Back in the spring of 2007 we decided to walk the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain. Walking the Camino could be described as one of those “life changing events”. Excited about our success of walking 800km across the top of Spain, we became hooked on walking long distance medieval trails and wanted to do more.
By the spring of 2008 we were ready to tackle another pilgrim route. This time we selected Italy as our next destination, and so began our epic journey along the ancient pilgrim and medieval route call the Via Francigena.
The Via Francigena is an ancient network of paths from Canterbury to Rome, passing through France, Switzerland and Italy. It was an important medieval route used by pilgrims, soldiers, merchants, travelers and wayfarers.
Before starting off we knew that the Via Francigena even today is undergoing changes, and that there were a number of possible alternative routes in various regions. At the time of our decision to go, there were only a limited number of guidebooks and only one English guidebook; though it was somewhat outdated. (Since returning home, an excellent guidebook in English has been published by Pilgrimage Publications).
Therefore as preparation for our journey we developed our personal guide book using information from a number of sources. This included downloading the maps from the Italian Associazione Europea delle Vie Francigene based in Fidenza, Italy, converting these maps and putting them into an easy to carry booklet.
Even though the same site provided a list of accommodations that one could stay at we made our personal accommodation guide using information from a number of sources. We stayed in variety of places including bed & breakfast, agriturismo, small hotels, ostellos, albergos, and conventos. Mostly we stayed in the places listed in the Ospitalita lungo Via Francigena.
We elected to start our walk from Martigny, Switzerland leaving on September 2 and finishing in Rome, Italy on October 24. The total journey was approximately 1,000 km and we took 53 days to complete it. This included approximately 10 days of extended stays in some of Italy’s greatest cities like Aosta, Ivrea, Pavia, Lucca, Siena, and of course Rome.
Our journey required us to climb and cross over the Swiss/Italian Alps through the Gran San Bernardo Pass (2472m), then descend into the Valle d’Aosta and pass through the most western reaches of the Po River valley. We would then have to head south west and this time cross over the Apennine Mountains through the Cisa Pass into the most northern section of Tuscany before arriving in Lucca. From Lucca to Siena and south we would walk through the rolling hills of Tuscany and Val d’Orcia and further south alongside the ancient volcanic lakes of Lazio before finally arriving in Rome.
Unlike the Camino de Santiago most of the route was hilly especially in places like Tuscany thus physically more demanding. The average walk day was longer. In a number of places the route was not well marked, resulting in us getting lost a number of times. But being able to understand and speak some Italian helped us to get back on track.
Our reward for all this work was plenty. We passed through some wonderful regions with small villages and towns. Some sections of the route were extremely beautiful to walk through, including the Valle d’Aosta, the Cisa Pass and of course Tuscany, especially south of San Minato through Siena to the Val d’Orcia into Lazio. Sections before and after Vercelli, near Pavia and crossing the Po River were extremely beautiful in part because we had luckily decided to cross this region just prior to the rice harvest in mid September. Golden fields of rice and corn were especially pretty in the early morning when the sun was shining.
Many Italians especially the older Italians were generally interested, in fact excited, about what we were doing. Many were surprised to learn that we were Canadians walking from Switzerland to Rome. Many people were generally very helpful. Some even drove us to nearby places where we had booked to stay.
We originally had great plans to blog and record our thoughts and comments throughout the hike. However finding internet points throughout Italy in many of the smaller towns and villages was nearly impossible. Our walking days were long starting normally at 7.00am and finishing at about 5.00pm giving us only an hour or two to clean up and write some notes before heading off to dinner, and then bed. Obviously, finding an internet point rarely made it to the top of the list.
However, we have set up a blog whereby today we are recording and posting our daily thoughts, musing and experiences from our little long walk along the Via Francigena.
The blog is called Little Green Tracs: http://littlegreentracs.typepad.com
We welcome you to our blog and hope you enjoy it and have the opportunity to live some of our special experiences along the Via Francigena.