Via di Francesco

The way of St Francis is a 520km pilgrimage walk from Florence to Rome.

About a week before we started this trip, I decided to change my walking plans. Originally I had planned to walk the GEA (Grande Escursione Appenninica), a three week walk in the Appenines. But I wasn’t sure how to spend my time in Italy after that. I was also concerned that snow might linger in May at the higher elevations. So, I came up with a new plan.

I’m walking from Florence to Rome, through the hills of Tuscany and Umbria, on one of the several pilgrimage routes named after St Francis of Assisi. We don’t actually know where St Francis walked, all we know is that this is the area he walked and some of the towns he visited. I chose the particular route I’m walking because it goes through the Central Appenines and because there is an excellent up-to-date guide for the route published by Cicerone.

It also seems appropiate to walk a pilgrimage route at the same time as Inge. It will take about about four weeks. It isn’t as far as Inge’s walk, but it is much more hilly. After the walk I’ll probably spend the remainder of my time here in the Northern Appenines which by June should be snow-free.

Below is a map of the route. We both began our walks today, May 1. I’ll do a separate post about the first day of my walk.

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(Cicerone guide: Trekking the Way of St Francis by Sandy Brown, 2015)

VdF – Florence to Pontassieve

The first day and the weather was good. A surprise after the heay rain of the previous night. The route officially starts at the Basilica St Croce in the city centre, but since my hotel, about 2km from the centre, is on the route and I had walked from the Basilica to the hotel on the previous day, I felt I wasn’t cheating if I started the day from the hotel. I saved about an hour that walking into city and out again would have taken.

The day was mostly road walking with short stretches of tail. The route went east, first through suburbs of Florence, then through the outlying towns and finally into rural countryside and small towns. It followed the Arno River, heading up into the hills and back to the river several times. Once away from Florence, I walked mostly small rural roads with little traffic.

The landscape was lovely, just as you picture Tuscany. Add to that sunshine, some wildflowers by the road and the occasional cucoo calling in the forest—a pleasant first day.

Pontassive is a small town by the river. It is Sunday; almost everything is shut. But the hotel is open, I found a bar to have a beer and a nice-looking restaurant that will be open this evening.

Some photos (none in Florence, I’m sure you’ve lots of photos of Florence):

VdF – Pontassieve to Passo della Consuma

No wifi for several days, so this post from Monday is posted late.

Monday (May 2) was wet and cool day, several brief periods of sun, but mostly light and sometimes heavy rain. The route went up into the Central Apennines, climbing about 1000m. The vineyards and olive groves are below—here it is forest, logged, but usually selective cutting, or small clear cuts. I saw one small deer and one squirrel; there is wildlife left in Italy.

I am staying in a little cabin about 10 minutes walk outside the town (15 minutes back, up hill). It is run by a family who have a restaurnt in town. They have created a number of places for pilgrims, badly needed after the hotel closed three years ago. I scored this specail little cabin at the home of one of the family members. All modern cons. Good meal at the restaurant, their own tortellini with local mushrooms.

I’m now an official pilgrim. On most pilgrim routes you can carry a “credential,” like a passport, which shows you are a pilgrim. On some routes (like the Camino de Santiago) you can get it at the start, but not on the route I am doing. For my route you need to send for it several months in advance. I decided late to walk this route, so no time to send for one, and it isn’t a important for me. You get your credential stamped in each place you stay to show you have walked the full route. Some accommodation on a pilgrimage route will only let you in if you have a credential as they act as a charity for pilgrims, charge little, sometimes only a donation, and are run by volunteers.

Today I was asked if I would like my credential stamped. I said I didn’t have one. “But you are walking to Rome. Would you like one?” This place is in support of pilgrims and they have a stock of credentials. Now I have one. With a stamp for Consuma and all the official stuff filled in. When I get to Rome I can show the credential to the Swiss guards at the Vatican City, get inside, present my credential and receive a certificate. Not the point of my walk, but I may.

Here are a few photos of wet landscape and an old stone-paved road:

VdF Passo della Consuma to Stia to Camaldoli

Tuesday May 3, to Stia

A sunny day, mostly in forest. 17km, only 500m up, and a 1000m down.

Like Florence, Stia is on the Arno river, but here, much higher, the river is narrow and flowing quickly. Stia is a lovely town.

Didn’t take many photos walking through forest. A lot of logging activity. In the silence of the rural forest you realize how loud chainsaws are and how far the sound carries. Kept humming The hills are alive with the sound of chainsaws…

Wednesday May 4, to Camaldoli

A sunny but harder day with steep climbing and some steep descents. The route went up to about 1200m. I think that is the maximum on this walk. Glad to have my hiking poles for the steep ups and downs. Camaldoli is a small village. Only a week ago the little hotel got wifi via satellite working.

VdF Camalodi to Badia Prataglia to Santuario della Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano

Thursday May 5 to Saturday May 7

No wifi the last few days and the wifi today only works on the ground floor. This will be a quick post with some highlights and a few photos.

Good weather and each day is a little warmer. Much of the walking has been on forest trails or unpaved forest roads. Very quiet. The route I’m taking has now joined a route to Assisi and I’m encountering a few other walkers, mostly Germans and Austrians.

A little wildlife in the forests: a bunch of wild pigs (boars) yesterday and two deer today. Very shy. Always the cuckoos and song birds.

Friday night I stayed at Santuario della Verna, a large and important religious site perched on a rocky summit. The land was given to St. Francis in 1213 and today it holds a large monastery, a convent and a church. It welcomes visitors, has rooms and serves meals in a large group dining hall. It is very different than the small towns I have stayed in. I think there were 150 people at dinner, including a bunch of us who had arrived on foot doing various pilgrimage walks. Good conversation and good food.

Here are a few photos. Many photos of trees, but I’ve spent much time with trees this week. (Click or tap a photo to see the caption. Click or tap again to open slideshow.)