At the turn of the first millennium, many pilgrims crossed Europe to go in prayer at the tomb of the Apostle Peter in Rome or to continue to the Holy Land, Jerusalem. The practice of pilgrimage assumed such importance that they developed real “ways of faith” dotted with resting places, villages and abbeys to accommodate pilgrims. Among the most important routes, the Via Francigena still represents the main path.
There comes a time in life when you feel the need to disconnect from the monotony of everyday life. What better occasion to do so than to walk the Via Francigena?
What is the Via Francigena? Where does it begin and end? Its length in km and a bit of history
What is Via Francigena?
It is an ancient road that connected, and still connects, Western Europe to Italy. Via Francigena is a bundle of roads that begins in the United Kingdom and ends in Rome, crossing Switzerland and France. It is a 1,700 km long route, divided into stages, which can be covered on foot, by bicycle or by car.
The starting point is in England, at the foot of Canterbury Cathedral. The final point, however, in Rome at the tomb of St. Peter. If you want to discover all the secrets of Rome, check out the article. But then, come right back here to take a step back and discover together what the Via Francigena is all about.
Via Francigena History
The Via Francigena played a vital role both culturally and economically. For many people it was a path of faith. They traveled it on their way to the tomb of St. Peter in Rome. The purpose was to gain forgiveness for their sins. It functioned much like the Camino de Santiago and the Holy Land. In fact, it was one of the three mandatory pilgrimages for Christians. Later it became an important trade route.
The first documents attesting to the existence of the Via Francigena date back to the 9th century. But it is thanks to the Bishop of Canterbury that today we are able to travel it. The discovery of his diary has allowed the reconstruction of the original route. It is a detailed travel report. We can say that it is the primitive guide of the Via Francigena. It collects the routes and the stages touched by the bishop and advice on where to stop to sleep or eat.
The most beautiful stages and routes
Via Francigena connects Canterbury to Rome. It crosses four countries: United Kingdom, France, Switzerland and Italy.
Via Francigena England
From Canterbury to Dover
It is at Canterbury Cathedral that Sigeric’s pilgrimage begins. And it is here that you will find the stone that indicates kilometer zero of the itinerary. After visiting the Cathedral, your pilgrimage to Rome will begin. The English route is divided into only two stages: Shepherdsville and Dover.
If you prefer the United Kingdom for your next trip, don’t miss to check the best places to visit in England.
Via Francigena France
From Canterbury to Reims
After crossing the English Channel, the stage that awaits you is Reims. This town in France is considered the capital of the Via Francigena. At this point begins the French route that has many stages. From the Calais Pass, in the region of Haute-France, you will reach Picardy. From here we move to the Champagne-Ardenne region and finally to Franche-Comté.
Via Francigena Switzerland
In Switzerland, the Via Francigena crosses only two cantons: Canton Vaud and Canton Valais.
And if you read this article you will find the most beautiful cities in Switzerland.
Via Francigena Italy
We come to the end of the route, with Italy. The Via Francigena stretches along the entire peninsula, from the Aosta Valley to Rome. And it ends at the tomb of the Apostle Peter. But it doesn’t end there! Many believers continue their pilgrimage as far as Puglia. From there they embark to reach the Holy Land and conclude their journey.
Via Francigena along the Italian boot
The first stage of the Via Francigena: Valle d’Aosta. The route winds through five stages that pass through magnificent villages. First of all, we cross the Gran San Bernardo pass. Then begins the descent towards Aosta up to Saint Martin which is the final stage. At this point we cross the Via of Piedmont. Finally, the path becomes easier. The reliefs diminish and the pilgrimage will appear more and more pleasant.
We start again from Ivrea and we arrive in Vercelli, in 5 more stages. At this point we enter the stretch of the Via Francigena in Lombardy. It crosses it from Pavia to Piacenza, the first stage in Emilia Romagna. Then begins the Tuscan stage, until you arrive in Lazio. The stages that accompany the pilgrim to St. Peter’s Basilica are many and offer the most diverse shows.
Via Francigena most beautiful stages
Cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims
Reims is a lovely city of the Champagne-Ardenne region. It can be reached by crossing the beautiful countryside of Picardy with its vineyards. It is in Reims that is located one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic art: the Cathedral. You absolutely cannot miss it!
Church of Clairvaux
It is one of the first abbeys on the Via Francigena and it is located at the border between Champagne and Bourgogne.
Châteauvillain and the Deer Park
It is a very characteristic French commune in the la Marne region. It is considered the city of water gardens and it is here that the Deer Park is located. 270 hectares of green in which you can see hundreds of deer in freedom.
Lausanne, Vevey and Saint Maurice
From the French countryside we move on to the wonderful Swiss landscapes dominated by lakes. The Swiss itinerary is a bit complicated because of the differences in height, but it is well worth it. Lake Geneva, the Pissevache waterfall and the Treinta gorge. These are just some of the wonders you’ll find along the way.
From Saint Martin to Rome
The Italian route is certainly the richest in stages. The landscapes offered by our peninsula are breathtaking. From the mountains of the Valle d’Aosta, to the Po Valley and the Tuscan Apennines.
Guide for those who want to travel the Via Francigena by bike
If your passion is cycling, you will love the Via Francigena by bike. And if you love to travel alone find our tips for solo traveling.
There is also an itinerary for bike lovers: the Francigena bike route. 23 stages that connect the Great St. Bernard Pass to Rome. It is not very different from the pedestrian route. It is an entirely mapped route, so don’t be afraid because it will be impossible to get lost! You can find your way back either by following the road signs or your GPS. In some places, the signs are not very visible, but don’t worry, you’ll be fine!
The most adventurous route of Via Francigena: from Pavia to Rome by bike
Why do the Via Francigena by bike? Well because this way you have the opportunity to admire the nature around you. There are several routes, one of the most adventurous is the Pavia-Rome route. There are more or less 20 stages, between plains, hills and ancient villages. For a total of 600 km. The starting point is Pavia, a very nice town in Emilia. Going up the river you can visit small villages and wonderful churches. The stages in the province of Pavia are three and touch more than 22 municipalities. Continuing south, you will pass through Tuscany and arrive in Rome.
Tips for walking the Via Francigena
The most important thing to start this route is willpower… And suitable clothes.
Here is a list of must haves for a walk on the Via Francigena.
Shoes. You will need simple hiking shoes or sandals. But it depends on the route you choose because there are some more complicated stretches of road. You may need hiking boots.
- T-shirts. We recommend that you bring at least two thermal shirts. This way you’ll avoid being without when it comes time for the “washing machine”.
- Pants. For men, sports shorts are ideal. While for women, leggings are sufficient.
- Raincoat. Indispensable to carry one with you at all times, preferably a pocket one that takes up little space.
- Sleeping bag. Even if you go in the spring, some areas are very humid and getting through the night can be hard.
- Don’t forget to bring a guidebook to the route!
Where to sleep along the Via Francigena?
Now let’s get down to business. This is the most important question when it comes to the Via Francigena: where to sleep? Along the way you can find a lot of appropriate facilities. There are hostels, agritourisms and b&b’s. You can even find private houses or churches made available to pilgrims. Finding a room to sleep in is as easy as it is difficult, even if you decided to travel alone. And here are the most attractive destinations for solo female travelers. We recommend that you book in advance so as not to risk not to find a place. Sometimes the overnight stay is completely free, or rather entrusted to the will of the pilgrim.
How do I get the Pilgrim’s Credential for Via Francigena?
Before leaving, you must obtain the Pilgrim’s Credential. Thanks to this document, you will be able to access the facilities on the Via Francigena. You will also be able to take advantage of numerous discounts on transportation in the participating stops. The Credential is a sort of passport that certifies your status as a Pilgrim. It is a document issued by the European Association of Vie Francigene. It can be purchased online or at points of sale. In ancient times it had a stronger religious value than now.
For each stage passed, pilgrims received a stamp. Once all the necessary stamps were received, the document was complete. This meant that the journey was over and the pilgrimage completed. Even today it works like this, but there are some differences. First of all, the pilgrimage is not done solely for religious reasons. Many people see it as a rite of passage and change. Other people see it as a simple journey into the heart of Italy. Either way, apply for your Pilgrim’s Credential, are you ready to go?
Via Francigena phone application
In an age like ours, an official application for the cell phone could not be missing. Via Francigena – The Official App, allows GPS navigation along the entire route. As we mentioned before, the entire Via Francigena has been mapped. Thanks to this application you’ll have everything under control. You’ll be able to see the complete list of maps and routes available. Plus there’s also the possibility to download the itinerary and use it while you’re offline.
Via Francigena in Tuscany
One of the most beautiful and longest routes in Italy is the one in Tuscany. It stretches along the entire region and has about 20 stages. It is one of the religious paths of Tuscany.
But where does the Tuscan section of the Via Francigena begin? From the Cisa Pass. It is a pass that separates the Ligurian Apennines from the Tuscan ones. It is located at about 1,000 meters of height. After only 19 km you will find yourself in Pontremoli. The following stages touch cities such as Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena and many other villages.
In particular the Via Francigena Lucca- Siena, connects these two wonderful cities. The first stage of this path connects Lucca to Altopascio. It’s a relatively simple route that stretches through a wooded area. After that you will pass through San Miniato and Gambassi Terme. From here you will have only 13 km and 3 hours of walking to reach San Gimignano. At this point you will have only one stop before reaching Siena: Monteriggioni. After having passed the reclaimed lands you will enter Siena through Porta Camolia. Our advice, before leaving, is to visit the city well. The cathedral, the square. In short, take some time to relax and enjoy the city.
As we have already said, the Via Francigena is a bundle of roads that intersect each other. For this reason, in addition to the established historical itineraries, you can create your own! Do you want to do Florence Rome on foot? It’s possible! You’ll just have to reach Valdelsa from Florence and from there continue to Siena. At this point you’ll rejoin the standard route and reach Rome.
Via Francigena in Tuscany: tips
The Tuscan Via Francigena has been traveled by thousands of pilgrims and traders. At the time of the Roman Empire it was already in use. In spite of the barbarian invasions, it has not ceased to be an important transit route. In the past, the wayfarers who crossed this road did so on foot or on horseback. Today, however, you can travel the Tuscan Via by car. Choosing to undertake the pilgrimage starting from Tuscany is definitely a good choice. Before doing so, of course, you must know what you are going to meet. So it is useful to get informed. To do this, as we have already said there are many websites and applications for cell phones.
One of the main things to know about the Tuscan Via Francigena is where to sleep. There are numerous accommodations along the way. You can choose the one you like best online or during the walk. Don’t forget to bring your Pilgrim’s Credential with you, you’ll need it!
Walking the Via Francigena from Siena to Rome
In Tuscany there are many cities crossed by this road. Just as there are many routes that you can choose. Walking the Via Francigena is the perfect opportunity to visit the most beautiful Italian cities. The route that goes from Siena to Rome is one of the most interesting. You’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature and walk in the enchanting Chianti Valley.
Via Francigena Siena
Siena, with its medieval streets, is one of the cities that you can visit during the walk. It is a city rich in history and incredible beauty. Siena celebrates two days a year the Palio. What, you’ve never heard of it? Then check out the post now!
The route that crosses the province of Siena and reaches Rome will leave you speechless. The expanses of vineyards and villages that you will visit will make you go back in time.
The last stretch of the Via Francigena: Rome. The main goal of the pilgrim is to reach his or her destination. Entering Rome, in the Vatican represents the end of one’s journey. A religious, spiritual or adventure journey. The great thing about the Via, is that you can choose which route to take and how to do it. You can decide the starting point, the arrival point and the means.
The Southern Via Francigena: from Rome to Jerusalem
What is the end point of the Via Francigena? Lazio? Well no. Many pilgrims decide to continue their journey to Jerusalem. How do they do that? Well, they proceed along the southern route, which reaches as far as Puglia. From the heel of Italy, they then proceed to Jerusalem. In this way they complete the second of the great pilgrimages. That towards the Holy Land.
The Via Francigena through Puglia
The Via Francigena in Puglia is divided into many routes. Each one is divided into different directions but all have the same point of arrival. Thanks to the various routes you can decide which region to cross. You can choose to go through Molise, Basilicata or Campania, for example.
The Via Francigena in Salento stands out in particular: from Brindisi to Taranto, passing through olive groves. There are some stops that cannot be avoided. You absolutely must visit the fortification of Acaya, dating back to the 16th century, and Otranto.
The Magna Via Francigena
The Via Francigena also extends into Sicily as an artery of communication from north to south. In particular from Agrigento to Palermo. The history of this road dates back to Hellenic times. It has been in the hands of many of the great civilizations of history. First the Romans made the path practicable.
Subsequently the Byzantines established a new province of the Eastern Roman Empire. In 827 it fell in the hands of the Muslims. Subsequently the power passed to the Normans. A process of Christianization began and numerous churches were erected along the way. Finally today after thousands of years the Magna Via Francigena has been brought back to life. 180 km of history connect the Sicilian cities through 9 stages of 20/25 km on average.
The famous stage of Magna Via Francigena: from Palermo to Agrigento
The Magna Via Francigena has been reopened after years of neglect. This part of the route in Sicily connects the island from north to south. In only nine stages and a distance of 180 km it is possible to walk through history. Old paths of Norman origin have been revalued and reorganized. Three are the provinces touched: Palermo, Caltanissetta and Agrigento. The municipalities involved in the project are more than thirteen. And all have begun to equip themselves to welcome pilgrims.
Is walking the Via Francigena in August a good idea?
The best period is spring or, at most, autumn. Whether it’s the Via Francigena or the Way of St. James, it doesn’t matter. The most suitable months, in general, are May or June. But August is definitely not the perfect month. It is a period of high tourist season. You may have difficulty in finding accommodation in tourist facilities. The ideal thing is to choose the period in which to start according to the route you will take. You must take into account that the Via Francigena is a long and varied route. It crosses different areas with different climates.
It is also risky to start in the months of March and April. They are rainy months and you might find snowfall during the journey. For example, the Great St. Bernard Pass of the Via Francigena is open from June to September. The snow present the rest of the year makes the walk impassable. Conversely, the Po Valley in the summer is crazy. There is too much mugginess and too little shade. For the southern stretch, however, you can leave even in March because the climate is mild.
Other stages of the Via Francigena
The Via Francigena passes through towns and villages that we have never heard of. It allows you to walk in the nature and to make an Italian gastronomic tour. Let’s see some of the most beautiful stages.
From Bolsena to Montefiascone
Bolsena is a beautiful medieval village nestled in the hills of the Volsini Mountains. Its importance is due especially to its position. Together with Montefiascone it represents the 39th stage of the journey. The two villages are only 18 km away, the route is magnificent and not too tiring. You can relax and enjoy the view of Lake Bolsena on the Via Francigena.
Stage 32 of the Via Francigena: San Gimignano
This is one of the most beautiful and famous Tuscan villages. It is considered the symbolic stage of the Tuscan Via Francigena. The route travels through the Tuscan countryside retracing the steps of Bishop Sigerico. Along the way you will see churches and abbeys. But the most beautiful thing is the turquoise river. Leaving San Gimignano behind you, the last stretch of this route begins. You will be immersed in nature and you will walk along the bank of the Elsa river.
From Siena to Viterbo
It goes without saying that the beauties you will admire in these areas are unique and unrepeatable. The Tuscan route is certainly one of the most surprising. From Siena to Viterbo and Civita, the dying city, you will walk along the banks of rivers, the Sienese hills and their vineyards. In short, you will be immersed in a mystical atmosphere.