.
Where does it go?
While its total length is around 1000 miles (1700 km.), the 15 Tuscan stages are 380 km. long. Starting at the Cisa Pass on the Appenines, the Via Francigena crosses the northern tip of Tuscany, the Lunigiana area, and then descends into Pietrasanta and touches Lucca before entering the Province of Florence. It doesn’t enter Florence but runs on the western territories of the Val d’Elsa to San Gimignano and Monteriggioni before arriving at Siena. Then the Crete Senesi and the Val d’Orcia south of Siena. The last stage ends at Acquapendente, across the border in Lazio.
The average length of the stages is 22-23 km., the maximum being 32 km. Bear in mind that, according to the official web site, “the definition of a stage is largely driven by the availability of pilgrim accommodation”. This kind of accommodation needs to be organised well in advance, but you can divide up the routes however you wish, if you are using traditional tourist facilities.
Some of the most spectacular stages in Tuscany
STAGE 2. From Pontremoli to Aulla (The best part being from Pontremoli to Filetto)- Discover the mountainous and mysterious area of the Lunigiana with its stone hamlets immersed deep in the woods. SIGHTS: Pontremoli, Pieve di Sorano, the ancient borough of Filattiera.
STAGE 10. From San Gimignano to Monteriggioni – Walk the road that links two of the Medieval jewels of Tuscany, discover some churches along one of the most spectacular stages of the Via Francigena. SIGHTS: Pieve Santa Maria a Coneo, San Martino di Strove.
STAGE 13. From Ponte d’Arbia to San Quirico d’Orcia – south of Siena, you’ll cross the lunar landscape of the Crete Senesi (also STAGE 12) and the white roads of the Val d’Arbia before climbing to the walled town of Buonconvento and reaching San Quirico d’Orcia through the splendid hills of the Val d’Orcia. SIGHTS: Buonconvento, Collegiata di San Quirico, Pieve Santa Maria Maddalena.
Why do it?
Walking the Via Francigena is a way to reconnect with the territory in a different, less conventional manner. This is ’Slow travelling’ at its best. You’ll get to visit places and buildings along the way, including small country churches, stone hamlets, and old farmhouses that normally get bypassed when travelling around by car. You’ll discover how the activities along the Via Francigena influenced the territory. Here the rhythm slows down, and the pastel coloured landscapes seem like watercolours.
From a spiritual point of view, you’ll be following the steps of countless pilgrims who have enjoyed the view and suffered privations along the way. You’ll have to pay attention to things like the weather and banal things like lack of water and bad weather will became important, just as they were in ancient times.
How to walk the Via Francigena
You can join an organised tour. There are many tour operators that organise walks of a day or more along the Via Francigena in Tuscany. Or you can walk solo by finding a good map and doing a bit of research beforehand.
You can do it as a simple tourist or as an “official” and credited pilgrim. For this you’ll need the pilgrim’s credential identity card. You’ll find more information on the official site: www.viefrancigene.org.